Local Obituaries

Sex, drugs ‘n’ disco. Mutiny Hotel’s visionary, Burton Goldberg, dies at 90

Burton Goldberg, founder of the former Mutiny Hotel in Coconut Grove and later an author and proponent of alternative medicine, frolics with a leopard on a farm owned by movie actress Tippi Hedren.
Burton Goldberg, founder of the former Mutiny Hotel in Coconut Grove and later an author and proponent of alternative medicine, frolics with a leopard on a farm owned by movie actress Tippi Hedren. Courtesy Margaux Vega

Some called developer Burton Goldberg, who created Coconut Grove’s original Mutiny Hotel in 1968, “Miami’s Hugh Hefner.”

But Hef’s sexy bunny hutches in Chicago and Los Angeles had little on Goldberg’s Mutiny Hotel.

“He was more than our Miami’s Hugh Hefner. He was one of the founding fathers of Miami’s night life,” said Roben Farzad, host of NPR’s “Full Disclosure.” The Mutiny’s rooms had names suggestive of a porn set, like Gypsy Caravan, Hot Fudge, the Bordello and Outer Space.

“A den of disco beats and coke and booze and smoke, hot tubs and cash in suitcases,” a Miami Herald reporter called The Mutiny in a 2004 story, a fair observation of the 12-story hot spot in its 1970s heyday.

Hard-partying rock groups like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles checked in. The Dolphins partied at its club. South American drug dealers “who slid into the banquettes and hid guns in their baskets of dinner rolls,” Esquire magazine wrote, did business there.

Goldberg died Nov. 13 at his home in Tiburon, California, at 90. Friends and family reflected in the wake of his death that this glittering demimonde of gorgeous women and playboys whose open shirts exposed enough chest hair to conceal a coke spoon was not Goldberg’s intent or reflective of the man.

He was more than our Miami’s Hugh Hefner. He was one of the founding father’s of Miami’s night life.

NPR host Roben Farzad, author of a forthcoming book on The Mutiny Hotel and its founder Burton Goldberg.

Indeed, after Goldberg sold The Mutiny to a partnership in 1984 for $16.8 million, he moved to California in 1990 and became known as “The Voice of Alternative Medicine.” Goldberg self-published numerous books that sold more than 1.5 million copies and launched a website. After beating breast cancer, “Three’s Company” star Suzanne Somers mentioned Goldberg in her book, “Knockout: Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer.”

Goldberg told the Herald in 1994 that his transformation into an integrative medicine specialist was inspired by a girlfriend’s teenage daughter who attempted suicide during his Miami days.

“She was going to a psychiatrist and being talked to death,” Goldberg said. A holistic doctor declared she was hypoglycemic, a low blood sugar condition. “Treated with diet and nutritional supplements, she got well.”

Said Goldberg’s granddaughter Margaux Vega: “While he was incredibly successful with The Mutiny Hotel, he was most proud of his work in alternative medicine and the thousands of people he was able to help. He fought for alternative medicine before it was mainstream and had to help pave the way for others to follow.”

The Mutiny, Goldberg affirmed, could have been a book, too, given its storied past.

“I’ve lived many lives,” Goldberg, born Sept. 7, 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, told the Herald.

In 2017, The Mutiny will become a book. Farzad is completing an as-yet untitled book on the history of the hotel. “Cocaine Cowboys” director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman wrote the forward.

Corben shares one of his favorite Mutiny stories: In June 1980, two freebasing guests burned a bundle of cash in their room’s Jacuzzi. Spooked by approaching firefighters, they scrambled down 10 floors, balcony by balcony, and were nabbed by Miami police. “The ultimate symbol of the notorious hotel and that decadent drug-fueled era of Miami itself,” Corben said.

But its risque reputation is not the whole story, Vega said. “It was also beautiful and classy,” she said of The Mutiny. When light bulbs burned out in a guest’s room, elegant blue lamps would be sent up. “The rooms all had set pieces and it was designed to a T. That was his attention to detail.”

Farzad called Goldberg a visionary for building “a fantasyland … in the middle of Coconut Grove, a sleepy hippieville and soon this was our Studio 54. It just lent itself perfectly to the Cocaine Cowboys era.” But he added, “Burton Goldberg turned away from all of that 33 years ago. He fiercely protected the image of that place.”

Goldberg would not allow director Brian DePalma to film 1983’s “Scarface” at The Mutiny. “They had to make a simulacrum of The Mutiny in West Palm Beach,” Farzad said.

David Crosby and Graham Nash recorded “Mutiny,” a 1976 tribute song to the luxurious hotel, but when a disheveled, drug-using Crosby turned up at the door years later, he was turned away.

“They were worried a hobo was trying to get into the front,” Farzad said. Goldberg “had exacting standards.”

Goldberg is survived by his daughter Abbey, son Blake, grandchildren Margaux, Ryan and Brittany and his partner Pearle.

Follow @HowardCohen

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