By Ken Stone
Retired to a Las Vegas suburb, John Coleman is happily playing poker and handicapping the weather.
The entertaining former KUSI meteorologist is on Twitter forecasting his own view of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. He’ll join his extended family in Carbondale, Illinois, for the sky show.
“The stadium at the university will be Eclipse Central,” he says of the school where he graduated with a journalism degree in 1957. It’s “where all of the networks will have their coverage, where all of the top astronomers in the world will be gathered. All the experts from NASA and NOA.”But Coleman and his wife of 18 years, Linda — plus his son Scott and daughter Susan’s families — won’t be in the bleachers.
“We’re going to enjoy watching the eclipse on the lawn of my daughter’s second home, which happens to be right there in the middle of it,” says Coleman, 82.
Three years after his sudden exit from San Diego’s airwaves and 15 months after leaving California, John Stewart Coleman opened up to Times of San Diego recently about his current life, six-decade career and crusade against what he calls “Algorian” scientists and the “climate change hustle.”
He and Linda — a fellow divorcee he met at a Viejas poker table — moved to the Sun City section of Summerlin in May 2016.
“I was tired of paying the 10 percent California income tax,” he says over the phone. “I was tired of the high property taxes I was paying on my home in [Rancho Bernardo]. … I’d done everything there was to do in Southern California. And I thought it would be just great to come to Vegas, buy a bigger house for half the price. Put the rest of the money in the bank. Pay no state taxes, and try a new world here of Sin City.”
From his home overlooking Eagle Crest Golf Course (“I can’t play golf. It’s nice to watch”), Coleman says he’ll always have a strong love for San Diego. “And I have a lot of friends there. But I really enjoy this adventure here.”
He raves about amenities and a magnificent view of the valley below “and all of Las Vegas” — he’s only 20 minutes from The Strip. “It’s like living in a resort on a permanent basis.”
Unlike many of his neighbors — GOP megadonor and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson lives in Summerlin — the Colemans upsized only a “little bit.”
Or on the table.
Coleman says poker is his retirement passion, playing five days a week, “maybe six, some weeks.” He played side tournaments when the World Series of Poker was under way in Vegas. He fancies himself a good player. His favorite is the H.O.R.S.E. Tournament.
“Ever heard of horse? That stands for Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Razz, Stud-High and [Eight-or-Better] Stud-High-Low. You play five different poker games. .. I play that every Sunday night. Big fun.”
He once claimed a pot of $1,000 and a tournament prize of $4,700, but admits: “I win as much as I lose. I’m not bragging.”
Coleman talks out of earshot of his bride, the former Linda Meyer, who worked as a project coordinator at Sharp Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department. She’s watching one of her favorite shows — “Judge Judy.”
He reveals a secret — the story of how he quit “Kay-YOOUUUU-Es-Eye (as he still pronounces it) in April 2014.
“I had watched the goodbyes of several different TV personalities — mostly strung out over weeks or even a month’s time — but the station used it as a profit center to build ratings and sell advertising,” he says. “People were aggrandized to the point of silliness. And I imagined what I was going to go through if I did that. And I was just not up to all of that. It was beyond anything that I could tolerate.”
At 79, he feared a flood of interviews, TV stories and “yap, yap, yap, yap, yap. I just didn’t want to do it,” he says.
So one Friday he left a “gracious memo” thanking the McKinnon family owners of KUSI, his colleagues and news director Steve Cohen, and went on vacation — “got out of town where they couldn’t reach me.”
He went to Texas, where he was born and raised, stopping first at South Padre Island and the National Tropical Weather Conference.
During a lunchtime keynote address — “a humorous and rich look at his storied broadcast career,” organizers said — Coleman publicly announced his resignation from KUSI, Channel 51.
“I did it in the following way: I said: ‘How many of you at this conference are television weathercasters?’ And there were about 25 young people in the room who had come to cover the conference for their television stations, who held up their hands, and I said: ‘OK, get out your phones and punch in this number.’”
He recited a cell number.
He told the audience: “Now get ready because I’m sure you would all love to work in San Diego. That’s the number of the news director of KUSI, and he discovered two days ago when he got a memo that when he went to work on Monday morning that he has an opening for a weathercaster. So hit that number and tell him you want the job because I [with dramatic pauses] … just … resigned.”
