Photo courtesy Hospital Hospitality House
Red-carpet fashion connoisseur Steven Cojocaru spent the early part of the 2000s as a style correspondent for People magazine, Entertainment Tonight , the Today Show , E! and Access Hollywood . But in 2004, his Hollywood lifestyle took an unexpected turn when he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow in the kidneys. He suddenly found himself straddling the space between hospital gowns and red-carpet dresses while undergoing two kidney transplants. The author of two autobiographies, Red Carpet Diaries: Confessions of a Glamour Boy (2003) and Glamour, Interrupted: How I Became the Best-Dressed Patient in Hollywood (2008) will speak at the Hospital Hospitality House annual fundraising event on April 1 about how laughter got him through the darkest time in his life.
AD: What was your motivation behind becoming a fashion correspondent?
SC: Old Hollywood, the late-late show, old movies, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich. It just went through my veins, seeing all this glamour. I came out of the womb obsessed with fashion and glamour. My mother was a seamstress to all the Romanian socialites in Montreal, and I watched her take apart Chanel. There I was at her knee, being spoon-fed glamour. There was never any choice. It's an inherited gene from my mom.
AD: So you had this passion. But how did you go about actually getting into that world?
SC: I was born driven. At 16, I cold-called the fashion editor of the Montreal Gazette. Her name was Iona Monahan, and she was the Anna Wintour of Montreal, and she liked my chutzpah and my nerve. The first thing I did was an article on men's cologne. I called Montreal celebrities, hockey players and politicians, and I asked them what their favorite cologne was. I was a writer, so I've come up the hard way. Nothing was handed to me. I just did it on true grit and burning ambition. I have never kissed anyone's a-- or social-climbed. I take complete credit for my phenomenal success [ laughs ].
AD: I know you've met a lot of celebrities, are there any that you were really excited to meet that made you flip out a little bit?
SC: What blows me away are meeting my idols, like Sophia Loren. I tinkled in my pants when I met Sophia Loren. That's what excites me. I'm so firmly in old Hollywood, I feel nothing compares. Meeting my icons really excites me. Like, I've met Cher, I've met Bette Midler. These are women I've worshiped my entire life.
AD: So you're living this glamorous lifestyle and interviewing your idols and then, bam , you're diagnosed with kidney disease. What went through your head when the doctor told you?
SC: I'm so ambitious, the first thing I thought of was not life or death, it was, "My career is over." I never felt I was gonna croak. I have a man crush on my kidney doctor, Dr. Stanley Jordan. He sat me down and he said, "You will be well and you'll have an amazing, normal life." And I believed him, psychically, every neuron in my body believed him and that's what got me through some very, very dark times.
AD: Do you think your positive attitude had a positive affect on your healing process? |
SC: Absolutely. What had a positive affect was humor and laughing through the tragedy. I mean, I took over that hospital and I turned it into like, Rodeo Drive with IV. Me and the nurses laughed every day. And even in the darkest moments, I made over the nurses. I suggested that some nurses needed to wax their mustache. And the other thing that really got me through was my drive. I used that drive to survive, to continue, to push myself through. I'm strong, I'm going to pat myself on the back and say I'm strong. I see myself as a warrior.
AD: You deserve it after going through two kidney transplants. But back to Hollywood for a second: How did you manage to live in both worlds? You know, in the hospital but also still being involved in all the glamour?
SC: It was very natural for me. ET was extremely supportive. When I had my transplant, some people felt that I disappeared off the face of the earth, but that's absolutely not true. I worked in between my transplants. I did the red carpet. I went to the MTV VMAs in 2005 with a portable dialysis machine. I worked during that and so that was my savior.
AD: And just hitting the red carpet with all of those beautiful people, what was it like having to face them like that?
SC: I found the stars incredibly supportive. For how horrible I've been to them and trashed them [ laughs ], I found the stars to be very lovely and understanding and kind. Maybe more kind than I deserved. I mean, the industry has been cruel. I've lost many jobs. People tell my agent, "Oh he's fat, he looks terrible." It definitely hurt my career. But what makes up for it is the stars. I mean, they've been so kind to me.
AD: Did any of your friends in the celebrity arena reach out to you while you were going through the surgeries?
SC: Yes. Sarah Jessica Parker called; that made my day. Renee Zellweger sent me balloons. Halle Berry sent me this basket with CDs and chocolates. It was very lovely. And to this day, celebrities, who are the most narcissistic, self-absorbed people on the planet, to this day, they go, "How are you feeling? How are you doing?"
