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Full Circle

Forever suave, George Hamilton bring his timeless style to his new line of cigars and cigar clubs.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 3)

As a father, Hamilton has had a brush with near tragedy, almost losing his son, actor Ashley Hamilton, now 23, to drug addiction. He and Ashley's mother, Alana Stewart, came together and dealt with the addiction as a family and, after a difficult time, Ashley has emerged on the other side, clean and sober.

"My son is an amazing boy," Hamilton says with obvious pride. "He has taught me so very much. In many ways he has had an easy ride and a hard time all at the same time. It was easy in the sense that he had an entrée into show business. It was difficult because once you get there, they want to kill you. I think he is a very sensitive and vulnerable instrument which, if bowed properly, could be a talent of major proportion. Unfortunately, he's going to get all the 'surface hits' anyone can take. He really had a dependency and he dealt with it. It takes time. A bottom is a bottom and you don't reach that bottom just because people think that you should. It was a monster to deal with, but it also gave me humility. I found myself staying in rehabs and in different programs even after he got out of them. It was an interesting time, very difficult, and also very enlightening."

Hamilton recalls life with his own father, George. "I learned a lot from my father. The most important thing was that he had the respect of the people he worked with. But he was a man who had become captive in this world, somewhere between his art and his work. The only things that he had to hold on to were the props of his life--pipes, Martinis, things like that. He would smoke a pipe with me and although we were separated by decades of age, we could have a moment of sharing through a pipe.

"He didn't know how to talk to me. The only way he could communicate with me was by sharing stories about what it was like in Hollywood in the early days. Or what it was like being a musician in the film business. And through his stories I'd learn his philosophy about people. Everything I learned about quality I learned from my father. What I saw in him was this need to be connected to some sort of classic tradition. I realized that these silly things we use in our lifetime, like pipes or cigars, these little props, were bonding.

"My son, Ashley, and I found ourselves in England one Thanksgiving when Ashley was about 17. Now, Thanksgiving is not something that they particularly look forward to over in England. But Ashley just couldn't stand the idea that we weren't going to do something for Thanksgiving. So I searched all over London and finally the Connaught Grill told me that they would do a turkey for us. It was kind of depressing for Ash because he was not amongst his friends, and there we were having a turkey in some stodgy English grill. He wanted the stuffing and the gravy and black-eyed peas--and they rolled out this turkey on a silver trolley. Disaster!

"But after dinner they came over and asked us if we would like a glass of Port, and it was the first time in his life that I offered him a cigar. They brought over this amazing humidor, which was carried over with boxes in it. They'd bring them out and show you--you didn't dare touch or sniff a cigar. They'd clip it for you and hand it to you. He smoked a cigar with me that night and it was the most amazing bonding experience. And I could see how my father and I had passed a tradition on to my son.

"It was foolish in many ways; there was this anachronistic hypocrisy of us sitting there in England where they don't approve of Thanksgiving. But there was also a strange sense of personal history being played out. There was a bonding that I had not felt with anyone since my father died. So I realized in that moment that I had changed positions in my relationship with my son."

With the success of the Hamiltons cigars and the imminent launch of his fourth cigar line, Hamiltons Private Reserve, George Hamilton's cigar business is becoming a force to be reckoned with. In addition to Hamiltons at New York, New York, in Las Vegas, Hamiltons Humidor in Pasadena and Hamiltons Coffee and Fine Cigars in Beverly Hills, several other Hamiltons nightclubs are in the planning stages, each with a different theme and connected to a retail store that sells his lifestyle products: lighters, cigar accoutrements, Belgian chocolates, his own line of coffee, the tanning system, clothing, the requisite T-shirts and, of course, his cigars. QVC will feature a one-hour lifestyle show with Hamilton this spring. And Hamilton is still coming up with a myriad of projects.

"I feel a presence in both my artistic life and in my business life," he says. "And I feel those circles growing larger and connecting. The fascinating part of all of this is that at the end of the day, to do exactly what you want to do and live your lifestyle and to have someone else pay for it; [it is] in some ways, the greatest Final Joke. My job right now is to figure out what the public's perception is, what they are interested in, and find a way to market it. Kind of what Ralph Lauren did for lifestyles in the 1980s. And it isn't a race just to make money. It's a race to fulfill myself. To go absolutely full circle."

The marketing of the cigar lifestyle, as well as the creation of a fine cigar experience, are clearly things that Hamilton takes very seriously. "To me a cigar is about the words 'ponder' and 'contemplation.' The ephemeral becomes momentarily tangible for me. The drink and the cigar are not really lasting, but they are props that extend the moment. I think that is what people are looking for. In the overall, we all live in a life span that is the flick of an eye. If I can take an hour to commune with myself and others, I am grateful. I think these props, which are things that people can call pretentious, have now started to become what people are holding on to."

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