Fans Come Out Swinging For Rush Star

Say Drunken Fight 'Out Of Character' Blame Security At Florida Hotel

Toronto Star, January 4, 2004, transcribed by pwrwindows

A day after a bloodied Alex Lifeson emerged from a Florida jail following a drunken brawl, fans are standing by their hero, insisting the incident was "out of character" for the guitarist and the result of "overzealous security" at a posh hotel.

On Internet message boards and chat rooms, Rush fans were buzzing about whether his arrest will have any impact on the band's upcoming 30th anniversary world tour.

"First and foremost, I hope his health is OK. Will this affect the 2004 tour? Are his hands OK? With his nose being broken, will this affect his ability to think clearly?" one concerned fan posted on a message board on the band's official Web site.

Rush frontman Geddy Lee and Lifeson (whose real surname is Zivojinovich) confirmed the Toronto band would play about 30 to 35 dates in the United States and about 10 shows in Europe during a radio show last month.

According to police reports, the 50-year-old guitarist, his 33-year-old son, Justin Zivojinovich, and his daughter-in-law Michelle, 30, were arrested on New Year's Eve after a violent encounter at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples on south Florida's Gulf Coast. Lifeson spent two nights in jail before being released Friday on a $14,500 (U.S.) bond.

"Our thoughts are with you, buddy. We really hope you are OK, and this doesn't affect the 30th anniversary 2004 tour," posted another fan under the heading "Big Al in the Big House."

Another fan wrote in, "This appears to be totally out of character for Alex. Regardless of the outcome of this fiasco, whether or not Alex is guilty of breaking any laws ... I believe Rush fans must stand behind him."

However, not all fans were as forgiving.

"It takes two to tangle," wrote one fan on the band's Web site.

"My guess (and I stress it's strictly a guess since I wasn't there) [is that] the responsibility for the incident likely needs to be shared. It started with Alex's son jumping up on stage, which in hindsight wasn't a good idea. Follow that up with what might have been overzealous security, throw in some drinks on New Year's Eve, and there's your recipe."

According to police reports, which described Lifeson as both "extremely violent" and "extremely intoxicated," the scuffle began shortly after 11 p.m., when Justin jumped on stage in the hotel ballroom and attempted to interrupt the house band. As he was being escorted out of the ballroom by police, a "swinging and grabbing" Lifeson came to his son's defence and was subsequently subdued with a Taser stun gun.

Lifeson later pushed a female deputy down a set of stairs and spat blood on a second deputy's face, alleges the report.

"He literally pushed her back first so she flew down the stairs and landed on the landing on her back and neck and head. She's still under a doctor's care," said Sheri Mausen, a spokesperson for the Collier County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

Mausen confirmed Lifeson's nose was broken in the ensuing scuffle that lasted "about five minutes," and involved about 15 to 20 people, including family members, police and hotel security.

His son and daughter-in-law were also arrested and were later released on bonds of $3,000 and $500 respectively.

"This gives new meaning to dinner at the Ritz," Lifeson told reporters as he left jail Friday, wearing the same outfit, covered in blood, that he wore to the New Year's Eve bash.

Lifeson said he didn't believe his arrest was fair.

"They didn't like the way we were dancing, apparently," he said.

Despite suggestions by Rush fans on the Internet that police set out to make an example of Lifeson because of his rock-star status, Mausen said the deputies who responded to the call did not know who they were dealing with when they arrived on the scene.

"The deputies didn't even know who it was at the time," she said. "As far as we're concerned we wouldn't have handled it any differently regardless of who it is."

Lifeson faces six assault-related charges and will be arraigned Jan. 26.