Just One of the Boyz
Had history been kinder and gentler to his stepfather, Michael Dukakis, John, 37, might have been meeting that bus at the White House steps rather than riding in it. In fact, the 1988 presidential election convinced John to quit politics. After Dukakis's defeat, John, who had managed his campaign in Atlanta, says he watched in despair as his stepfather "went from being one of the most revered politicians in the history of Massachusetts to being vilified for every single thing that went wrong. The kind of abuse politicians have to put up with makes you wonder if there are other ways to influence the world and make it a better place to live."
John chose music, eventually hooking up with El-Amin and helping turn Boyz II Men, a Philadelphia quartet known for its smooth mix of R&B and vocal harmonies, into a stunning success story. The group's first album, Cooleyhigh-harmony, released in 1991, sold nearly 8 million copies. Their 1992 single "End of the Road" topped the Billboard singles chart for 13 weeks, breaking the record held by Elvis for "Don't Be Cruel." In 1994 the group made news again when their single "I'll Make Love to You" topped the charts for 14 weeks. The group performed for the pope in October and will appear on a Disney channel special this month.
Dukakis got involved with Boyz II Men as personal manager after their road manager and founding father Roderick Khalil Rountree was shot to death in May 1992 while resisting an attempted robbery in a Chicago hotel. El-Amin, then Rountree's assistant, was shot in the knee and was deeply moved when Dukakis sent him flowers in the hospital. When Qadree took over as manager later that year, he asked Dukakis, who was then a vice president of Paisley Park Records in Los Angeles, to join him and form the partnership that became Southpaw Entertainment. "We're known to the guys as Batman and Robin," says Dukakis (Batman), who handles most of the deal-making but insists the partnership is equal. "I love it, but in some ways I feel I should be in Workaholics Anonymous. It's very consuming, like a political campaign."
Not surprisingly, politics was Dukakis's first love. Born in San Jose, Calif., he grew up in Brookline, Mass., after his mother, Kitty, divorced his father, John Chaffetz (now a Utah businessman), and married state representative Michael in 1963. John, who took Dukakis's name but was never formally adopted by him, started stumping for his stepfather at age 5 or 6. Michael was impressed. "He knew more about politics than the average American when he was 8," Mike says. In junior high school, John was elected to the student advisory council. "I could see strengths in him that I don't have," adds the elder Dukakis, 62, now a professor at Northeastern University. "I'm not bad at expressing myself, but he's terrific."
Nonetheless, John dropped out of Brown University in 1977 to become an actor like his cousin Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis. He appeared in small roles in movies such as Jaws 2 and TV shows including Family Ties (he was Justine Bateman's first boyfriend) before giving up acting in 1984. That year he met his wife, Lisa, a former model—they have a daughter, Alexandra, 6½—and moved to Washington to become an aide to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Not long after, he started working on his stepfather's presidential campaign.
Shortly after the election, John took a job with Boston agent Bob Woolf; one of his first clients was New Kids on the Block. Two years later, Woolf's agency started representing Boyz II Men, and John started building his relationship with the group. Even now, John says, he still gets teased mercilessly by the Boyz, who like to wrestle and have food fights: "I play the straight man to them quite a bit."
Even Mike himself has gotten into the act. When he and his father-in-law, Harry Ellis Dickson, retired conductor of the Boston Pops, saw their first Boyz II Men concert last summer, they brought earplugs, not knowing what to expect. "Even old guys like me can appreciate what they're doing," Dickson says, proud of John's new direction. "That's one reason I think they're going to be around for a long time."
GABRIELLE SAVERI in Los Angeles