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From Russia, With Clout

Speaking engagements bring ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev to county. His fees match his cachet.

October 07, 2000|MIKE ANTON and KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Mikhail S. Gorbachev brokered nuclear arms agreements, brought democratic reform to the Soviet Union and helped oversee the end of the Cold War. He's a world-stage kind of guy.

On Thursday, the former Soviet president shared a stage in Anaheim with William Shatner. On Friday, he spoke to an Orange County German club. A week from Sunday, the man who invented perestroika will take to the pulpit at Crystal Cathedral, followed by country singer Naomi Judd.

And he's getting paid well--extremely well.

"When they told us what they wanted, as soon as I picked myself off the floor I got on the phone and started getting sponsorships," said Gunter Kunkel, president of the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, which shelled out $75,000 for a 30-minute talk by Gorbachev followed by 20 minutes of questions and answers. "It's a bargain compared with what other people have to pay.

"He's become a neo-capitalist. Can you blame the guy? If you had that kind of name recognition, wouldn't you be doing that?"

Indeed, at a time when big-name speakers are commanding ever-higher fees on the lecture circuit, Gorbachev is the highest-paid name for hire in the world, said Robert Walker, Gorbachev's agent.

"There's a charisma. People are just awed by the man and impressed with what the man has done for the world," Walker said.

Kunkel was certainly awed that he could land Gorbachev to speak to his group, the largest German club in North America. "Can you think of anybody bigger? It will probably be the greatest night we have seen here.

"It will be a nice evening with one of the most important men of this century. We also have a nice musical program."

Walker wouldn't reveal Gorbachev's standard fee but said all the money supports a foundation and think tank run by Gorbachev.

Kunkel said he was told Gorbachev got $100,000 to appear at a motivational seminar at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Thursday. Sponsors of the event couldn't be reached for comment, but about 8,000 businesspeople paid to attend Peter Lowe's "Success 2000."

Gorbachev focused on the Cold War. Zig Ziglar preached to participants that life is about more than making money.

And sandwiched between his motivational speech Thursday and Friday night's visit to the Phoenix Club, Gorbachev dropped by the Los Angeles Times, where he pushed the agenda for his environmental group Green Cross International and its American arm, Global Green USA. He also fielded questions about recent developments in Yugoslavia.

Although his tour seems eclectic--colleges and universities, newspaper editorial boards and motivational speeches alongside the former captain of the Starship Enterprise--Walker said Gorbachev plans for each appearance, uses no "canned speech" but speaks through a translator. This month's tour is part of a biannual swing by the former Soviet leader through the United States.

He'll host a symposium about water and energy use Friday afternoon in Beverly Hills, then attend the fifth annual Green Cross Millennium Awards. He will also visit the California cities of Santa Barbara and Chico; Calgary, Canada; Tennessee; and New York City for a "major political meeting" with high-profile leaders Walker declined to name.

"You'll see it on the news," Walker said.

But perhaps one of Gorbachev's most unusual stops will be Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, a 10,000-member Reform Church known for its ebullient televangelist, Robert Schuller, and worldwide broadcasts of Schuller's show.

The church has been running newspaper ads with a picture of Gorbachev under the heading: "Guess who's coming to church?"

His appearance was first planned in the summer when Schuller visited Moscow. Gorbachev agreed to "fit it in the schedule," Walker said. A Crystal Cathedral spokeswoman said she didn't believe Gorbachev was being paid.

In a written statement Friday, Schuller said of the former world leader: "I know that he calls himself an atheist, but 11 years ago, as one of the most powerful men in the world, God used this atheist in a mighty way."

Schuller was referring not to glasnost or detente with Reagan but the fact that Gorbachev allowed Schuller's TV show, "Hour of Power," to be broadcast across Russia. In the statement, the preacher said of Gorbachev's pulpit stop: "Also, I hope that he might sense something special--I would call it the presence of God--while he is a guest in our service."

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