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Gloria Gaynor - She Has Survived
By Ellen Piligian

Gloria Gaynor used to be a self-described Cadillac person. Then in 1997, her husband decided to present her with a Christmas gift in the form of his car of choice — a black cherry Jaguar.

“I fell in love with it,” says Gaynor, who could almost be describing herself as she explains what she loves about her new favorite car. “I like the comfort, the beauty, the performance. It’s a big car that doesn’t look really big. It’s sleek, fashionable. It’s ageless. It has a lot of stuff inside. I like the sound system, the CD player. It’s a classic.”

Gaynor, who came to fame in the 1970s as the Queen of Disco with her hit songs “I Will Survive” and “Never Can Say Goodbye,” has found comfort in herself after years of feeling empty and alone in the wake of her enormous success. She is known to be fashionable and beautiful, having recently signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency as a full-figure model. And like the Jaguar, she’s ageless, a classic and enduring star.

She may not be at the pinnacle of fame as she was in the mid-70s, but Gaynor has far from faded away. If there seems to be only a recent resurgence in her popularity, she says that’s true only in the United States. She’s been touring Europe for years.

“I’ve traveled to about 80 countries,” Gaynor said. “Many of them I travel to consistently. Some I travel to three, four, five times a year, doing concerts, including South America. I’m quite busy.” She performs about 100 times a year.

Her recently released album, It’s My Time, features a new hit single by the same name. She’s also promoting I Will Survive: The Gloria Gaynor Anthology, a collection of songs that defined her career. Beyond performing, Gaynor penned her autobiography, I Will Survive, which chronicles her rise to fame, struggles with success, and, finally, finding peace through her relationship with God. The book, soon to be out in paperback, is also being considered for a movie.

Other things keeping her busy include being bestowed the title Godmother of the French Federation Soccer Team, which adopted “I Will Survive” as their official team song. “I even have my own official T-shirt,” says Gaynor, who’s become a fan of the sport. In May, she opened the ceremonies for Revlon’s Walk for Women’s Cancers in New York City, where she performed with her church choir to help raise money for cancer research. “It’s an opportunity to bring awareness about cancers and encourage people to donate funds for research and care,” says Gaynor, who lost her mother to lung cancer in 1970.

Gaynor also helped raise more than $200,000 for Kosovo refugees in May. In June, her Web site debuted (www.gloriagaynor.com), and she’s been busy taking acting lessons with the hope of doing some film and television work.

As for her modeling career, Gaynor is thrilled with that new role. “I’m hoping to add to the throng of plus-size models who are helping to make the world understand that the average woman is not size four and it’s okay to not be a size four,” she said. “You can still be beautiful.” And her big hope is to host a talk show about relationships, something that’s already in the works.

Gaynor, who won’t divulge her age (“Just as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth,” is all she’ll say) and lives in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, with her manager/husband of 20 years, Linwood Simon. Gaynor always knew she’d be a singer. She grew up in Newark, N.J., with five brothers and one sister. Her father sang professionally and her mother, a seamstress, had a beautiful voice. Gloria was always singing around the house and constantly had the radio on. She got her first break in show business at age 17, when one night she was asked to come on stage and sing in a night club. At the time, she was working in a local department store during the day, but she knew there was something more for her out there.

“Nine-to-five was always, in the back of my mind, temporary for me,” she admits today. “The only job I could ever see doing permanently from 9 to 5, even as a child, was teaching, which is why I believe the television [talk] show will be a turning point for me, bringing me into the ministry. You don’t have to be in a classroom to teach.”

If there is one thing she would like most to teach, one piece of wisdom she would most like to share, Gaynor says it is this — Seek truth and surrender to it.

“Unfortunately, people have a difficult time living up to their potential for greatness,” Gaynor said. “We are beings who tend to surrender to the desires of our flesh, and our flesh is always going to take the course of least resistance. If the truth is saying, ‘I can be a doctor, but along with that is the truth that it’s going to take me 12 years of college,’ the flesh is going to say, ‘I can’t be a doctor.’ ”

Gaynor had her own lapses in the past. Her success in the disco days nearly led to her downfall, when she gave into the excesses of partying. Then, in the early 80s, she had a rebirth when she rediscovered her faith in God.

She had always believed in God. In fact, she tells of how that helped her when she met Simon and knew he was the man she’d marry. She was working with his singing sisters at the time, whom Simon, a music publisher, was managing. Gaynor recalls going to their house one day to get the girls to go to work:

“I had made a date with another brother [Kenny] but had seen [Linwood’s] picture earlier and decided he was going to be my husband.” She got frantic at the thought of dating both. “I don’t date brothers,” she said. “I would never do that.” But, she says, she had faith in God that it would be okay. “Sure enough, Kenny’s car broke down that night and the only one he could find to bring him was Linwood. Kenny kind of got left aside. Linwood and I have been together ever since.”

But her faith in God was different then. “I was what I called religious,” she relates. “Now I have a personal relationship with Christ.” That relationship developed in 1982. Until then, Gaynor, who calls herself a non-denominational Christian, says she went through the motions of going to church: “I always believed I had a gift from God that I was to share with the world. That was the extent of it. Now I believe I have a number of gifts from God that I am to share. I also believe I am to be a lot more deliberate about it and consistently seek guidance from God for what he wants me to do.”

Gaynor, who once felt empty and uncertain about her role in life, says her purpose is clear now. “I believe what you’re passionate about is your purpose,” she explains. “God has given all of us gifts and attributes and talents to share with the world, and he wants us to enjoy them also.”

Her view of success has changed accordingly. “It’s [not about] how big your bank account is or the material things you’ve gathered. It’s being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Success is making your way through life, your fortune in life, at what you’re passionate about. It’s having the things in life that are important to you, being of service to other people, but never allowing yourself to feel poor because you don’t have what someone else has.”

These days, Gaynor is unassuming about her own success. Able to enjoy a certain degree of anonymity in her daily life, she says she often doesn’t even realize when people recognize her.

“People sometimes get the impression that I’m aloof,” she admits. “I just don’t think anybody wants to talk to me. I don’t believe anybody wants my autograph or picture. I’ve had people say, ‘I thought you were so stuck up.’ ”

In fact, despite her busy schedule, she says she simply enjoys staying home and cooking for Simon (with whom she has no children but has 49 nieces and nephews) and watching “The X-Files” when they get the chance. Any extra time goes to her hobby, her passion, studying the Bible.

“I find it fascinating,” Gaynor said. “It’s the only research that I’ve ever been able to do and enjoy. I get lost in it. I can do it for hours.”

If there is one thing Gaynor is most proud of in her life, she says it’s that her personal image is a clean one: “The controversial, juicy stuff in my life can be written on the head of a pin with room [to spare].”

And in the end, though many may remember her for her song “I Will Survive,” Gaynor says she’d like to be remembered for something else: being a giving person of integrity.

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