AD: But part of your job did involve being kind of sassy toward the celebrities on the red carpet. Has that personality type changed since going through all of this?
SC: Absolutely not. I'm as harsh as ever. I'm as acid-tongued as ever. I have a job to do, and I'm very hard on these stars because I'm a sucker for glamour. It's unacceptable to not be pulled together on the red carpet when you have access to the best clothes in the world. If you don't know how to do it, wave your hand and say, "I don't know how to do it. I need professionals." I see Jennifer Aniston that way. I don't think she has a shred of style, but she has the best people around her, and her presentation is fantastic. She's clean and polished. She is a professional celebrity, and I completely applaud her for that. Everybody thinks I take such glee in trashing people; it couldn't be further from the truth. I want them to look gorgeous. I hit that red carpet salivating and panting and waiting to see glamour.
AD: Right, but here you are commending people. Is there anyone out there who you think isn't wonderful?
SC: You know what, yeah, I have become a softy. I will not continuously put someone on the worst-dressed list. There's no reason for bloodletting, and there's no reason to beat something to death. Like, Christina Hendricks is always horrendous. Christina Aguilera is always horrendous. Mariah is always horrendous.
AD: Did your experience with kidney disease change your focus to spreading awareness about the disease and less about glamour?
SC: I still have yet to do the work that I want to do in the kidney world. I had a lot of career setbacks because of this disease. So that's where my attention has been, in rebuilding my career. I have enormous dreams. I still wanna be the male Oprah and get out of fashion and do more of a talk-show thing. The other goal is to have a life; that's extremely important for me, I won't sacrifice my life for my career. My motto is, "If you don't have a life, you're a loser." And so it's been more about quality of life. You know, I'm not Regis, I'm not Joan Rivers, I don't wanna work when I'm 80. I wanna be in a yacht.
AD: Doesn't everybody?
SC: With go-go boys dancing on a table. [ Laughs .]
AD: Doesn't everybody?
SC: Exactly. [ Laughs .]
AD: What will you be talking about at the Fancy Hat Party?
SC: I'm just gonna tell my story. I hope to inspire people. I'm not a hero. I never wanted to be a role model. I was humiliated to be on the red carpet and be so fat. It was very hurtful to see my career hit a big snag. There's been a lot of pain there. You know, there's no secret to surviving. I had no choice, there's nothing heroic here. Life is precious. You get bumps in the road, and, you know, there's a lot of dignity in surviving.
AD: Do you have any fashion don'ts for Richmonders, or for anyone else?
SC: Less is more. My top three fashion tips: If you are not good at fashion, it stresses you out and it's complete torture for you; it shouldn't be torture, just get an all-black wardrobe and call it a day.
AD: You know, it's funny you said that because I'm actually wearing all black today.
SC: I wore all black last night. [ Laughs .] The biggest mistake people make is when they over-decorate themselves. When they're like walking Christmas trees. I mean Christina Aguilera looks like a tranny hooker working Santa Monica Boulevard at four in the morning, you know. She needs to be hosed down and sanitized. And de-bugged, you know. She needs a flea bath. She needs a lice removal. I mean, that's hideous. She should know better.
AD: Well, what do you think about her new movie with Cher?
SC: You know what, I know I'm the biggest queen on the planet, but I can't watch Christina Aguilera. To me, that has Showgirls written all over it. So I never saw it. I was kicked out of the homosexual club because I refused to see Burlesque . Because I'm not into the clichés, even though I do love show tunes. So I was kicked out of the homo club. I wouldn't even watch it on pay-per-view for $2.99. I couldn't be less interested.
AD: You're talking about wanting to be the next Oprah, are we going to be seeing more Cojo on TV any time soon?
SC: Yes, I am kind of refiguring things and absolutely shooting for the stars. I have lost a lot of weight; I just lost 30 pounds and the sky's the limit. Sometimes I feel very chained by Cojo and the best- and worst-dressed. Sometimes I feel very boxed in with that, and I have a lot more to prove.
AD: So we definitely will be seeing more of you soon?
SC: Absolutely. I'm working on a show concept right now and hustling like mad. I wanna have my own network. The Cojo network. [ Laughs .]
The Fancy Hat Party will be on April 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Richmond Marriott. Tickets are $100. For more information, call 828-6901 or visit hhhrichmond.org .