More than anything, Pezim wants to impress. Consider what he did one day in 1957 when he desperately wanted to curry favor with five female flight attendants around a hotel pool in Jamaica. He executed a gorgeous swan dive off the low board. The pool held no water. He was, he says, in a coma for four days and a body cast for eight months. "I impressed 'em," he says. "It was worth it."
Not long ago at a charity event, Pezim auctioned the tie he was wearing for almost $300. Encouraged by the high bid, he took off his shirt and offered it for auction. Nobody wanted it, but one man bid $100 if Pezim would put the shirt back on. Pezim did. "If I can raise money by someone laughing at me, go ahead," he says. "Take your best shot." At a roast of Pezim in 1988, roastmaster Milton Berle said, "Thanks to this man, I now have $14 million. Before I met him I had $30 million." Don Rickles told Pezim at the same event, "With that nose, as you breathe, my socks are coming up." Pezim thinks Rickles is hilarious.
So is this man a driving force in sports and finance in Canada and beyond, or is he just a buffoon? Or both? Depends. One high-level football source, who insists on anonymity because he fears Pezim's power, says, "The man is a promoter, so all he has are his words—and none of them can be believed." On the other paw, Bill Reid, a member of the British Columbia legislature, says, "If Murray hadn't stepped in and bought this team before last season, the Lions would have failed, and without Vancouver, there is no CFL. So all he did was save the league. He came to the party, became the messiah, and very few know."
Former Lion coach Annis Stukus says, "Murray isn't appreciated because, frankly, he has made too much money—and he's Jewish."
It is true that Pezim stepped up and plunked down $1.7 mil for the Lions in the fall of '89, when other big hitters cleared their throats and looked the other way. Says Pezim, "I got a call about 11 a.m. from Cliff Michaels [then a British Columbia cabinet minister], who said, 'The Lions are ready to go under. You've got to help.' At seven that evening, I was at the Chartwell restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver having dinner with the league's board of governors. They invited me. But I paid the check." It was for $1,080. Pezim's former chief financial officer, R.J. Gayton, says Pezim "never asked for the opinion of any of his management team before he did this, probably because he knew we'd be unanimously against it."
"As I look back, it was not a good price," Pezim admits. What would have been a good price? "If they had paid me $1.5 million." He laughs. Money makes Pezim laugh. In his first football season, 1990, he lost $2.3 million. "I'll break even this year," he says. For that to happen, the team will have to average home crowds of 40,000; to date, after six games, the average is 38,009. Pezim figured he would get $1.4 million in TV revenue for this season; he'll get about $650,000. On the plus side, the Lions are a surging team; their record through Sunday was 9-5.
"Why did I buy the Lions?" Pezim muses. "Well, why do you get married? Just because it seems like a good idea at the time. You don't think. But you do it because it has a chance." Pezim has been married three times. A year ago, he had his intended fourth wife, Tammy Patrick, 29, walk out on the football field before a home game wearing a jersey that read 4 EVER. He hasn't yet married her. "I'm never getting married again," he says. "Never, ever." Pause. "But I'm weak." Murray's brother, Norman, says he thinks Murray "got into football just to prove he could do other things besides find gold."
There is chaos around Pezim's $2.2 million winter home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., just outside Phoenix. Tammy, who says that she wants to be a filmmaker, is pasting together a collage for an art class she is taking. Plans are afoot to go to the grocery store. Tammy isn't going. But she is shouting that she wants eucalyptus oil, frozen peas, frozen strawberries and a doggie bed. Murray is paying no attention. Pearl Whalley, the maid, who looks like no maid you have ever seen before, has Visa on the phone and is pleading for Murray to pay her $800 balance. "Come on, Mur," she screams. "Most of this stuff is for your ex-wives, anyway." He says no. Many times. Firmly. Then pays. Another friend, Julie No-Last-Name-Please-Please, is preparing for the shopping.
Eventually, the group is off for the Safeway in the Scottsdale Shopping Center. Murray turns up the volume on the CD player. "Just a gigolo, everywhere I go...." Suddenly, he shushes everyone. "Here comes the good part." And it is: "I ain't got nobody...." Just a little slice of Americana, a typical trip to the market.
"I have a routine," explains Murray at the Safeway. "We go up and down each row, carefully making our purchases after consulting with each other." Pearl laughs. "Yeah," she says, "our routine is to pile as much in the buggies as we can." Pearl asks Murray if he wants turkey bacon. "No," he says. So Pearl gets two packages. Julie suggests a cake mix called Lovin' Lites. Murray grumps, "I don't like anything 'lite.' " Julie throws two boxes in the cart. Murray asks Pearl if they need eggs. "No, I don't need or want eggs," she says. He puts two dozen in the cart.