Lost Luther Vandross Interview: Ali McGraw’s Death in ‘Love Story’ Penetrated Everything I Wrote

Where do we begin to tell the story of Luther Vandross‘ poignant 2001 interview—in which he revealed an unexpected source of musical inspiration?

DATELINE: Kingston, Jamaica. July 2001. Journalist Craig Seymour is side by side with Luther in Luther’s limo, en route to the Palace Theater, where the R&B legend—who’d pass away four years later, at age 54—was scheduled to perform.

CAPTION: "I'm never one to blantantly state what could be implied," said Luther (above).

"I'm never one to blatantly state what could be implied," said Luther (above).

On assignment for Vibe magazine at the time, Craig asks Luther what he thinks of the moniker “King of the Bedroom.”

“I can’t stand being strapped with that label. I hate it!” he snaps back.

“Are you a prude?” asks Craig, author of the 2008 memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C.

“I’m not a prude. I’m who I am,” says Luther, who won eight Grammy Awards and has sold more than 25 million albums.

“I don’t ever sing about makin’ love—and the satin sheets and the pretty red dresses and the panties and all that. When I wanna hear that, I buy who makes that. But that’s not that the music I make.

Dionne Warwick loves Tina Turner—but she ain’t singin’ Proud Mary. So I like music like that, and I buy Barry White records and Isley Brothers records.”

Moments later, Luther asks, “You know Love StoryRyan O’Neal and Ali McGraw? That left me sitting in the theater seat for a half hour.

“I was totally unprepared. I was playin’ hooky, and went to the movies to see that. And when he laid next to her on the bed in the hospital and she died and then he went to the park and the camera pulled off and showed his back—what can I tell you?

“That was the first time I ever cried in a movie. I just sat there immobile. And that sense of loss penetrated everything I would write.”

Later still, Luther tells Craig:

Ryan and Ali: There's nothing better than love.

Ryan and Ali: There's nothing better than love.

“You know that question a lot of interviewers ask—How do you want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as—and I’m serious about this—I want to be remembed as one of the premier singers of our time. Period.

“And I feel that throwin’ your drawers at me trivializes my effort. I don’t appreciate it. And if that make me a prude, then I’m King Prude.

To hear Luther’s full interview, click here.

To read about—and listen to—Craig’s lost Janet Jackson interview, click here.

Ditto Cher.

Ditto Chaka Khan.

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