The Old Chuckaroo

St. Louis radio's provocateur was a mystery in life -- and in death

"When he said, 'Jump,' I said, 'How high?'," Daniela admits. "He wanted me to be at his beck and call. But not in a rude way." But Norman, Daniela stresses, "was not my sugar daddy."

Norman never told Daniela exactly how much money he planned to leave her, but she says he promised her the "bulk of his estate" and said she'd "never have to worry" about working.

In the end, Daniela Shaw inherited Norman's Jaguar and less than $100,000. "That's nothing I can live on for the rest of my life!" she fumes.

In the '50s, that suave Old Chuckaroo had quite a way with the ladies.
In the '50s, that suave Old Chuckaroo had quite a way with the ladies.

How much did Norman's mysterious fortune total? Friends' guesstimates range from $5.5 million to $12 million, though no one but attorney Krempasky knows the estate's true value, and she won't say.

Silvia Shaw filed a petition in St. Louis Circuit Court last October, demanding to see the Charles Norman Trust to determine if Norman's last wishes were indeed his own.

Court papers show that a document examiner who compared several cards, letters and a check signed by Norman with photocopies of four trust amendments concluded that Norman's amendment signatures were not consistent with each other.

"[Norman] changed his trust quite a few times during a period when he was declining," explains Greg Wolk, Silvia Shaw's St. Louis attorney.

Daniela Shaw claims Krempasky and Esther Wright "came in at the last moment and pretended to be something else, got [Norman] to sign some papers and got him to do something that he never intended to do."

Shaw opines that Wright in particular tried to control Norman, citing a "contract for release" between Norman and Wright dated March 12, 2003. At that time, Norman was recuperating from a stroke at McKnight Place, an assisted-living facility.

The document stipulates that Norman could return home if he let Wright hire round-the-clock caregivers, let aides accompany him each time he left home and let Wright make all decisions for WGNU, among other conditions. Violation of the terms, the contract states, would result in Norman's return to McKnight Place.

McKnight Place administrator Barbara Wagner says the contract "was certainly nothing we had anything to do with." She adds: "We can't stop people from leaving, even if we think it's against their best interest, and we can't make them stay."

Both Wright and Krempasky say they don't know who drew up the contract, and Wright doesn't remember if she or Norman ever signed it.

Norman did eventually return home and submitted to round-the-clock watch. But Daniela Shaw says Norman remained "a nervous wreck" and frequently phoned her, frantic.

Two weeks before Norman's death, Silvia Shaw flew in from Florida to stay with him. He promised her ten dollars for every hour she spent by his side in the penthouse.

Norman, remembers Erwin, was telling friends for several months that he was depressed, that "the life he was living was difficult."

Spotlight Fades to Black

At Chuck Norman's funeral, a minister delivered a standard homily that mentioned few of the man's accomplishments or the kind of person he was. That prompted talk-show host Frank Weltner to pull the minister aside. "I said, 'Look, this is crazy. This was a really great guy. This guy actually believed in the First Amendment! I want you to at least say something about this. He gave a voice to people who had no voice.'"

On the day Norman entered that eighth crypt at Calvary, WGNU honored the Old Chuckaroo by changing its all-talk format to Norman's favorite big-band music.

Arnold Gilden says he talked to Norman on the telephone no fewer than six times the night before he died.

"Chuck said, 'I've been thinking. I don't think I've left enough to you. I want to leave you a million dollars. I'm leaving $11 million to various charities and $1 million to nine people or so, and the station, and taxes, but I'll take $1 million out of the $11 million for you."

After a pause, Gilden adds wistfully, "He said he knew me all my life, and that I knew things nobody else knew, and that I was his best friend. Too bad he couldn't leave me the million."

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