As I walked toward Donny Osmond for our scheduled interview in the showroom of his new home furnishing line, I heard him say to his assistant, “Tell Jeanette I’m going to have to cancel.” Before my heart could sink, he started laughing. He was not only ready for me, he was excited to talk about his life as a grandpa, home teacher, “Dancing with the Stars” champion, jokester and geeked-out Tesla owner.
As I showed this smiling 58-year-old the 2001 Utah Valley Magazine cover of himself, he says, “I’m so much happier than that guy was. I’m having the time of my life right now.”
With 61 albums on the tip of his vocal chords, Donny’s native language is performing and bringing out emotions in others. And he does it without the anxiety that once plagued him during his six-year run of “Joseph.” The 2016 Donny arrives at The Flamingo in Las Vegas just 30 minutes before his five shows each week, and with his own plane and pilot, he comes directly home to Provo a few nights a week after his high-energy sell-outs.
He’s at home in Utah where he hums happiness as he takes out the garbage and mows the lawn.
“It’s yin and yang, baby,” Donny says.
My 50s have been the best time of my life. I don’t feel the need to try hard to impress people or do projects I’m not passionate about. I know who I am. At this point, I am motivated by enjoyment.
About four years ago, I partnered again with Jim Morey, who managed Michael Jackson for a long time and managed me when I was 9. Back during the “Puppy Love” era, he told me I would find a day in the future when I would work where I want to work and live where I want to live. That’s my life in 2016! I live 12 minutes from the Provo airport. In Las Vegas, it’s nine minutes from my front door to The Flamingo where I perform five nights a week.
I’ve always maintained Utah as my home while in show business. I love it. I hiked the Y by myself before winter set in last year, and everybody was so friendly. Provo has changed from a college town to a thriving metropolis. We have a small-town mentality with city amenities. I even get stopped for speeding. I was driving down University and got pulled over. The officer said, “You are Donny Osmond! You just won ‘Dancing with the Stars!’ Congratulations.” And he just told me to be careful and let me go. But the other day I got a ticket on State Street in my Tesla for going 11 over the speed limit. The officer told me his parents were in my stake, but he still gave me a ticket.
I’m always moving quickly. We’re in our eighth year of the Vegas show. At first, MGM signed us to do 10 shows. Then we found this theater at The Flamingo, and we were going to do it for six more weeks. And now I’m thinking maybe we might make it to 10 years. I like to look down the road into the future, but “the future” has gotten a lot shorter. Back in the 1970s, I had a five-year plan and a 10-year plan. But now I’ve got to be ready to change on a dime.
“Joseph” was where I really found myself. I did Joseph for six years, and during the middle part I faced severe anxiety. It was difficult trying to shed my teeny bopper reputation. Justin Bieber is going through that right now. Teenagers go through that anyway as they reach adulthood, and I was doing it publicly. In fact, I wrote a song called “Faces in the Mirror” on one of my favorite albums. It’s about the different phases in my life. “Who am I looking at now?” I’ve worked my way through mental and physical challenges.
I’m starting on my 61st album. I’ve got to do at least 65 albums so I can beat Elvis! I’m competitive like that. My current album is my favorite of all because the songs all have a back story. It’s the soundtrack of my life. I started with 300 potential songs on the list and narrowed it from there.
I wrote a song called “Whenever You’re in Trouble.” The song came about because my son Brandon, who now works at Bonneville Communications, was on a mission in Scotland. It was 2004 and I was in England recording an album. I was in the booth when my Blackberry beeped. At first I was thinking, “Crap! That ruined the take!” It was a message from Brandon saying, “Are you out there? I need your help.” I immediately texted him back, and after a few messages back and forth, he said, “I’m OK. I just needed to know you were there anytime I needed you.” I stopped our recording session and said, “Guys, we need to write this song. Now.”
UTAH SWEET UTAH
Favorite store Sprouts. “I’m cognizant of what I eat, and I love that place.”
Favorite healthy restaurant
Aubergine. “Add in the cashews!”
Favorite grocery store Harmons on 800 North. “We go there all the time.”
Second home: Costco. “I get one of everything!”
Best place for a splurge In-n-Out. “Sometimes a burger tastes really good — and I ask for ‘animal style.’”
Favorite LDS hymn “O God, the Eternal Father.” I love the sound of the F sharp and D rubbing together.”
My dad taught me how to be a dad. He tells a story about when I was 10 years old and my brothers and I were opening for Nancy Sinatra at Caesars in Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra and his cronies were there watching rehearsal. The room was full of profanity, and my dad walked over to Frank and ripped him a new one. The cronies started to go after my dad, but Frank let him speak his peace about needing to clean up the language around us. The next night my dad was backstage setting props for the show when a guy came up and handed him an envelope from Frank. It was a hand-written letter from Frank apologizing for everyone’s behavior and there was $1,000 cash. The crime of it all is that my dad put the $1,000 in his pocket and threw the letter away! That paper would be worth a lot if we had it still today.
