Planet Hollywood, the once bustling tourist destination and copyrighted trend, is no more. It's no longer an accidental detour for visitors seeking a quick indoor shortcut to the CN Tower on a rainy day.
I worked there as a waiter for five years and got the news at an unpaid staff meeting for which I'd prepared myself to ask for a promotion. I blame the reality TV craze. More directly, however, I blame poor middle management, bad food and worse service.
My time there began with an alcohol problem, poverty and the fact that I'd just been fired from my first waiter job at a place renowned for recycling draft beer and reselling it. I'd run out of money and was borrowing from actor friends to pay my $450-a-month rent.
Following the standard rejections at high-end places, I walked past 277 Front West, saw the flashing neon, heard the booming rock music and was immediately taken by a sense of infinite possibility.
Planet was a corporate-run empire. Its almighty attention to detail was impressive. I received two phone-book-size manuals and went through a rigorous five-week training process, during which I wasn't allowed to take tips but got to sample a free dish from the menu each day.
I signed a contract guaranteeing that a) I wouldn't talk about any of the celebrities who might enter the establishment, and b) that I wouldn't attempt to communicate with said celebrities regarding advancing my career.
Wrestling superstars Booker T and Jerry "The King" Lawler were my first big-name guests. ("The King" tips like "The Pauper.") Later, I moved up to lesser-known phenoms like Vanessa Carlton, who refused to eat anything on the menu and instead got sushi delivered from across the street.
But not once did I see the big stars who supposedly owned the theme restaurant. Where was Stallone? How about Bruce and Demi? Whoopi never called. I began to doubt their actual involvement in the company.
The illustrious items on display a cardboard box from the comic dud Tommy Boy and a werewolf head from the Canadian independent hit Ginger Snaps seemed to be fading, too. Hardly worth paying 15 bucks for a cheeseburger with onions.
I decided to do some digging. Turned out Planet Hollywood was not really owned by the stars. The chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection six and a half years ago and was taken over by a hotel magnate. I'm not going to go into specifics, but this hotel magnate also owns a casino, and I don't want to say what kind of people the gaming business typically attracts.
How could action heroes let these guys take over their restaurant?
Then I learned Stallone had sued his financial adviser for not selling Planet stock when he knew it was going to plummet. Sly ended up dropping $10 million, which may in part explain some of the recent media push to increase sales of the Rocky DVD box set.
I never gave these corporate blunders much thought. Returning chicken that didn't look fully cooked never made me embittered, because there was always someone on staff to drink with after work.
But in the past three years, employees with three months' experience selling T-shirts at the merchandise counter were quickly being bumped up to management.
Patrons going to Jays openers or CN Tower charity stair-climbs would ask, "When did the last star come in here, and who was it?" I couldn't answer, and children who wanted to see the Terminator or Rocky had to make do with "Coming soon" clips for films released years ago on the four remaining big screens that still worked.
Perhaps Planet is dead because there are no more true stars. Warhol's 15 minutes is now 13 episodes of "reality" schlock like Cupid or While You Were Out (We Gave Your Lawn An) Extreme Makeover. Jack Nicholson may be the only thing left in Hollywood with staying power.
Maybe the interior of Planet Hollywood should have been distinctively Canadian. The displays could have included a toque from The Beachcombers, duct tape from The Red Green Show. Canadian Idol winners could have bused tables.
Anyone likely to get caught in a Planet Hollywood T-shirt these days has either been shopping at the Salvation Army or dabbing a number under "G" at a bingo hall in Etobicoke.