One unforgettable day in 1986, I met a man whose life was about to auger in after a long downward spiral. His name was Dick Dale, the self-proclaimed “King of the Surf Guitar” whose career had taken him from Orange County’s Rendezvous Ballroom to pop-culture stardom. On that day, a quarter century after Dale’s fame peaked in Life magazine and on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a rumbling avalanche of bad luck—everything from a failed marriage to cancer, calamity, and real estate reversals—finally seemed to catch up with him. A court order gave him 24 hours to move out of his 17-room mansion at the tip of Balboa Peninsula.
I wrote about the hearing and its immediate aftermath for The Orange County Register. What I remember most was not Dale’s crash, but the resilience he showed in dealing with it, and his remarkable bounce after hitting bottom. Though clearly stunned, he never once slid into self-pity. An hour after the court hearing, he made a list of the things he’d need to rebuild his life virtually from scratch and resurrect his career, which he eventually did.
An hour after that—even as he worked toward the brutal eviction deadline and prepared to move into the road-weary 25-foot RV that would become his home for the next year—Dale already was philosophical. “The difference between being broke and being poor is that when you’re poor, you don’t have the mental ability to want something and work hard enough to get it. I once made a million dollars a year. I made $10,000 for three minutes’ work on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1963. It all went to agents, record companies, producers, managers, taxes. It’s no big deal. I just ended up starting over again, just like I’m going to do now.”
Resilient people like Dick Dale fascinate me, which is why I find the “How I Survived” stories beginning on Page 70 such a wonderful addition to this year’s list of the county’s top doctors. In telling their tales, these survivors of everything from chronic pain to relentless caretaking prove that, no matter now difficult life gets, our species has a remarkable ability to adapt and endure. I hope you find as much inspiration in them as I do.
Finally, we bid farewell this month to Orange Coast Managing Editor Rose Flores Medlock, who is moving to Portland, Ore. We’ll miss her, and wish her continuing adventures and lifelong prosperity.
Martin J. Smith
Coming Up …
Our February cover story offers a lusty midwinter nose-thumbing to those unfortunates who can’t exercise outdoors in February, the white-knuckle trade secrets of a beach banner pilot, and writer Shawn Hubler’s Valentine’s Day story of love and redemption unlike any other.
Illustration by John Ueland