« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Ringo Starr and Make-A-Wish: A teenage drummer gets to meet the Beatle

Ringo Starr-Alex Kipp Hard Rock Cafe 3-31-11 Mel Melcon 
Were it not an English hospital worker who used percussion instruments to help relieve boredom of patients undergoing long-term treatment, a 13-year-old kid battling tuberculosis named Richard Starkey might never have fallen in love with the drums, changed his name to Ringo Starr and become part of the biggest rock band on the planet.

“That’s where it all started for me,” Starr, 70, said Thursday morning a few minutes after briefly sharing a stage with 17-year-old drummer and brain cancer survivor Alexx Kipp, whose long-held wish to meet the Beatle was granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Hard Rock International restaurant chain. The event was the kickoff of a new partnership between the two organizations designed to help Make-A-Wish accommodate even more requests than the 14,000 it grants in the U.S. each year, about 900 of those involving celebrities.

“You like those drums?” Starr asked Kipp as they stood behind a gleaming black-and-white set of Ludwigs, the brand long associated with him.

“Hell, yeah!” beamed Kipp, who also has Tourette's syndrome and punctuated the dialogue with his musical hero with joyful birdlike chirps and whistles.

“They’re yours,” Starr told him.

It took several minutes, and a few prompts from his mother, father and sister, who had accompanied him to Hollywood from their home in Arlington, Va., before it set in for Alexx that the event not only included meeting his favorite drummer from his favorite band, but also a new set of drums to boot. Or to bash.

Alexx sat on one of two adjacent black stools set up behind the snare drum and laid down a steady rock beat, then Starr pulled up next to him to add some accents on a floor tom and one of the cymbals.

“We saw his doctor in November, and they consider him cured,” said Alexx’s mother, Sarah Pitkin.  Playing drums since he was 8, along with Beatles recordings and in tandem with his father’s guitar strumming, has played a major role in Alexx’s ability to weather seven rounds of chemotherapy and one month of radiation treatment for his germinoma brain tumor, Pitkin said.

His parents said he’d expressed the desire to meet Starr for years, and the family logged his request with Make-A-Wish about a year ago.

“Alexx came to me one morning and he said, ‘Dad, I had a dream last night and I met Ringo,’ ” Charles Kipp said. “This was before we knew it was going to happen. About a week later we got the call. I told him, ‘It looks like your dream came true.’ ”

Make-A-Wish President and Chief Executive David Williams was on hand, noting that about 27,000 children in the U.S. from ages 2½ to 18 are diagnosed each year with life-threatening conditions, which makes them eligible for the foundation’s services. A little over half have wishes fulfilled by Make-A-Wish, which no longer limits participation to those with terminal illnesses as was the case early in its 31-year history, Williams said. 

“Other organizations grant about 3,000 wishes,” he said, “so you see there are still a lot of people we don’t reach. Our goal is to be able to grant every wish.”

The partnership with Hard Rock International aims to help spread the word about the foundation’s mission. Hard Rock locations will carry new T-shirts with artwork created by Starr and carrying his pet phrase “Peace/Love” on the front, his signature on the back. Proceeds from sales will benefit his Lotus Foundation charity directly supporting Make-A-Wish.

Starr toured the Hollywood location with Alexx and his family, stopping at a wall holding a framed drum head, split down the center, that he had donated to the chain’s collection of rock-star memorabilia.

“It was right in the middle of a gig, and it just split. But you just keep going,” Starr told Alexx. "Never stop -- that’s the deal.”

A few minutes later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, vegetarian slim in a black blazer over black T-shirt and jeans, spoke of the impact on him of taking part in the Make-A-Wish program, for which he had granted about half a dozen other requests before Thursday.

“It's huge," he said. "It puts you in your place. You think you’ve got a cold -- you’re all, ‘Oh, what about me?’ Then you help these kids….You think of the families. I’ve got children too, and it’s got to be hard.”

One 8-year-old girl he met through a European Make-A-Wish chapter -- 41 countries have them -- wanted to meet Starr after coming out of a coma.

“Somehow -- I don’t know how it happened -- but ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was on TV and she fell in love with Ringo,” Starr said. “This is only a couple of years ago, so I was saying to the people who were setting it up, ‘You’d better give her a photo of me now -- things have changed!’ ” he said with a hearty laugh. “But she recognized me and we had a lot of fun.”

While recovering from his treatment, Alexx recently took part in a music school recital, where he played drums with the Lennon-McCartney song “In My Life,” and a school talent show at which he played Starr’s whimsical “Octopus’s Garden.”

