I was about as cold as I’d ever been. The Midwest was in the midst of a bitter winter in February, 1959. The wind was punishing, trees were freezing up and snapping, and the little yellow school bus I was riding in with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper had been breaking down. After our « Winter Dance Party Tour » appearance in Duluth, Minnesota, our bus broke down again. Buddy had had enough. He talked the club manager into chartering a plane to fly the headliners to our next show in Fargo, North Dakota, and tried to recruit us to get on board. The more people on the plane, he told us, the lower the cost per person. The Big Bopper agreed, as did Ritchie, who had a bad case of the flu. When Buddy came to me, I thought about the $36.00 price. My parents paid $36.00 a month for rent back in the Bronx. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the same amount on a 45 minute plane ride, so I told him no.
The next day, I stood in the lobby of the hotel in Moorhead, Minnesota. There was a television on the wall, announcing that the plane carrying Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper had gone down in the storm. There were no survivors.
From that moment on, I knew God had a plan for me.
Still, even with that success, I was at an all time mental and spiritual bottom. Out of depression, we moved to Miami, looking for a fresh start. There, I would have the surprise of my life: I got to see God work through my father-in-law, Jack. Jack helped fan into flames the gift of God that was in me through the laying on of hands at my confirmation. I said a prayer one night there in Jack’s home: « God I need your help. » I was delivered from the obsession to drink and drug; it was just lifted off me like a weight. On that day, April 1, 1968, I became aware of God’s power, even before I became aware of His reality.
I entered a spiritual-based 12-step program and grew in these disciplines. Six months later, at the age of 28, I released one of the biggest records of my career — « Abraham, Martin and John. » It became an anthem.
But my biggest moment was to come. On December 14, 1979, I went out jogging, like I did every morning. It was a time when I could be alone with my thoughts — thinking about the past, thinking about the future. There was a lot going on in me then, a mid-life crisis, or something. My emotions were everywhere. In the middle of that confusion, all I could pray was « God, it would be nice to be closer to you. » That’s all it took.