'Spinning Gold' inspiration George Clinton on how he convinced Casablanca Records' Neil Bogart to buy him a $1 million spaceship: 'I knew that if you spend money, and looked like money, it draws money'

The P-Funk legend also praises Wiz Khalifa's onscreen portrayal, reveals if he really introduced Bogart to cocaine and explains why he was "afraid" to go to Studio 54.

George Clinton in the '70s, Wiz Khalifa as Clinton in the 2023 film 'Spinning Gold.' (Photos: Getty Images/Everett Collection)
George Clinton in the '70s, Wiz Khalifa as Clinton in the 2023 film 'Spinning Gold.' (Photos: Getty Images/Everett Collection)

Music biopics often take big liberties with the truth. For instance, despite what Rocketman might have you believe, Elton John did not levitate onstage at the Troubadour in 1970. But as Parliament-Funkadelic legend George Clinton and his silver-screen doppelgänger Wiz Khalifa speak with Yahoo Entertainment about Spinning Gold, the ambitious new film about the life of Casablanca Records visionary Neil Bogart, Clinton says this film got at least two things right: Khalifa did a “real good job” portraying him, and yes, Clinton really did convince Bogart to spend $1 million on a spaceship in 1974.

“Oh, that was definitely, probably, the most accurate [part of Spinning Gold] of all!” laughs Clinton, who’d been “a big fan” of Bogart since the music executive’s 1960s days at Buddah Records and Holland-Dozier-Holland’s post-Motown label Hot Wax, and had known Casablanca co-founder Cecil Holmes since the late ‘50s. “I knew Neil to be a hypes man, to be a promotion man. … I told him, ‘If you give me a spaceship,’ I will do what he did every day. Him and Cecil and the promotion people, they did that. They were known for that. So, I just made his job easier. I said, ‘Give me a spaceship.’ We already had a hit record, ‘Give Up the Funk'… The record was already selling. So, I told him, ‘I will bring it home — not only this record, but the next two or three records.’ And he knew. He could hear exactly what I meant when I said that. He knew I was looking at it the same way.

“Phil Spector looked at his records [the same way] when they came out, or how the Beatles looked at their records when they had that big budget,” Clinton continues. “They knew what to do with it, and [Bogart] knew that. I knew that we can hike this one all the way to another planet… but we had never had that commercial push like I knew he was going to do. So, I just said, ‘Do what you do best, and I'll do what I know that'll work.’ And yeah, it was a million.”

Clinton spent Bogart’s cool million — roughly the equivalent of $6.1 million in 2023 — on hiring Tony-winning lighting designer Jules Fisher (Broadway’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago) to build that freaky flying saucer. He also with futuristic fashion designer Larry LeGaspi (KISS, Labelle, Grace Jones, Divine) to create the out-of-this-world costumes for Parliament's massive Earth Tour, which launched in 1976, and even bought out Aerosmith’s entire backline. (“The whole of it, all of those amps… plus their roadies!”) Clearly, these splurges were worth every penny, and the rest was funk history. “I had it all out: real leather, real fur at first, that big fur coat. It was definitely hype,” boasts Clinton. “I knew that if you spend money, and looked like money, it draws money.”

This discussion prompts Yahoo Entertainment to fact-check another revelation in Spinning Gold: In the same pool-party scene when Clinton, played by Khalifa, hits up Bogart for that seven-figure spaceship investment, he is shown introducing Bogart to the ultimate ‘70s drug, cocaine. So, did that really happen?

“That was… debatable,” Clinton chuckles. “You know, I can't remember; if you remember them days, you wasn't there! So, I'm not gonna say no, but I don't quite remember who was first [to turn Bogart on to coke]. I know there was a lot of it around the office. I don't remember who. I was [more of] an acid man — I'm from the ‘60s! But I could have been, because there was a blurred line right through there. That's where the lines get blurred.”

Clinton actually claims that as Casablanca Records began to explode — launching some of the biggest superstars of the ‘70s (including KISS, Donna Summer, and the controversially omitted-from-Spinning Gold disco boy band Village People) and becoming the biggest independent label of all time — he in fact avoided partying too hard with Bogart’s wild crew.

