John Hickenlooper hangs with Barack Obama, Neil Diamond at the Kennedy Center Honors

Categories: Politics

Carol Pratt
Large image below.
During Tuesday night's broadcast of the 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors, the cameras frequently swept over the President's box occupied by Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as honorees Sonny Rollins, Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Meryl Streep and Yo-Yo Ma -- and there, just to the president's right...Colorado governor John Hickenlooper?

Yes, and Hickenlooper was as surprised as everyone else to find himself and wife Helen Thorpe in such company. "During the entire Democratic National Convention, I never met with Obama," he says. "I never even shook his hand. I was too busy running the convention."

The invitation to the Kennedy Center Honors came via a call from the White House the week before the actual show, which was filmed on December 4. The couple hesitated -- they had other obligations, and they'd have to get a babysitter for Teddy. But then another call came, suggesting that perhaps they didn't understand: "We're asking you to sit in the President's box."

Photo by Carol Pratt
2011 Kennedy Center Honors. (L-R) Sonny Rollins, Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Meryl Streep, Yo-Yo Ma, First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and Helen Thorpe.
Why was Hickenlooper the only politician so honored? "I have no idea," Hickenlooper says, guessing that it could have something to do with his work first as mayor, then as governor, to promote Denver and Colorado as the cultural center of the Rocky Mountain West.

"We got to hang out with Neil Diamond, who was so grounded, so laid-back and charming, he won everyone over," recalls the governor. "So did Meryl Streep. They gave her like a six-minute standing ovation, and she leaned around Yo-Yo Ma and the First Lady, and mouthed the words 'thank you' to the President. I saw that moment of history."

And there was some personal history for Hickenlooper, too. His mother loved the musical My Fair Lady, and Hickenlooper remembers her playing the record that starred Barbara Cook as Eliza. For five years, the Wynkoop Brewing Co. was home to a jazz club, where Sonny Rollins played several times. And when Helen Thorpe was writing her book Just Like Us, he notes, she listened to all five CDs of Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello without any accompaniment.

No Colorado performer has ever been honored during the 34 years of the Kennedy Center Awards, but Hickenlooper took the opportunity to promote one of this state's hot exports, One Republic, which had headlined at the Christmas tree lighting the week before -- at the request of Obama's daughters. Hickenlooper says that when he asked Obama how his friend Ryan Tedder had done, "He looked at us, and said, 'They were good.' I downloaded some of their stuff.'"

Today, the president's listening to One Republic...maybe 25 years from now, a Coloradan will be honored at the Kennedy Center.

Here's the official White House description of the people who joined the honorees and the Obamas in the POTUS box at the Kennedy Center:

•Levis and Susan Cothran - Skip and Suzy Cothran are from Hampton, VA. They have been married for 37 years and have 2 adult sons. Skip is retired from Smithfield Farms as a Food Service Executive. Suzy is currently a Campus Minister at Christopher Newport University. Skip and Suzy provided housing for 3 Obama field organizers during the 2008 Virginia general election.

•Amber Chavarria - A member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Amber is stationed at Fort Belvoir, VA. She most recently deployed to Afghanistan for a year from March 2010-March 2011 with the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

•Vicente Chavarria - He served for 6 years on active duty (attained the rank of Marine Sergeant) and was deployed to Iraq from February-September 2004. The Chavarria's have two children, Alicia (5) and Vicente Jr (2).

•Governor John Hickenlooper and Ms. Helen Thorpe (spouse) - The Governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper was elected in November 2010. From 2003-2011, he served as the mayor Denver. After earning a master's in Geology from Wesleyan University, Hickenlooper moved to Colorado and began work as a geologist. After being laid off, Hickenlooper opened the Wynkoop Brewing Co. in the dilapidated warehouse district of downtown Denver. His brewpub helped launch the revitalization of downtown Denver. As mayor of Denver, he succeeded in improving the city's energy efficiency and lobbied successfully to have Denver host the 2008 Democratic Convention. Hickenlooper and Thorpe were married on January 26, 2002. They have a nine year old son Teddy.