Charles Kipp said Alexx’s next musical goal is to learn “I Am the Walrus.” From now on, he’ll be practicing on a drum set broken in by the man who played the original.

“I get the easy bit,” Starr said. “I come, I say hi, we hang out, we have a bit of fun….

“In the band I was in,” he added, “we knew when we’d done the take, because it just feels good. It’s like golf: When you hit that ball right, you know. You feel it -- you feel the connection. And connecting is good.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Ringo Starr helps 17-year-old cancer survivor Alexx Kipp break in a new drum kit presented him Thursday at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times.

Comments () | Archives (27)

Just when the news seems only black and sad, we get to read a story of a man dresses up in black bringing a story of happiness into our lives.

fabulous, just fabulous

What a fantastic story. What a lovely act of kindness for Ringo to take a few minutes out of his very busy life for these kids who suffer severe health problems.

Let's not forget Ringo faced his own health issues as a kid--ill health required several extended hospital visits-- which fortunately led him to his career as being the world's most famous rock n roll drummer of all time.

Thank you Ringo for surviving as a kid and helping to inspire other kids to get better. Thanks for all you do.

What an uplifting story.

Thank you, Ringo, for your kindness to Alexx and all you have given the millions of your fans over the years.

Good luck, Alexx.

God bless ringo!

Ringo has always been a Class Act. Read about his relationship with his first wife and her second husband who, in fact is "Issac Tiggert who is best known as the founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and the House of Blues, Ringo was at her bedside along with her new husband when she was dying.

Truly an uplifting story.

Ringo shows us why he deserves the position he has. "Giving Back" is a wonderful thing.

Someone should send a copy of this to the "Barefoot Contessa". Ringo is a class act and down to earth kind of guy. After all these years, I am still a big fan.

I always thought that Ringo was the classiest one of the bunch. This article confirms that I was right! Bit 'o awright there!

I wish I'm as cool as Ringo when I'm 70. Hell, I wish I was as cool as Ringo now!

Better than Santa Claus cause he hangs out and plays.

Thanks, Ringo. Just by reading this you made my day, too.

even though i have never forgiven Ringo for his horrendous performance as the mock turtle in bedroom slippers, i don't condone murder.
still, even though he embarassed himself and made me embarrassed for him, he was a Beatle and a cool drummer. even if he was a lousy mock turtle.

I'd like to express my family's gratitude to Mr Starr for fulfilling Alexx's lifetime wish! He is our very special cousin. With sincere appreciation, The Marom's from Connecticut

Well done Ringo! FIrst class all the way!

I have known Alexx for 9 years now and I got a call at work from my awesome boss, Chuck, telling me to google Alexx drumming with Ringo and oh my goodness i was happy for him I was teary eyed. What an awesome kid he is! He is amazing and so deserving. Way to go Alexx!

Thank you Ringo! Wonderful to read this.

Any ringo fans please add this facebook page. (Ringo-Starr-deserves-to-be-inducted-into-the-Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame)


Alexx: You must have been jumping out of your skin that day. I wish I could have been there to see your face.

Ringo: You just made a beautiful young man's dream come true. You are the best.

Thrilled beyond words for Alexx....and for Ringo to have the opportunity to meet this special guy and his family! Alexx came into my life some years ago when visiting my daughter in Arlington. He has been in my thoughts a lot recently and bingo ..tonight I sign on and there he is with a Wish fulfilled. Thank you Ringo - wonderful....

That was a wonderful thing to do; thank goodness he didn't ask for the Barefoot Contessa.

But he wouldn't sign them, right? Peace n loov...peace n loov...

Ringo u were my 1st love...Great job...After seeing A Hard Day's Night 32 odd times...I did develop a crush on Johnny. Thanks for giving this dream to this child. The Beatles are still influences what beautiful music can do for generation after generation. Every performance I attend that is musical with my grandkids has Beatles music in it. You know you are a Forever Band..move over Beethoven and the masters. You make me smile

Thanks to Ringo, Make-a-Wish and Hard Rock Cafe for a great event. What a thrill for Alexx. He will always remember it. Peace and Love indeed!

As the Mom of Alexx Kipp, I cannot adequately express our gratitude to Ringo, the Hard Rock Cafe, and Make a Wish Foundation for making Alexx's dream come true. It was a spectacular event, and it made his day, his year, and his decade! We will treasure this experience always, and hope it helps other kids' dreams come true, too.
Thank you all so so very much,
Sarah Pitkin

Thank you Ringo Starr for granting this wish - Congratulations Alexx - you are a great guy - and I am so happy for you. Looking forward to your next performance!

All Best,
Becca - NEMPACboston.org

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: