‘m sitting at the bar of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, awaiting the arrival of René Risqué, international pop star, philanthropist and provocateur. He’s here in Monte Carlo with his band, The Art Lovers, to perform some of their hits “The King of International Pleasure,” “Even René Gets Lonely,” “Giant Sexy Ocean” and “I’m Gonna Give It (to You the Best)” at a “Touch the Poor” benefit ball hosted by The Monagasque Women’s League for Universal Surgical Enhancement. For years, I have tried to track down Risqué for an in-depth interview, hoping to find out if the stories of big spending, fanatical self-absorption and sexual debauchery are true hoping to reveal the man behind the image. But every interview I’ve arranged whether because of conflicting schedules, the various “medical emergencies” of the band members, or attacks by crazed fans has fallen through . . . until now. Perhaps it was the endless stream of handwritten, perfume-scented pleas sent to his chateaux in Perpignon, the constant interview requests emailed to his manager/communications coordinator/personal assistant, Frenet Branca, or the countless times I’ve bum-rushed the stage during performances. Or maybe Risqué just likes the attention. Either way, he’s taken pity on me (and Nerve’s budget) and flown me out from New York on his private jet, The René 7, to finally consummate our long-distance relationship.
As I sip my gin-and-tonic, wondering if again I might be stood up, I suddenly feel a soft-but-strong hand on the nape of my neck, and then: “You must be Ms. Sharkey.”
Behold, René. He stands there before me, six-foot-three, in an exquisitely tailored Christian Dior suit with a colorful neck scarf by Pucci, custom-made sunglasses by IC! Berlin and a diamond pinky ring (which he tells me later was shipped in from Bulgari), his trademark pageboy haircut perfectly mussed. Risqué gently kisses my hand, leads me over to a corner booth and discreetly tucks the “reserved” card sitting on the table away in his pocket. Without hesitation, he orders two bottles of Dom Perignon from the maitre d’, and when they arrive, proceeds to pour one entire bottle into the sterling silver decanter.
“I only chill my Dom with Dom,” he explains.
Born in France, educated in the United States, and vacationed in more than thirty ski resorts all over the world, Risqué got the travel bug early on. He spent summers on his parents’ yachts off the coast of North Africa, where the tribal drumbeats echoing over the water informed his own musical development. (Today, you can hear those African roots in the up-tempo rhythms of such hits as “Cherry Valley High School” and “I’m a Top, Not a Bottom.”) And a series of Austrian au pairs from The Center of Freudian Studies and Child Care in Vienna gave him his strong sense of self. “They were like the emotionally unavailable stepmothers I never had,” says Risqué.
When asked about his parents, he waves his hand, as if passing on a hit at the blackjack table. “I wish to spare them from the spotlight I know all too well how grueling it can be,” he says. “Needless to say, they’re very proud. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Although René Risqué and the Art Lovers do enjoy a certain cult status around the world, they have yet to make a gold record. It’s purported that the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to homes in Brazil, Capri and Thailand, Maseratis all around, and the best prescription drugs money can buy is funded by Risqué’s family. He’s loath to speak about the size of his wealth (“The size of my endowment, on the other hand…”), but does admit he’s been very lucky. That luck is notorious in the casinos he frequents, like Le Grand Casino de Monaco. Apparently, he can’t lose. It’s even rumored that non-profit organizations (namely one young girls’ group known for green uniforms and cookie peddling that shall remain nameless) have handed over the last of their dwindling funds to Risqué for him to bet on the craps tables; supposedly, he gets a ten percent cut of the winnings . . . and there always are.
But that luck and wealth has also been a curse, says Risqué he’s had to fight the stereotypes of the elite all his life. And this fight seems to be his raison d’etre, the core of the René Risqué empire.
“When you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, when you can buy anything, when everything you touch turns to gold, it’s easy to get lazy. I’ve struggled against that stigma,” he says with his fingers laced, the serious artist and PR agent in him coming to the surface. “I’ve launched a highly successful music career and devoted my life to the science of pleasure. I could lounge about, but I actively try to take things to the limit. You can find me in a cheap brothel one night, and a benefit for the New York Public Library the next.”
How does a life of excessive pleasure serve anyone else but him, one might ask. Risqué claims that he’s giving back to the people, by shaking them up, throwing spice into their otherwise bland lives, wrestling them out of their complacency: “Yes, I like to manipulate people,” he admits, “but in the end it liberates them.”
