In his five years of running from the law, Michael Manos never kept a low profile. Under one alias or another, he'd turned up on red carpets decked out in Alexander McQueen couture, in society pages next to celebrities like Billy Zane and Jane Fonda at charity events, and in more than one reality show pilot centered on the fascinating and glamorous life he led. He wanted his freedom, but needed the fame.
Through it all, as he ran from a return to prison, he'd never been as close to capture as he was now, in the lobby of the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel, asking for towels at the front desk.
From Atlanta to New York to Dallas, he'd lived in the best penthouses, partied in the most exclusive clubs, and risen to the highest social circles — and he'd run away every time, leaving behind a small mob of unpaid employees and investors crying fraud in each city. Manos decided he'd make his last stand in San Francisco, either by rebuilding the international media conglomerate he'd just abandoned in Texas or letting himself get caught and shipped back to prison.
"I look back on it now," he says, "and I think part of me wanted to get caught."
Not that he'd have much choice in the matter. Surrounded by nautical accents in blue, green, and white, the slight, flamboyant 46-year-old was a fish in the barrel of the cozy hotel lobby. He happened to be standing just a few feet from the plainclothes U.S. marshal sent to haul him away. Behind the counter, the hotel manager was on the phone with the private investigator who had tracked Manos while gathering stories about his shadowy past: his alleged real estate and charity scams, a violent kidnapping, late-night romps in the White House.
When the marshals did move in to arrest Manos in his hotel room, law enforcement in at least four states — California, Georgia, New York, and Texas — competed to prosecute him first before he was extradited to New York, the state that maintained jurisdiction over his parole. He would be skewered in the press in Dallas and Atlanta, condemned as a con artist who had used multiple aliases to hide his true identity, a "glam scammer" who defrauded the gay community, the rich and famous, by gaining their confidence with the glow of his phony celebrity. He would milk their generosity with appeals for local charities and, the stories went, lived large on all he could pocket for himself.
But in a jailhouse phone interview, Manos paints a different picture of his many selves. He would argue that his celebrity was real, if a little dated, cultivated over years in the nation's top party scenes. As he sees it, his only crime was jumping parole so he could seek a new life, to pursue his big ambitions of wealth, glamour, and fame unshackled to his past mistakes.
"I did everything right. I gave to charity, I was a good, productive member of society," he says. "I mean, what'd I do? I failed to report to parole."
In Michael Manos' world, silence may be the most dangerous thing of all, the space where doubt and reality leak in. When he is talking, though, his world is the shining place where you want to be, a semireality of glitter and booze and all the right answers.
"He'd just go a thousand miles a minute, and by the time it was over, you wouldn't know which way was up," says Evan Batt, a liquor distributor he worked with in Dallas.
"I didn't even know what his real name was," recalls Trina Rose, a production designer he worked with in New York. "I was just in this tornado of feeling screwed over."
From city to city, details changed, except for this: At the middle of all the turningwas Manos.
Even today, locked up without the couture, the Botox, or his expensive hairpiece, Manos plays the victim in his own life story, the target of a years-long personal vendetta on the part of a cousin and an ex-boyfriend. Convincingly, he offers excuses for bad behavior, providing long-winded, difficult-to-corroborate answers, a mixture of facts, opinions, and celebrity encounters that find him in just the right places at just the right times.
He was born in 1963 in Poughkeepsie, north of New York City. In a backstory he frequently told, his father was a rich Greek philanthropist who'd given him a trust fund for his education, but otherwise disowned him when he learned his son was gay. According to Manos' mother, Elizabeth Martin, while the family was Greek, the rest was pure invention, and his father died years ago.
Manos grew up as Michael Martin. He was picked on for being small, and struggled with his schoolwork. His mother says he was diagnosed as dyslexic and hyperactive, and even before he knew he was gay, he just didn't fit in: "He would act out, try and fit in different places, and it just didn't work."
When Manos was 15, his uncle Jimmy sneaked him into a New York City nightclub. Suddenly, Manos says, he glimpsed a world where he could fit in: disco lights, all-night music, Donna Summer and Cher.
Poughkeepsie couldn't compete, and Manos began running off to New York City, partying alongside the likes of Prince and Madonna, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. "All of a sudden, I was going to events at the Plaza — when the Plaza was really the Plaza," he recalls.
As high as he shot into the glittery world of drag queens and party lights, Manos dug himself into the darker side of the after-hours life, too. His first prison stint stemmed from a conviction — sealed today because he was 17 — for a bank robbery. He says he was roped into the crime by a drag queen named Chicky.
After a few months behind bars, he was back in the party life he'd known. In L.A., he says, he attended a cookout at Elizabeth Taylor's Bel Air estate with Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine. There were parties with Michael Jackson and Michael J. Fox. His name-dropping from those years seems endless.