Don McLean Calls UCLA ‘Morons’ After Rescinding of Lifetime Achievement Award

Don McLean performs during a taping
Mark Humphrey/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In a since-deleted Facebook post, singer-songwriter Don McLean publicly addressed UCLA and asked, “Are you a bunch of morons?,” in response to having a lifetime achievement award he was to be given rescinded three days after it was announced.

The 2019 George and Ira Gershwin Award was actually set to be bestowed by UCLA’s Student Alumni Association, which announced on its website Monday that it canceled the award to the “American Pie” singer “upon learning that Mr. McLean had previously been convicted of domestic violence charges.”

“Maybe I need to give you some bribe money to grease the college wheels,” McLean sarcastically retorted in his post, alluding to the recent college admissions scandal involving UCLA and many other top universities.

In his “Dear UCLA” letter, McLean further wrote, “You awarded me your George and Ira Gershwin life time achievement award and then took it back because you found out about my squabble with my ex-wife. This has been all over the internet for 3 years. Are you people morons? This is settled law. … Don’t ever come near me again unless you offer me an apology for the damage you have done me. I am guilty of nothing to do with assault and you had better make that clear. We live in a dark age of accusation and not law.”

In its statement, the Student Alumni Association said, “The decision to rescind the award was made by SAA’s Spring Sing Executive Committee upon learning that Mr. McLean had previously been convicted of domestic violence charges. The award was to be presented at the annual ‘Spring Sing’ show in Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom on May 17. SAA rejects any behavior — including violence and the threat of violence in all its forms — that does not uphold the True Bruin Values. We extend our support to survivors of domestic violence.”

Earlier, in announcing the honor, the SAA’s Isabella Dohil had been considerably more laudatory toward McLean. “On behalf of UCLA, I am thrilled to present the 2019 George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement to Don McLean, whose poetic lyrics have transcended time and remain a staple of American culture,” Dohil said in that statement. “Don’s contributions to music have been profound and he continues to capture audiences both young and old through his dynamic storytelling.”

According to the Portland Press Herald, the UCLA alumni group was unaware of the charges until their reporter brought the case up to the group shortly after the announcement was made. The charges and their legal outcome had received considerable coverage in national media in 2016 and 2017.

McLean’s publicist, Jeremy Westby, sent an email to the UCLA group stating that it was “publicly disrespectful and grossly humiliating to Mr. McLean to issue and then rescind an award based on the supposition of any violent criminal history. … I am incredibly surprised and disappointed that an institution such as UCLA, having had adequate time to vet all potential award recipients, would so easily and negligently overlook something as public as what has happened to Mr. McLean and his family three years ago.”

In 2016, according to the Press Herald, McLean pleaded guilty to six charges involving his then-wife, Patrishia McLean. In 2017, he was convicted of three  — domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal restraint and criminal mischief. The other three charges — domestic violence assault, domestic violence terrorizing and obstructing report of a crime — were dismissed at the same time under a plea agreement that involved McLean paying a small fine.

A February 2019 letter from McLean’s lawyer, Eric B. Morse, called the three 2017 convictions “minor criminal counts” and said his client “was not convicted of assault or of using any force at all. … Don McLean entered his pleas not because he was in fact guilty of anything, but to provide closure for his family and to keep the whole process as private as possible.”

In February of this year, Patrishia McLean — whose petition for divorce was granted in July 2016 — put up an exhibition of photos having to do with domestic abuse at the Camden Public Library, including a copy of a protection order she was granted in 2017. McLean’s lawyer threatened to sue a local paper for publishing a news story about the exhibition. “It’s all about coercion and threats, intimidation and emotional abuse,” Patrishia McLean told the Press Herald in February. “He is trying to control what I do. This has not affected his career at all.”

McLean, 73, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, continues to keep up a robust tour schedule. An itinerary sent out this week along with the initial announcement of his UCLA honor includes 22 dates across America in the coming months.