First Lady Helen Thorpe
The First Lady of Colorado, Thorpe is also a distinguished writer and journalist. Thorpe was born in London, England, and grew up in Medford, New Jersey. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Texas Monthly, and The Texas Observer. Thorpe has worked for The New York Observer; The New Yorker, where she wrote "Talk of the Town" stories; and Texas Monthly. In 2011, she published Just Like Us, a true account of four young Mexican women coming of age in Denver - two of whom have legal documentation, two of whom who don't.

What will John Hickenlooper do for an encore? See his bucket list of can't-miss Colorado activities for 2012 here.

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Lukas Rethke
Lukas Rethke

Wow didn't know that Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is so close with the Obamas but look at the Colorado State seal it's not surprise at all. Controlling the water is very important.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

@Mickyo (DISQUS sometimes mistakes replies for comments)

A strong governor?!?  You have not the slightest clue, and neither does Hick.  May the voters wake up and take responsibility for their government!

Ask the Gov. what he's going to do about sentencing reform -- elected DAs who sit on all the working groups and task forces of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) have been thwarting the General Assembly's mandate to the CCJJ (i.e. to moderate Colorado's draconian sentences in order to save money).  The media has ignored the CCJJ, because its doesn't want to come near a real issue (in this case, how long people should serve in prison for various crimes) with a ten-foot pole.  I forced the cancellation of one meeting of one of the about a dozen working groups of the CCJJ by pointing out that no public notice of its meetings had been made, but it turns out that over the course of the past four years, most of the deliberations about this far-reaching and extremely important reformation of the penal code have been conducted in secret by these working groups, meeting in violation of Colorado's open meetings law (C.R.S. 24-6-201), failing to provide public notice, failing to allow legally required public participation, and failing to take and make available for public inspection legally required minutes of the meetings at which the CCJJ's proposals to change our laws are being drafted.  If Colorado were a democratic society of responsible citizens, sentencing reform would be a matter of public debate -- reality is that this critical issue of public policy is being decided secretly, in violation of the Law, and Colorado neither knows nor cares.  Check with the Governor and get back to us with his incisive plan to deal with sentencing reform.

Micky O
Micky O

Great for Hick, and for Colorado. Hes a strong governor and he's got a long future ahead of him. It's too bad these negative commenters can't see past the Faux News kool-aid theyre swimming in, bc John is good for them, too.


hooray for ol lickenpooper.  as he says "So did Meryl Streep. They gave her like a six-minute standing ovation, and she leaned around Yo-Yo Ma and the First Lady, and mouthed the words 'thank you' to the President. I saw that moment of history." what an important part of history.. some ol windbag says thanks to some sellout. fucking great! why don't you come back to colorado and lobby some more communities to start drilling for oil so you and your petrolium buddies can make some more money.

p.s. john, did you ever think that maybe obama wanted you near him because you are a sellout also and he wants to be near his kind. thats my theory


How many think he will take this great opportunity to request federal support for Colorado's Medical Marijuana program?  After all, the citizens of this state have spoken via elections.  The majority want the feds to lay off, yet I am betting that the most that will happen will be jokes at the expense of the suffering patients...against the will of the people.  ChickenPooper at his finest hour!


Yes, Hick is his name and he tends to live up to it.  What a joke he is!  What has he done FOR us???

Bob Smith
Bob Smith

Truly. The media has had a gooey crush on Hick since Dick Kreck started hanging out at the Wynkoop. Ya gotta wonder why; the beer was pretty good but the governance sucks.

We elect him Mayor, he runs off raising money for the Convention, ignores problems at home. We elect him Gov and he wants to run around raising money for the Olympics. Guess we're too small a pond for him anymore.

Hanging with Obama is just warming up. I'd wish he'd stay home and do what we elected him to do but I'm scared my wish will come true.


Explain in reasoned specifics why he is a joke, as you say, and well go from there.


A simple question and yet you cannot answer it?  Because nothing comes to mind?  Yeah, same here.

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