John Cristi, Who Sees 300 Plays and Concerts a Year, May Be the Greatest Show Man on Earth
To be more specific, tonight's spectacle is one of some 300 shows of all kinds Cristi will take in this year, which is about the same number he saw last year, which is about the same number he has seen every year since 1947. In that time Cristi has spent some 12,000 nights out taking in everything from rock, country, pop and classical concerts to nightclub acts, ballets, plays, recitals, little theater and professional wrestling. Some things he sees more than once. Says Cristi: "My son calls me and says, 'You're running down your savings. Why do you have to go see the same guys more than once? Why do you have to see [the comedian] Gallagher every year?' But I just can't stay home. What am I going to do? I sit down in front of the TV and watch the Yankees or a Bronson movie and I fall asleep."
Cristi is a man so about town that box office workers know him by name. "Originally there was a rumor that he was dying of cancer and he just wanted to see everything," says Knight Center ticket seller Dan Swartz. "I thought he might be a scalper so one day I asked him. He said he just loved to see everything." Swartz, who values Cristi's opinions about which shows are good, says some of his customer's choices "are pretty off-the-wall. We tried to steer him away from the Metallica concert but he said he really wanted to see it. We tried to put him away from the crowd so nothing would happen to him."
"The kids at the rock shows love him," says Jill Shephard, who sells tickets at the Miami Arena. "They think it's pretty neat that an older person can listen to the same music as them and enjoy it as much if not more than they do."
Cristi's greatest fear is missing out on a hot ticket. When last year's Frank Sinatra-Liza Minnelli-Sammy Davis Jr. concert sold out, Cristi freaked. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "I go out every night and I couldn't get a ticket to see the three of them on one stage! Finally I called Jill. I told her, 'You've got to get me a ticket to see Frank, Sammy and Liza.' The next day she called back and said, 'I've got your tickets.' I went to see them VIP."
Cristi decided life is a cabaret back as a teenager in Bayonne, N.J. "I was 10 minutes from New York," he says. "I went out every night. When I was 13 or 14, I used to play hooky from school and go to burlesque shows. People always say they only went for the comedians. I really did go to see the comedians."
Despite his truancy, Cristi was valedictorian of his high school class of 1940. While Army service during the war delayed his marriage—he wed his high school sweetheart, Margie Rodriguez, in 1946—it only heightened his love of nightlife. In Paris recovering from a minor wound, Cristi got a ticket to see Big Band great Glenn Miller. Miller's plane disappeared over the English Channel en route to the concert. Cristi, of course, went anyway. "It was still a great show," he says.
After the war Cristi worked as a welder by day in North Bergen, N.J., and, with Margie and son Robert, now 39, in tow, spent most nights taking in shows. Two years after Margie died of a stroke in 1979, Cristi retired to Florida, where he immediately began to live the good life on his savings, Social Security and a $400-a-week pension. Nowadays he figures he shells out $12,000 a year on entertainment, dinner included. He spends little time in his one-bedroom Miami Beach bachelor pad, preferring poolside life at the Bel Air Hotel, where he rents a cabana for $75 a month. "If they ever sold the hotel and I lost my cabana, I'd move to Cancun." says Cristi, comfortable in his yellow swim trunks and George Michael T-shirt. "The beach is nice there, and there's a lot of action."
He is not talking about showbiz this time. Cristi's other passion is revealed when he invites a visitor into his cabana, which, in addition to a good supply of cigars and cold beer, contains a photo album showing Cristi posing with dozens of bikinied beauties. Next he produces his business card, which reads, in embossed letters, JOHN v. CRISTI, PLAYBOY-LOVER.
"I've had girlfriends from all over the world," says Cristi, "but not anymore. I've put them all aside because I now have one Irish girlfriend, Kay, and she doesn't want me to have any more of these casual love affairs. She's 62, but she looks 52. I have a picture of her in a bathing suit, and she looks good. She's in love and I'm the lucky guy." As soon as Kay moves to Miami from Cambridge, England, Cristi says, "We're going to live in sin."
That doesn't mean becoming housebound. "I told her I don't want to change my life-style. I think it's kept me young. If I was one of these guys who just sits around the house and watches TV, I would have gotten rigor mortis by now."
Cristi plans to stay loose a lot longer. He already has tickets for upcoming shows by 10,000 Maniacs, Todd Rundgren, the Doobie Brothers and Menudo. "That's those young Puerto Rican kids—they kick them out when they get too old. It should be a real young crowd." Also on tap are troubadour Jimmy Buffet, whom Cristi sees "two or three times a year," the Gipsy Kings ("I don't know who they are") and, of course, Gallagher, the slapstick-y, watermelon-smashing comedian whom Cristi can never get enough of. "I always sit down front where he throws stuff," says the perpetual enthusiast. "It's great."
—Steve Dougherty, Cindy Smith in Miami