His favorite victim-cumcharity case is the disillusioned married woman. And no one is safe from the Risqué charm machine, not even his own bandmates. Meet the sultry-voiced back-up singer Luffa Bar and her husband, Dolce Fino, René’s lead guitarist. Their story goes like this: Barre was in L.A. doing a voice over for a porn film, but she and Fino flew into New York for the night for a gig. They were all staying at Ian Schrager’s Hotel Paramount. After the show, Risqué found Barre drinking alone in the bar, Fino already passed out upstairs, unable to perform his husbandly duties. After sending the twins he was with up to his room to “warm up the bed,” Risqué got another room from the concierge before “rescuing” Barre from her twentieth cocktail. Ever since then, Risqué has shamelessly paraded their tryst in front of Fino and his audiences . . . he even wrote a song about it called "The Hotel Paramount,” a fave among R.R. fans. When Fino protests, Risqué gives a heartfelt speech about how they are not governed by the same conventional morality, how they don’t conform to generic societal pressures, how they are all committed to the spirit of free love. Fino always acquiesces. And then, invariably, Risqué announces to the crowd, “Okay, so let’s do that song about how I fucked your wife. A one, a two, a one two three four . . . ”
Fino did try to break free from Risqué’s spell once: he drugged and kidnapped Barre, relentlessly urging her to form a new band with him called “Dolce and Luffa’s Art Aficionados,” using Pavlovian techniques involving chocolate truffles and oral pleasure. Like a modern-day Patty Hearst, she eventually gave in. But without Risqué as her sparring partner, vocally and otherwise, her voice seemed to lack that certain je ne sai quoi. They were back with The Art Lovers within two-and-a-half weeks.
At the Hotel de Paris, my talk with Risqué has been light and breezy, flowing just as easily as the Dom has into our flutes. Of course, he’s told all these stories before, performed them for other reporters. And although he’s certainly polite and has only looked over my shoulder a handful of times, I’m beginning to feel like one of his nameless, faceless groupies. That is, until I ask him about Coco Sava. Only then do I suspect I’ve hit a nerve.
Coco Sava is an international It girl: Investment banker by day, alleged jewel thief by night, and amateur fine-art photographer on the weekends . . . she’s even had a gallery of male nudes on Nerve, literate smut fan that she is (though we were forced to take it down because of some model release forms of questionable authenticity). Legend has it that Sava is the only woman alive to have any kind of romantic hold on Risqué. They met on the same party circuit in the South of France back in 1999. She matched him drink for drink, drug for drug, and sexual perversity for sexual perversity no small feat when you consider the fact that Risqué has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest blood alcohol content for a person who is still breathing. But what won his heart wasn’t her fluency in six languages or her passion for haute couture or her taste for young cabana boys . . . it was her complete disregard for his feelings. A totally foreign experience, it left him shaken. And now that she’s the subject of our conversation, that disquiet is visible in Risqué’s charcoal-lined eyes.
They’ve continued this on-again, off-again, on-again relationship for years. Though she’s been known to show up unannounced at his performances (he usually invites her onstage for a duet of “Endless Love” or “Reunited”), he’s written no songs about or for her. Some see that as a sure sign of deep-seated denial. Not surprisingly, he’s resistant to talk about it. But I push, and after another glass of champagne and some Iranian Beluga caviar (compliments of the hotel), his seemingly impenetrable armor seems to crack. He mentions the time she embezzled $700,000 from him: “I woke up, and she was gone . . . and so was the money. I mean, it’s just a drop in the bucket, but I’m human too . . . cut me and I bleed.”
Suddenly, a change comes over Risqué. He grabs both of my hands, pulls me closer to him across the table, brushes the hair from my eyes and smiles: “Enough about her, let’s talk about you.”
Just as I feel the champagne hit me like a bat, and I fear my professional integrity may be kissed right out of the ballpark, I sense a powerful presence standing beside our table. We both turn and see Coco Sava standing there, stunning, in a beautiful red dress from Missoni, its rubies reflecting the light of the chandeliers like the sun . . . like the center of the universe.
“Oh, hello,” Risqué says, seemingly caught off guard. “I didn’t know you’d be here so early. Let me introduce you to the lovely Ms. Sharkey,” he offers, “all the way from Nerve.com in New York, you know, here for an interview.”
“Charmed,” Coco says without so much as a glance my way. “We’ve got reservations at the Columbe D’Or in twenty. I’m going to, shall I say, powder my nose, and I’ll meet you in the lobby. Don’t make me wait.” And with that, she’s off.
“Darling, I must run,” says Risqué to me, gathering his things. “Just have them put everything on my tab. Ta.”
“But what about the rest of the interview?” I plead.
“Oh yes. Let’s do lunch tomorrow. My people will call your people.”
Left sitting there with my tape recorder and a bucket of fizzled Dom, I realize this interview is of no consequence to him; I’m only here to make Coco jealous. What could possibly evoke a reaction from the ice queen? Perhaps an affair with someone affiliated with her one failed attempt at art. It was a big gamble that, as far as I could tell, didn’t pay off. She’s still the queen, René the king, and I’m just a pawn in their game, like everyone else.