When the news came that Donna Summer—the disco diva who rose to fame with pulsing hits such as “Last Dance” and “Bad Girl” – died today at 63, Jewish publicist Michael Levine called with some memories of the cultural icon. “I grew up in New York, and when she became a big star, I could never in a thousand years imagine that I would get to meet her, much less represent her,” said Levine, who was Summer’s publicist for about a year back in 2002.
At the time, the performer was struggling to reinvent herself, Levine said: “She felt very strongly that she was kind of a victim of her own success,” recalled Levine, founder of LCO public relations, who has represented some 34 Grammy Award winners. “She had a tremendously embedded image of someone who was a disco diva, and she wanted to move her career beyond that.”
Summer was focusing more on pop rock, and also had become a born-again Christian: “Beyond her music, she was deeply committed to her spirituality and her religion,” Levine said. “She would have Bible study classes at her house and even invited me to attend.”
Levine said he and Summer discussed whether to address the debate that had erupted when she was accused of making anti-gay statements relating to the AIDS crisis some years prior. “She claimed she didn’t make any [such] remarks,” Levine said. “But she didn’t want to get involved in the controversy. We talked a lot about whether she wanted to address the controversy, and she didn’t.”
Levine remembers Summer, then in her early 50s, as a performer with “a deeply, deeply burning sense of ambition and drive….She had more damn energy than people I represent who are in their early 20s. And she was very gracious,” he added. Whenever she came to our office she would bring a gift, which is unique, because most people don’t.”
In 2008, Summer performed on “American Idol” and released her first full studio album in 17 years, titled “Crayons.” She is survived by her husband, singer Bruce Sudano, three daughters and four grandchildren.
“Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith,” Summer’s family said in a statement today. “While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.”