C.J.: Did Diana Ross even SEE Anthony Whelihan's PACER portrait? She can now

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2014 - 10:42 PM

“Too Good to be True,” Anthony Whelihan’s artistic rendering of Diana Ross.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Whelihan,

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Oh, now I know why Twin Cities artist Anthony Whelihan wasn’t returning my phone calls.

For 19 years, Whelihan has done a portrait of the PACER headliner that has been autographed by the celebrity and auctioned. This year, that was Diana Ross, who performed Saturday at the 32nd annual PACER Center gala.

At the after-party, some people in the know told me that Ross did not allow his portrait to be released.

Say whut?

I had planned a Q&A with Whelihan with a video showcasing his progress on the Ross portrait as he discussed his special connection with PACER, the organization that supports children with disabilities and combats bullying. But since February, Whelihan hadn’t been returning my calls. I knew something was up because normally Whelihan is difficult to get off the phone.

I began asking people: Is Anthony sick? Is he angry with me?

Nope. Much juicier.

“I did the portrait,” Whelihan told me Monday. “Supposedly we sent it off to her [for advance approval]. … We didn’t hear anything, didn’t hear anything, then all of a sudden we hear she’s not allowing it. She waited until the last minute. We don’t know if she saw it or if these are her rules or what the rules may be. You know how you get a form letter? This was like a form letter rejection: Diana Ross does not allow interpretations of her image. I’ve been painting portraits for 19 years — I consider it 19 because I did the portrait. This doesn’t make sense. Paula [Goldberg, PACER’s executive director] called the agent and the agent talked to her people. They said: Ross just never allows it. Well, that’s not true. I went on Google and other artists paint her.

“I personally don’t even know if she saw it. It probably never got past her front people,” said Whelihan, who gave me permission to publish it.

It’s not surprising that Ross wouldn’t allow Whelihan’s artistic rendering. She carefully manages her image and apparently eschews candid photography (which makes TMZ’s videos of a dressed-down Ross leaving L.A. grocery stores even more hysterical).

Tangling with Diana

A New York City woman made a real connection with Ross after her PACER performance at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

As Roberta Wohle’s group finished their photo and broke from their pose, Wohle and Ross were still together. Wohle’s gray brocade jacket had become entwined in Ross’ sequined outfit.

“We’ll always be connected,” Wohle told me she said to Ross. They had a good laugh over the disentanglement, which took a few seconds.

Someone came over to ask her if there was damage to her brocade; apparently Ross’ wardrobe person was ready to make repairs.

Ross took a few (in fact, the fewest I’ve ever seen) photos with patrons backstage. A screen was used as a backdrop for her photos with PACER patrons. That was a first; these photos are normally taken in a convention center hallway. The photographer was not Ross’ personal photographer but a pro from the metro’s Venture Photography.

So few people were present that I considered waiving my personal ban on taking photos with celebrities. When the woman who was coordinating the photos wanted to know how many people would be in my picture, I held up my index finger, indicating one.

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