Anyone who spent even a few minutes with a fourteen-year-old Michael Weinberg realized his sensitivity and brilliance. So when the University of Chicago accepted him at fifteen, Woodstock essentially lost Michael to the Midwest except, of course, for late night calls home and uproariously entertaining holidays. Two generations scorched by and we heard he’d retired at 55 having done very well for himself. But doing what exactly?
On September 4, thirty of us gathered for the internment of Michael’s ashes at Woodstock’s Artist’s Graveyard, struggling to bid farewell to this larger-than-life personality, who, on August 22 suffered a cardiac arrest and was found by his companion of fourteen years, Natasha Shpiller. Eventually a better question emerged. What in this life hadn’t Michael Weinberg succeeded at?
As a teenage computer prodigy in the late 1970’s, a Brave New World lay at his feet. With a playwright/attorney for a father, and teacher/artist for a mother (who’d been Tiny Tim’s accomplice in musical comedy) Michael was essentially an artistic soul with a yen for the outrageous. Yet he came to specialize in business models contemporizing monolithic giants (like AT&T and Blue Cross/Blue Sheild) that younger companies dreamed of topping. Of course, Michael only developed such groundbreaking strategies after working on the fringes of the internet revolution for decades.
Elsewhere, as ghost-writer, he spawned an entire series of best-sellers (“The Jobs Rated Almanac”); then parodied this runaway success with “Careers In Crime,” which bore his name.
In pitch mode Michael was undeniable. Consequently, during the late nineties he received a call from one of Oprah Winfrey’s “people,” seeking to discuss the possibility of Weinberg becoming one of Oprah’s producers. While returning the call, however, Michael stumbled, swore aloud, and hit the star button (which in media circles enabled a caller to leave an alternate message). Alas, Oprah’s phone systems were not fully updated, and the last word her org heard from Michael Weinberg was “shit!”
In his twenties, Michael built himself a basement recording studio where he’d eventually compose tracks for commercial videos, as well as begin a personal library containing an inestimable number of original songs.
In every phase of Michael’s career he attracted other brave talents that he’d sponsor, encourage, and defend (sometimes to his own detriment).
Somewhere along the line the real estate bug bit and Michael’s energies—ever divided among too many interests—became over-extended.
Despite astonishing intelligence, Michael was often persuaded by whatever person he’d spoken to last. As a consequence, he found himself pulled in conflicting directions. Although technically retired at 55, he yearned to pull off one last triumph, which, once Covid hit, proved next to impossible.
Immortals have no need to look after their health. When Michael finally realized that he too was mere flesh and blood, he’d likely already over-extended himself. Although ever ready to help any and all in need, he seemed strangely immune to the help others offered. And so? The motley group standing graveside lavished love upon a man’s memory, few of us had ever known the privilege of praising while alive.
A memorial for Michael Steven Weinberg will be held outside Chicago on October 17, 2021. He was pre-deceased by his father Lawrence Henry Weinberg, and is survived by his devoted mother Sylvia Ruth Weinberg, his sister Heather Rachel Baer, her two sons, Nikko and Riley; and by the love his life, Natasha Shpiller.