The Bizarre Death - and Life - of Publicist/CIA Operative Michael Sands (Exclusive)
Published: April 13, 2012 @ 12:31 pm
Michael Sands, an effusive Hollywood publicist, has died after a bizarre accident in the deli section of an upscale supermarket in Century City, where he choked to death on a sample of meat.
Best known as the brains behind Mr. Blackwell’s annual Worst Dressed List, Sands also was an inveterate self-promoter who claimed to be an undercover CIA operative who may have helped in the capture of Abu Abbas, the terrorist behind the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985.
He was 66.
“He was eating a beef sample, and since he has narrow airways due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, it got stuck,” his son Nick told TheWrap.
After several attempts at the Heimlich maneuver failed, Sands was pronounced clinically dead on the scene for five minutes, until paramedics revived him and transported him to Cedars Sinai. There, his son said, he was placed in an induced coma to inhibit brain swelling, a common medical procedure for brain injuries.
“He was ashen, very gray and on the floor,” said Stephen Randall, deputy editor of Playboy Magazine, who witnessed the Gelson's incident but did not know Sands. "There were no signs of life. It was terrible, awful to be present, watching a guy who I assumed was dead."
A Gelson's assistant manager who also was present declined to comment; a spokeswoman for the supermarket told TheWrap, "He has been long and valued customer and out of respect to his family, we have no comment at this time."
Sands, a Boston-area native, was born Michael Shapiro on Dec. 14, 1945. His client list included Michael Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan; actress Kristy Swanson; and Kevin Federline, who was involved in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife Britney Spears, who was undergoing a series of public breakdowns.
Sands also handled a lineup of Beverly Hills plastic surgeons, defense attorneys, family law practitioners and Hollywood private eyes. He also sold designer cheesecakes -- based on his own recipes and sold at several dozen franchised stores around the country.
A tireless promoter of his own career, he once appeared partially nude in carefully orchestrated photo of himself in People magazine to promote his cakes. He also appeared in TV commercials and had various roles on screen. In the late '90s he produced CelebrityDoctor.com. The website pioneered using the Internet for live screenings of face-lifts, most notably with Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill.
But it was Sands’ efforts to publicize an aging fashion designer, Mr. Blackwell (above) -- a fading designer of women’s clothing -- that caught the attention of the media.
“He was the consummate PR man who led a very colorful life,” Linda Deutsch, an award-winning Associated Press court reporter and a longtime friend of Sands, told TheWrap. “The high point in his career was the Worst Dressed List. It was his idea to host an elaborate breakfast at Blackwell’s elegant mansion in Hancock Park, and it gained international publicity"...
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