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Workin' for a livin': Huey Lewis leads this year's '80s-themed Winterfest Boat Parade.
Workin' for a livin': Huey Lewis leads this year's '80s-themed Winterfest Boat Parade.
Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice.

Winterfest Boat Parade Grand Marshal Huey Lewis: “I’m Not Dead”

It’s time to dress up your boat in its holiday finest and get ready to party at the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. This year’s theme is '80s rock, and Grammy-winning musician Huey Lewis will take the helm as grand marshal.

And, make no mistake, the heart of rock 'n' roll is still beating.

“I thought it would be an opportunity to show people that I’m not dead,” Lewis says, laughing.

The annual Winterfest Boat Parade is a holiday staple in Fort Lauderdale, attracting more than a million visitors who come to witness the “Greatest Show on H20.” Events include a white party, a black-tie ball, and a family fun day. It all culminates in a spectacular procession of about 100 lighted boats.

“I really love South Florida, and I’ve heard about the Winterfest parade and that it’s quite spectacular,” Lewis says of his decision to accept the invitation as guest of honor.

With more than 30 million albums sold, the band Huey Lewis and the News made a name for itself in the '80s with songs such as “Do You Believe in Love,” “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” and the number one hits “The Power of Love,” "Stuck With You," and "Jacob's Ladder."

Though Lewis, 68, is still very much alive, this past January 27, a sudden, unexplained hearing loss in his left ear rendered him incapable of discerning certain frequencies and, thus, unable to sing.

“It was just a nightmare and still is,” he says. Lewis consulted a host of specialists, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, and holistic healers, before one doctor finally summed up the issue. “He said, ‘The real diagnosis for what you have is "We don’t know,"'” Lewis says.

The hearing loss was particularly devastating because Lewis has been deaf in his right ear for 30 years and relied on his left ear. He was forced to cancel his 2018 tour but used the time to coproduce an award-winning musical in San Diego titled The Heart of Rock & Roll.

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Lewis plans to present the musical in New York City this winter in hopes of taking it to Broadway. He is also flirting with the idea of making TV comedies. “I’m quite the actor,” he says lightheartedly. “I have thespian aspirations.”

Indeed, Lewis’ guest role as Johnny Revere on the show Hot in Cleveland was funny and endearing. In real life, Lewis is known for boy-next-door looks and wholesome, good-time songs — a sharp contrast to the aging, sex-crazed party boy he played on the sitcom.

Lewis is vague about which persona is most accurate, but he admits to being a math whiz who skipped second grade and went on to major in electrical engineering at Cornell University. But his father had other plans for the teenage academic.

“My father sat me down and said, ‘Look, as far as I’m concerned, you can make all your own decisions. You’re a grownup. Except for one thing: Don’t go to college — yet. Take a year off and bum around Europe,’” Lewis says.

So he took his dad’s advice and a harmonica and headed across the pond. “I played harmonica every single day in the squares of Europe and North Africa,” he says of hitchhiking his way between youth hostels.

When he discovered he was able to support himself with music, the idea of becoming an engineer began to lose its appeal. “That’s when the bug bit, I guess,” he says.

Lewis returned to the States with a dilemma. “I had a decision to make,” he says. “It was either drop the music and hit the books or drop the books and hit the music.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Lewis hopes his hearing returns and he will once again be able to tour. In the meantime, he enjoys being outdoors on his Montana ranch and riding his American quarter horse, Mox.

No matter what the future holds, Lewis has given the world some great rock 'n' roll. And the fact that he dropped out of Cornell was probably for the best.

“I literally didn’t know what engineering was,” he says of being pushed into it as a teenager. “I thought engineering had something to do with trains.”

Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, December 15, along the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. To enter a boat in the parade or to purchase tickets on the Grand Marshal Showboat with Huey Lewis or for any other Winterfest event, visit winterfestparade.com. Tickets cost $25 to $300.

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