KUSI friends and colleagues declined to speak for the record, but the gambit didn’t lead to a conference attendee landing a job.
Computer model outlook for the Solar Eclipse Monday, August 21st. New outlook is a huge change; No rain for peak eclipse region in Illinois pic.twitter.com/m2E5pmiTno
— John Coleman (@JohnColemanMRWX) August 14, 2017
Coleman keeps in touch with KUSI friends, including on Facebook, but can be critical of the show he left behind, watching newscasts streamed online.
“Every so often I look back to see how my friends are doing,” he says. “And they’re wearing the same clothes, sitting on the exact same set, exact same cameras and lighting, doing the same format at the same pace and style. Many of the visuals are exactly the same and have been since I sat in that studio went on the air in 1998. Isn’t that amazing?”
He says other local stations have already changed two or three times.
“And there they are [at KUSI]. It’s like they’re caught in this …. Groundhog Day over and over. Bless their hearts. I love them all. Great friends and wonderful people. I see them and my heart bleeds as I no longer have to put on that white shirt and tie and makeup.”
When he left, KUSI elevated Leslie Lopez from the morning weathercast.They moved her to Coleman’s spots at night, he says. “And Leslie’s life is now turned around. She’s now at [KABC] in L.A., making five times the money. She married an airline captain and her life is beautiful. But she was really struggling back then, bless her heart.”
Coleman’s family also had its challenges and triumphs.
He tells of son Scott — who married his gay partner in Palm Springs. “He retired wealthy at 52 after making a lot of money in the insurance business,” dad says.
He tells of daughter Susan — who married Tom Keim 38 years ago and now lives in St. Genevieve, Missouri, where he’s CEO of St. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital. (He was named to the 2015 list of “50 Rural Hospital CEOs to Know” by Becker’s Hospital Review.)
“She is a very amazing person,” Coleman says of his engineer daughter — a “jet-set international businesswoman of significance running a munitions division for General Dynamics” who travels to Europe, Australia “and Washington, of course.” They have three children, “all of whom are successes. The perfect American family.”
In December, he’s expecting his first great grandchild.
He also tells of son Stewart, who died in the late 1990s at age 42 in Chicago.
“Wonderful, wonderful son who got lost in that world [of drugs],” Coleman says. “We tried hard to bail him out. He left behind two wonderful young men, who are staying in touch. And life goes on.”
Stewart Coleman had been an athlete with hopes of an NFL career, his dad says.
“His freshman year in college, he got hit so hard that for a few minutes [he] was paralyzed,” John Coleman says. “It so scared him, he stopped football, and started tending bar. And that was pretty much the end.”
Today the Colemans focus on enjoying life — exploring the dining scene, going to local and Vegas shows.
A mile from their house is the Starbright Theater at the Eagle Crest Community Center, “where there’s a show every Saturday night. And the tickets are $20.”
“They’re not the headliners [from The Strip] but the also-rans,” he says. “They’re very talented. It’s very hard to make a living in entertainment.” One did Nat King Cole. “This week we have a Johnny Cash entertainer.”
On The Strip, the Colemans have seen Willie Nelson, illusionist David Copperfield and the Lettermen (a trio tracing their origins to late 1950s Las Vegas).
Remembered by San Diego viewers for prancing and dancing during weathercasts, Coleman still stays in shape.
At the gym, “I can pedal a bike. I can turn the handles. I can step up weights with my legs. Do the stretches and turns. I lift the hand weights. Pull the elastic bands,” he says. “Just that sort of old-man routine physical activity.”
But: “My wife does the treadmill for 45 minutes or so, and bless her heart. I know I can’t do it.”
Coleman now is geared up for the Great American Eclipse of 2017. It’ll be his second.
As a little boy growing up in the West Texas town of Alpine, Coleman recalls being present for the April 1940 annular eclipse.
“We got a cardboard box and put a pinhole in one end and taped a white sheet of paper to the other end and put our heads in the boxes — we each had one,” he says. “That was a big darn deal. And it got dark, and the birds chirped and the groundhogs went down in their holes. And the rattlesnakes came out.
“I told you more than I remember.”
The first of three parts.
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