And this person is Louis Armstrong. Satchmo. Pops.
Everybody knows the names. Everybody knows the list of achievements--jazz visionary, cultural icon, goodwill ambassador to the world, actor, author, comedian, a man whose career spanned five decades and as many mediums.
But there's one thing that has always interested me: the man's virtual lifelong fixation on laxatives. I'd seen a photograph many years ago (the one you're looking at on this very page) of Satch sitting on the john, grinning from ear to ear, proffering a box of something called Swiss Kriss. At the bottom of the page was this: "Satchmo Slogan: Leave It All Behind Ya."
What did it mean? I knew he had a bountiful sense of humor, but this I didn't get. A bit of digging and I found that Swiss Kriss was a laxative, and that Armstrong was into it in a big way. Not addicted as a means of weight loss--as were the Barbi twins, for example, to their favored brand of evacuator--but for health reasons that he was quite passionate about.
Cut to a couple weeks ago and me walking through a large supermarket. And there it was, standing out on the shelf in all of its German-expressionist-logoed glory, a box of Swiss Kriss. They still made the stuff, the favorite laxative of the greatest trumpet player ever to walk the face of the Earth. Featuring licorice root, fennel, dandelion, peppermint, papaya, strawberry and peach leaves, among other ingredients. One hundred percent natural. I brought some Kriss home for research purposes. I took that about as far as I could, but I wanted to know more. I decided to dive in headfirst.
Why listen to me when Louis can fill you in? Here are some vital tidbits that he revealed in a letter written shortly before his death to authors Max Jones and John Chilton for their book Louis:
"We didn't do much drinking ... when we did, we always figured that pot would cut liquor anytime. And being physic-minded like we were, we would take a good laxative (of some kind) and keep our stomachs cleaned out, because that good stuff we were smoking gave you an appetite. And drinking makes you eat like a dog. A good, cleaned-out stomach makes one feel like any human deserves to feel, and I've always been physic-minded.
"Mayann (mother) used to tell me always stay physic-minded. You may not get rich, but you won't ever have those terrible ailments such as cancer, etc. And she would go out by the railroad tracks and pick a lot of peppers--grasses, dandelions, etc., and she'd bring it home and boil that stuff and give us kids a big dose of it. And, my gawd--we'd make sprints to the toilet and afterwards feel 'oh, so good,' all cleaned out 'n' stuff."
Armstrong obviously developed his doctrine of intestinal purification early on, and as he was for his art, he became a tireless cheerleader of the practice. But Louis was fond of another herb, good ol' marijuana, and his idea of a swell, healthy time called for frequent helpings of both Kriss and dope. One for the brain, and one for the bowels. He continues:
"Every time I'd light up with a cat, I'd mention laxatives and was happy to know that everybody got the message. Because, for a while, we were drinking Abalena Water. It came from a well in Abilene, Texas. We drank that well dry, sohad to get another kind of physic. So westarted drinking Pluto Water, which wasgreat. Then here come this book--ahealth book written by Gayelord Hauser. When I read down to the part where he recommended some 'herbs'--herbal laxatives--I said to myself, 'Herbs--Hmmm, these herbs reminds me of the same as what my mother picked down by the tracks in New Orleans.' Right away I went to the Health Store and bought myself a box of Swiss Kriss and took a big tablespoonful--make sure it worked me the same as other laxatives. Yes it did. Wow! I said to myself, yessindeed, this is what I need from now on--and forsake all others."
If you don't believe me or Louis Armstrong about the transcendent qualities of Swiss Kriss, bear in mind that it's been on the market--completely unchanged--since it was developed by one Gayelord Hauser in 1922. This is a laxative that has legs. It was that year that Hauser founded Modern Products, Inc., in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and began spreading his health message through what would ultimately become some 200 products.
"Louis Armstrong was a very generous man, a real nice person," exclaims Anthony Palermo, current CEO of Modern Products. He began working at the company after coming to the States from his native Italy in the early '50s. "We never paid him anything, never paid him a dime; he just loved the product. Louis--we called him "Pops"--Armstrong was so infatuated with the product 'cause it really works! And he told everybody! What he did, he had a valet called Doc Pugh, and he would get thousands of samples of Swiss Kriss from us. And Louis, at the concerts, he'd give it away to people."