Wednesday, December 29, 2010



As Valerio Viccei said: “Some people are too fast to live.” They cannot abide by the rules imposed on them by society, especially when a world of riches can be snatched away from someone else. To them, the valuables stowed away in museums, banks, and jewelry stores are too tempting to pass by. So they painstakingly plot, plan and study to pull off the greatest and most glamorous heists humanly possible. Here’s our top 10 of the twentieth century.

10. The Stealing of the Mona Lisa, 1911

For centuries Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has lived in France. Napoleon had her in his bedroom, Louis XIV brought her to Versailles, and eventually she graced the walls of the Louvre. An Italian Louvre employee was resentful of the fact that this painting wasn’t in its homeland. To restore the Mona Lisa to Italy, Vincenzo Peruggia hid her under his coat when the museum closed for the day and took her to Florence. Two years later, Peruggia was caught and the Mona Lisa was returned to Paris. Peruggia, unlike most robbers, was hailed as a patriotic hero and given a mere 7 months in jail.

9. The Brinks Security Theft, 1983

It certainly takes guts to rob the headquarters of a world-renowned private security firm. Brinks, based in Boston, was the target of a group of 11 criminals who meticulously planned and executed their crime. One night the gang broke into the building, tying up the night watchmen and stealing $1.2m in cash and an additional $1.5m in checks and securities. The men went undetected for years until one thief shot another in a feud over who got the bigger cut. When the victim, ‘Specs’ O’Keefe, lay in his hospital bed, the FBI approached, and he ratted out his fellow robbers for a plea bargain.

8. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Art Heist, 1990

In the largest art heist in American history, two unknown men entered a small Boston museum containing important masterpieces, bound the security guard, and stripped 13 paintings from the walls. Works from Degas, Vermeer, Manet, and Rembrandt were stolen – which in total valued at half a billion dollars. The paintings have never been recovered, and are too hot to sell, even on the black market. In her will, Ms Gardner forbade any painting to be removed from the walls of the museum; thus the 13 empty frames still sit eerily in their places.

7. Jewelry Heist on the French Riviera, 1994

In the biggest jewelry heist of the century, two men ran into the jewelry shop of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France, brandishing two huge machine guns. The robbers fired the weapons into the ceiling, causing chaos. Employees and guests panicked, some fleeing, others hiding beneath tables. The men smashed the display cases, and gathered up all the jewelry they could. In total, they stole goods valued at $60m. Later, when no bullet holes appeared on the ceiling, authorities concluded the gunmen had used blanks. Neither loot nor criminal have been found.

6. The Lufthansa Heist, 1978

The Lufthansa Heist was the work of the Lucchese family – one of the five New York families who run the Italian-American mafia. A man who owed the Luccheses $25,000 in gambling debts alerted them to a goldmine: at John F. Kennedy airport the government kept a vault with millions of dollars of American cash. One night the family organized an attack on the vault. Initially it was successful – the robbers took $5m, the most cash ever stolen on American soil at the time. However, the getaway driver, who was high on a cocktail of drugs, parked rather conspicuously in a tow-away zone, drawing attention from the authorities. The events inspired the film Goodfellas.

5. John Dillinger’s Cross American Crime Spree, 1933-1934

John Dillinger was an armed robber who really did seem to live larger than life. Between 1933 and 1934 his gang robbed more than two dozen banks and four police stations, while he escaped prison twice. Living in the golden age of the American public enemy, a $10m reward was placed on his head, and his crimes would go on to inspire the creation of the FBI – as well as numerous films. He was eventually killed after police spotted him leaving a cinema screening of gangster movie Manhattan Melodrama.

4. The Great Train Robbery, 1963

The Royal Mail was making its usual delivery via train from Glasgow to London. There was a separate carriage holding all valuables – including cash, jewelry – with a larger load than usual due to a recent bank holiday. A gang of 15 men was waiting for such a day to make its move. The robbers had befriended train employees and studied schedules and routines of postal workers. Over £2.5m was taken from the train. Though the men initially escaped they were eventually sent to prison. However, one man, Ronnie Briggs, maintained his notoriety by continuing to terrorize the authorities after escaping from jail.

3. The Knightsbridge Security Deposit Theft, 1987

The third largest bank robbery in world history, the Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery caused the loss of over $100m in precious valuables and personal belongings. Italian fugitive, Valerio Viccei, and a gang of accomplices entered the bank, pretending they wanted to open a safe deposit box. Once inside, the men gagged and bound the guards and stole the goods. Only when the new shift of guards entered did they find the aftermath of the theft. All involved were eventually discovered and put in prison.

2. The Fall of Barings Bank, 1995

It now seems as if white-collar crime has become the modern-day version of the heist, but before Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford, there was the story of Nick Leeson, an overambitious young professional who devastated Barings Bank. The bank was England’s very oldest – even counting the Queen as a client. Leeson, the head derivatives trader based in Singapore, gambled all of Barings’ assets on the Japanese stock market, which crashed after a hurricane. Barings lost everything – £827m total – forcing it to sell to ING, a Dutch company, for a single pound. Leeson was extradited to Singapore, where he served 6 months in prison.

1. The Dunbar Armored Heist, 1997

The Dunbar Armored facility tempted its employees on a daily basis as millions of dollars of cash would enter and exit secured vaults. One man, Allen Pace, couldn’t withstand the temptation any longer. He gathered five childhood friends and together they stole $18.9m – making it the largest amount of cash ever stolen. For years the men lived freely with their new wealth, until one man erred, was turned over to the police, and subsequently ratted out his accomplices.
Though the risks of committing crime are great, their rewards can only be dreamed of. For those rebellious enough to execute such devious acts and smart enough to avoid capture, infinite luxury awaits. However, of the ten high-profile crimes on this list, only two went unsolved. The smallest slip, the tiniest finger print, the ever so slightly untrusting accomplice, can strip from the rebel his treasure, his freedom and even his life.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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