William "Smokey" Robinson

b. February 19, 1940

In his autobiography Smokey: Inside My Life (1989), Smokey Robinson recounts his descent into his addiction to rock cocaine. "It wasn't possible. It couldn't be me. I was a high school athelete. At seventeen, when the cats would ask me to smoke weed, I'd say, 'No way. Y'all get that stuff out of my face."

"True, I'd starting smoking later on, after the Miracles made our first record, but I always had the shit under control. Could and would stop for months at a time. Nothing got in the way of my golf games or long-distance runs. Weed was no big deal. Just a little natural herb pitting a funny filter over things. Nothing heavy."

But in the late 60s, Robinson started adding cocaine to his joints. When he got another woman pregnant while still married to Claudette, he stepped up his cocaine habit to escape the situation. He nearly died of health complications before being healed, he says, by faith healer Jean Perez.

His mother sold corn whiskey to make ends meet and died when Smokey (who got his nickname from Smokey Joe of the cowboy movies he loved) was only 10. Raised by his sisters and his father, he fell for Claudette Rogers in high school, but she was holding out for marriage. "To break the spell and change my mood, I got stoned at our graduation picnic," Robinson writes. "Me and the guys smoked a bunch of black gungi dope. But that only made things wilder and weirder. Tore me up so bad that, watching my basketball colleague drink from a water fountain--six-foot-five-inch George Blackman--I swore he was turning into a giraffe. Didn't touch the weed again for another two years."

While with the group that became the Miracles, Robinson met Barry Gordy and helped him start Motown, writing countless hits for other artists as well as his group. Bob Dylan once called him "America's greatest living poet."

When Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, he called the experience "especially trippy," feeling the presence of his co-inductees Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. On May 11, 2009, Robinson was given an honorary doctorate degree by Berklee Berklee College in Boston. “Show business is a very fickle life,” he told the students. “You’re up today, you’re down tomorrow. You’re in today, you’re out tomorrow. It’s a life of peaks and valleys. Let your valleys inspire you to get to the next peak. And if you have a lot of peaks in a row don’t take yourself so seriously that you think that you’re IT.”

Smokey was recently seen as a guest judge on American Idol and it was a treat seeing him sing "Ooh, Baby Baby" with Darryl Hall on New Years Eve 2011.

 

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