Rich Hazelwood, owner of the Phoenix Celebrity Theater, has passed away
Rich Hazelwood, owner of the historic Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, died Monday morning March 1st after battling leukemia. He was 74 years old.
The Hazelwood family said they were “devastated to share the news” and issued a statement.
“Rich Hazelwood cared very much for his family, his Celebrity Theater staff (whom he considered family), everyone connected to the Celebrity Theater, and all of the Valley’s supporters who attended concerts and events,” it says .
“He was very proud of the venue and what it means to the community.”
Since Hazelwood bought the venue in 2002, the celebrity has featured performances by artists such as Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Motorhead and Willie Nelson, as well as Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding concerts for several years.
The statement also said: “As we process this loss, Rich’s daughter Heidi Hazelwood will lead the Celebrity Theater through its grief, post-pandemic and into the future.”
He went from newsboy to concert owner
At the concert promoter in Arizona Danny Zelisko left Live Nation in 2011 and started booking shows Once again under the name Danny Zelisko Presents, the celebrity became his meeting place.
Zelisko saw his first concert in Phoenix on the celebrity’s rotating stage as a 17 year old kid in the ’70s. He doesn’t think the celebrity ever did as well as it did under Hazelwood.
“The last 10 years have been the best 10 years I’ve had in this theater,” he says. “And I started booking shows in this place in 1974. I have to give him my hat. He did well.”
For Zelisko, the celebrity won’t be the same without Hazelwood coming on stage with his dogs.
“You ran the shop,” he recalls with a laugh.
For Hazelwood, fame was more than an important part of Phoenix’s musical history.
“The theater is very special to me,” Hazelwood told the Republic of Arizona in May 2020. “I saw it built on my paper route and thought, ‘One day I’ll own this.'”
The The childhood dream came true in 2002 when Hazelwood bought the Celebrity, a theater on the round on the southwest corner of 32nd and Fillmore Streets.
“He always told the story of how one day he would own the Celebrity Theater,” says Zelisko.
“And he did. That alone is quite an accomplishment. Anyone who can be a young kid who has no reason to say they can, other than willpower is my kind of person.”
The story of the Celebrity Theater
In 2013, Phoenix City Council approved the historic designation of the venue, which opened in 1964 as the Phoenix Star Theater with a performance of the musical “South Pacific”.
Originally known for bringing Broadway plays to Phoenix, the venue was renamed Celebrity Theater in the early 1970s to reflect its growing reputation as a concert venue.
In 2017 the venue was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Hazelwood delivered a colorful acceptance speech from the celebrity stage with lots of humorous highlights including “My first love in life isn’t music; I think it’s Jack Daniels” and a joke about going to Phoenix high school as “the top five Years of “my life.” He signed: “Come back often; I need the money.”
Two years after this introduction, the celebrity was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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A Mission to “Preserve the Legend of Fame”
“I hope I can continue like this and keep the legend of stardom for years to come,” Hazelwood told the Republic in 2020.
Hazelwood and his wife Judy also owned Hazelwoods First Place Sports Grill, which closed in 2016 after serving sports fans on Indian School Road and 36th Street in Arcadia with cheesesteaks, cheeseburgers and chicken wings for 16 years.
Long before he bought the Celebrity, the self-described “serial entrepreneur” founded Hazelwood Enterprises in 1976, setting up Hazelwood Gift Shops and other successful businesses. Hazelwood Enterprises sold 71 of its 73 gift shops in nine states to a UK retailer for $ 19 million in 2000.
That gave Hazelwood a lot of money to invest in renovating the Celebrity. Over the years, he has spent more than $ 1 million on the venue removing chairs, painting surfaces, and adding video screens.
Hazelwood took great pride in his role as the newsboy who had grown up to own the historical Meeting place.
“He liked to come on stage,” says Zelisko.
“He used that private box upstairs for every show. He’s had lots of good times with lots of friends over the years. … He loved meeting the artists and letting them know he was that guy. And you deserve to be noticed if you are that guy. “
A veteran of the United States Army, Hazelwood was named Arizona Retailer of the Year and received the Phoenix Rising Star Award. He was also known for giving back to the community Tenure as Chairman of the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chairman of Boys Ranch.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.
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