Thursday, August 18, 2022

Express: Nile Rodgers - The Good Times Keep Coming

Nile Rodgers: Le Freak

By Charlotte Heathcote

NILE Rodgers sounds remarkably chipper for a man fighting cancer, especially since he was only discharged from an emergency hospital stay the day before we speak.

The celebrated Chic songwriter and producer, the man who co-wrote Good Times, We Are Family and I’m Coming Out, who has collaborated with more or less any A-list artist you care to name from Madonna to Michael Jackson and sold around 100 million records in the process, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer 12 months ago and underwent surgery in January. He was recently rushed into hospital after blood started pouring from his ruptured bladder.

“I laughed when I got to hospital,” he says breezily. “I thought, ‘Boy, it’s really great I’m an insomniac. If I hadn’t woken up to do my blog, I could easily have bled to death. So it’s all good and I’m very happy and in great spirits.”

This is the mindset of a man who is simply grateful to be alive, although it’s clear from Nile’s frank blog ( that he’s not always in such a positive frame of mind.

At the time of going to press, his latest post talks about the anxiety of waiting for the latest batch of test results, checking he’s cancer-free.

At the time of his diagnosis, Nile was just dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s of his autobiography, Le Freak, published earlier this month. He slaved over it for three years, wanting to bring his colourful, exotic and often star-studded experiences to vivid life, notwithstanding the occasional drug-induced void in his memory. “Writing this book has been the greatest achievement of my life,” he says, “and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, Nile’s story is steeped in the city that he grew up in and which he still calls home. “I could literally walk up and down any street and tell you a story about it,” he says. The first third of his book documents an erratic childhood with a teenage bohemian mother and heroin-addicted stepfather, Nile turning outward to the community at large to fill the gaps, from the Boy Scouts to, later, the Black Panthers.

Then over the course of his twenties, he established himself as one of the most sought-after songwriters and producers in the history of pop music, and the book becomes a frenzy of namedropping (in a good way). It’s all here: babysitting for Julian Lennon; sailing with Blondie; recording Let’s Dance with David Bowie in his Swiss chalet; producing Like A Virgin and growing “as close to Madonna as I’ve ever been to a woman without being romantically involved”.

He clearly had a blast writing the book, going to visit Alice Cooper so he could to corroborate a chapter set in the early seventies when they were both regulars at the same gig venue. “He was hysterical throughout, laughing, ‘Oh my God, I forgot about that! How do you remember all that stuff?’ And I was going, ‘Because I wasn’t as high as you!’”

Nile soon made up for lost time, though. He’d been “sniffing glue since I was old enough to cross the street” and, as he puts it in Le Freak with winning simplicity, “I loved drugs”. He spent so much time snorting cocaine in the women’s toilets of Studio 54 that they became known as his office. He would spend whole evenings holding court in his cubicle, people popping in to bring him drinks, share his drugs and sometimes even sleep with him. Predictably, his addictions spiralled out of control.

“I died eight times in one night,” he says of an overdose in 1994. He was only discovered because he pressed the wrong button in the lift of his apartment block: “I fell dead on the 14th floor just as the maintenance workers in the building happened to be cleaning the 14th floor and coming round to empty the trash. Which in my case happened to be me.”

It wasn’t so much that near-death experience that prompted him to book into rehab; it was the shock of reading that Rolling Stone Keith Richards had got clean.

Once Nile had won that almighty battle, he received another body blow in 1996: the sudden death (from pneumonia) of his Chic partner Bernard Edwards, aged 43. It was Nile who found his body.

“My life really changed after Bernard died. Of all the people who influenced me, Bernard had the greatest influence. After he died what do I do with my life after that? My life and my focus changed. My life from 15 years ago is a brand new life that’s just as exciting but it’s like a completely different movie starring the same person.”

Now Nile’s resilience is called to the fore once again, his cancer battle a work in progress and doctors unable to give him any sense of where he stands longer-term.

“I always thought I was really optimistic, that I loved life and always grabbed for the best thing but this has given me a real appreciation for life every day. I know I’ve had that since I got sober 17 years ago but now there’s a finer point on it. The colours in the world look sharper, the food tastes better, the laughter is more robust. The glass is more than half full, it’s almost overflowing.

“I have a new high pain threshold. I get these painful exams and proddings and pokings and I just laugh through it because I try to reduce it to a state of mind. I’ve always lived a life pursuing relaxed joyfulness and comfort.” And Nile Rodgers is not about to let cancer battle stand in his way.

Chic Featuring Nile Rodgers play a one-off UK show at the London Forum on 10th November. For tickets: . His book Le Freak (Little, Brown, £20) is out now.


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Category: PRESS