December 23, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Patti LaBelle remembers Luther Vandross

APRIL 20, 1951-JULY 1, 2005

I first met Luther maybe 40 years ago in New York. I was playing the Apollo Theater with the Bluebelles and he came backstage and lied through his teeth: He said he was a designer delivering clothes to us. I knew that he was just a kid trying to get backstage so I let him come and meet us. After that, he became our fan-club president. He never made us any clothes, but over the years he did buy me truckloads of them — Gianni Versace dresses, beautiful earrings. I guess since he lied to meet me he was trying to make up for it. I surely didn’t know he was such a supertalented singer when I met him. I didn’t realize it until years later, after he started singing with Roberta Flack and David Bowie. Hard to believe, but that’s when I first found out Luther Vandross was that same kid who started out pretending to be a designer. I was just too happy for him when I realized it. We went on to become greater friends than ever. He would call me up when he was gaining weight: ”Patti, I’m going to the Fat Land. I’m gonna have to take down a pair of these drapes and make me a suit!” He had a great sense of humor. He was a real jokester — fun-loving, quick-witted. And always very kind to people. (Vandross died of complications from a stroke in Edison, N.J.)

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