“I was afraid to hang with them when they went to Studio 54,” Clinton laughs. “I was so afraid, ‘cause [Casablanca was] so successful — and my theory is, when you get that successful, you have to pay. You’re going pay for it somewhere along the line. The downfall is gonna come when you have that much fun; you gotta pay for it. And they were having too much fun at Studio 54. I would not push it. The drugs was bad enough, but you cannot just have that much fun when you got that much money! That's a hard one. So, I was scared to actually go to Studio 54. Neil used to beg me to go with them; I'd go other places with them. Nah, when rich folks get decadent, they get decadent. That one scared me!”

Spinning Gold has an impressive and credible credits list, for sure. The late label founder’s son, Timothy Scott Bogart, wrote and directed the biopic, and one of Neil’s other sons, Evan “Kidd” Bogart — a hitmaker in his own right, having written songs for Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo, and Rihanna — served as executive producer. (Pro tip/spoiler alert: Make sure to stay for those end credits, lest you miss Spinning Gold’s epic fever-dream of a finale.) The all-star cast includes Jason Derulo as Ron Isley, Ledisi as Gladys Knight, soul singer-songwriter Tayla Parx as Donna Summer, Sebastian Maniscalco as Giorgio Moroder, Jay Pharoah as Cecil Holmes, Chris Redd as radio DJ Frankie Crocker, R&B singer Pink Sweats as Bill Withers, and Michael Ian Black as KISS manager Bill Aucoin. And Tony/Grammy-nominated Broadway veteran Jeremy Jordan, taking over the lead role originally assigned to Justin Timberlake when the film was first green-lit a decade ago, truly triumphs as Neil.

But Khalifa is absolutely uncanny as George Clinton. “He did it good. I mean, I felt it,” the P-Funk star says with a smile.

Khalifa, who didn’t get to meet Clinton until after Spinning Gold was completed, tells Yahoo Entertainment that he was “definitely a little shook” to take on the part, “because this is a legend — this is somebody that I look up to, so naturally I want to do right by him.” However, Khalifa already had the ringing endorsement of Clinton’s grandchildren and daughter, who actually portray Parliament’s band members in the film.

“My grandkids had had me up on [Wiz], so I was pretty satisfied, just knowing his frame of mind, watching his other business — you know, that he had some good smoke,” says Clinton, referring to his other drug of choice and Khalifa’s successful cannabis venture. “In other words, I had no doubts that he would be able to pull it off, once my grandkids said, ‘He's that dude.’ They just confirmed what I already thought about him.”

“To get there on set and meet his grandkids and his kids, and for them to be really, really happy and kind of just blown away by how we were able to nail everything with his aesthetic, and then with my lines and me delivering my part...” Khalifa marvels, trailing off. “It's not so much trying to be him, but just to bring his energy and do the things that he would do at the time. They were telling me I nailed it and that he was like, yo, super-excited. And I was like, damn! … That was really a goal of mine, to just bring that energy.”

When preparing to step into the funkmaster’s shoes — which he says was literally his biggest acting challenge, laughing, “When I was walking down those steps in those platforms, I was like, ‘Man, this is bad!’” — Khalifa made sure to brush up on Clinton’s proto-LeGaspi style. “I think the majority of the studying that I did was older George footage, because for people of my age or just my generation, they remember what he looks like at certain periods,” says the 35-year-old “Black and Yellow” rapper. “But he had to work up to get to that point, you know what I mean? And that ultimate figure of George, I didn't want just that to be in my head. … I wanted to know what he looked like and moved like and acted like when he was younger. So, I would look at pictures or interviews or documentaries, just things that would just give me more insight to who he really was, what he looked like behind the glasses, outfits that he would wear. Just so when we go to do the costumes… it's like, ‘All right, this is what he would really wear.’”

“Oh, they did that right,” Clinton enthuses. “[Wiz’s] approach, coming out there with the ermine coat on, was great. I mean, if you saw that in ‘76 in Houston, Texas, if you saw the video, everybody know he got that right.”

George Clinton in 1976. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
George Clinton in 1976. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Spinning Gold won’t be the only opportunity to see Clinton portrayed onscreen: While he is mum about the details, he does reveal that he’s working on his own biopic, with Eddie Murphy in the lead role. (“That's still happening. I just gathered the writers the other day,” Clinton says) While Murphy is obviously a genius Clinton casting — as George himself says, “If you play Dolemite, you can play anybody!” — Khalifa had such a breakthrough in Spinning Gold that surely Clinton can find some room for him on that forthcoming film’s million-dollar Mothership, too.

“Oh, yeah. I'm gonna be in there somewhere,” Khalifa chuckles, to which Clinton replies, “You can come on and play Bootsy.” So, watch this space(ship).

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