Life has been full of surprises. It was 1972 and I got a knock on my door in Paris. It was Paul McCartney and his daughter Mary. With his accent, he asked for my autograph and handed me a picture of myself, which I signed “To Mary, Love, Donny Osmond.” She squealed, they thanked me and the door closed. Fifteen years later, I was in London editing a music video and Paul was in the adjacent studio. I had always wondered if I had dreamed up that story. So I had to verify and I asked him if it happened. Paul said that not only did it happen, but that was one of the very few autographs he had asked for in his life.
Show business has given me amazing friends. I grew up parallel with Michael Jackson. The last time I talked to him, he called from Phoenix. The phone rang and I knew immediately it was him. I asked where he was, and at first he said he couldn’t tell me. This is when everything was hitting the fan. We are like brothers from a different mother. I told him he was just a nine-hour drive from Provo. I said, “Dude, get in the car, bring your kids here. They can sleep in the backyard and nobody will know you are here.” I knew he needed the normalcy and solitude of Provo for a minute. There is nothing normal about show business. He didn’t take me up on the offer and I’ve always been sad about that.
My own life has also had challenges. I take my boys on a trip when they graduate. Brandon wanted to go to Hawaii, and we were on the north shore of Oahu and there were signs everywhere saying “No body surfing.” So what do we do? We body surf! My head hit the shoreline and I heard a crack, and my right arm went limp. I didn’t want to ruin the day for Brandon, so I jumped back in and swam with one arm. Because of that moment, I ended up having my neck fused and a metal plate inserted. So now I can sing heavy metal music! Dr. Howard Reichman in Provo is the world’s best, and he told me there was a chance my vocal chords would be affected. Luckily, I came out OK.
Soon after “Dancing with the Stars,” I pulled a tendon right off the bone during a show in Las Vegas with Marie. I finished the show without that muscle. I can laugh about it now, but all I can say is that I believe in the power of prayer.
Marie and I don’t hang out together outside the show very much, so when we’re on stage it’s spontaneous and fun. We have a template for the show, but we have so much elbow room. After the show we’re greeting different people and going home. She lives in Las Vegas and Provo is my home base. She has a plane — and I have a jet. She’s got her dolls, I’ve got my furniture. There’s no competition at all!
Religion is a personal thing, but I also love to share my beliefs. Back in the 1970s, I got a lot of mail from people and they would ask obscure things about Mormonism. Now I have a section on my website about my beliefs. I don’t shove it down people’s throats, but if people have questions we answer them using quotes and scriptures. I back things up.
Right now I’m a home teacher. I’ve spent a lot of years in the priest quorum. And I miss teaching gospel doctrine, which was my calling in Chicago when I was doing “Joseph.” That’s when I learned to appreciate Isaiah. I studied great books so I could teach effectively. For one lesson, I had visual aids and I was going through the prophets. I said, “We’ve got Abraham, Isaiah, Jacob … and … ME!” (laughing). Whenever Joseph is memtioned in a church setting, the teacher often pulls me into it. “Donny, what was it like back in that time?” But I love it. It’s a powerful story. It wasn’t really a coat of many colors. It was the coat of authority.
I’ve learned a lot from my parents and Debbie’s parents. At first, I wasn’t sure if Debbie’s parents could handle me. They are somewhat serious people. One time I called up her mom and said I was coming at 6 in the morning to surprise Debbie. I wanted to see her without her makeup, and she was cuter without it! She “cried sexy” without makeup. I pulled Debbie out of her room and chased her around the house with a cream pie. I pinned her to the floor and put the pie in her face and all over the carpet, and then I left. I got away with it and realized she had cool parents.
I like to have fun. Imagine what I could have done with Twitter back in the 1970s — the “Puppy Love” days. Ha! Of course, I’m on Twitter now, and Facebook and Instagram. Recently it was the 40th anniversary of the “Donny & Marie” show. For “throwback Thursday,” I released some of my favorite moments of that show.
One of my favorite Utah performances was the Stadium of Fire in 1996. I came in on a helicopter and landed on the field of LaVell Edwards Stadium. During rehearsal earlier that day, we went up in the air and tested things. When we landed, I got out of the helicopter and was looking down as I walked. A voice in my head told me to stop and look up. I was walking right into the rotor. I couldn’t hear but I could see people screaming and trying to get my attention. I can still see that scene in my head to this day.
I plan to perform until my mid-80s and live to 106. I think my next chapter is going back to Broadway. I’m looking at a few things right now — some original pieces and a couple shows I’d like to revive.
I’ve followed my head and heart at different times in my career. The furniture line is both. Plus, I’m working with Debbie. So let’s get down to business! (Mulan reference). Life is good. Life’s never been better.