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NEW YORK — As one of the few who has actually changed the world, not just wished to, Henry Kissinger had much to celebrate at his 90th birthday party Monday night.
And the former secretary of state’s wife Nancy made sure plenty of their friends joined in on the black-tie fun at the St. Regis Hotel here. With politicians, dignitaries and other power brokers arriving by the minute, Secret Service and private security used three different entrances to whisk them indoors. Twenty floors above in the rooftop ballroom, the scent of gardenias from blue Chinoiserie vases filled the air and tiny white votive candles flickered in the hall. While a clutch of young women in black dresses stood solemnly waiting for the VIPs, a unisex mariachi band plucked at their guitars and adjusted their sombreros.
Nancy Kissinger arrived hours before the guest of honor to ensure every last place card was in order. The power couple brought together the red and the blue, so to speak, with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, James Baker, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Susan Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and David Petraeus being among the politically minded guests. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, David Rockefeller, Mort Zuckerman, Charlie Rose, Barry Diller, Roger Ailes, Barbara Walters, Wendi Murdoch, Paula Zahn, Oscar and Annette de la Renta, and Tina Brown and Harold Evans helped make up the New York contingent in the 300-person crowd.
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As one of the five former secretary of states at the fete (not to mention the current one, Kerry), Shultz mused with guests about the Secretary of State Club, according to one attendee. And Kerry clued them in to the fact that he has already connected with Kissinger to talk shop. After “beautiful” speeches by Kissinger’s children, Elizabeth and David, McCain warmed up the room with moving remarks about the Vietnam War and Bill Clinton capped off the speeches.
Once the birthday cake with a giant “90” was wheeled in, Kissinger’s friends joined in on a rousing version of “Happy Birthday” before the man himself took the microphone. The German-born strategist spoke of coming to the U.S. as a teenager and his lifelong love of politics. He also reminded guests about the rhythm of history, and that even if politicians represent different parties they must come together for the good of the nation.
Arriving at the birthday bash, McCain (practically the only VIP to march in without security of any kind) said of Kissinger, “His legacy is [providing] the stewardship of our nation in the most difficult of times and his continued important voice on national security policies. He has been a consultant and adviser to every president, Republican and Democrat, since Richard Nixon. He is a man who has a unique place in the world. I know of no individual who is more respected in the world than Henry Kissinger.”
McCain, a former prisoner of war, spoke of “the wonderful affection” he has for Kissinger “because of the Vietnam War, which was something that was enormously impactful to both of our lives.” On a lighter note, the man-of-the-hour can be a bit of a cutup: “He has a great way in his own measured fashion to say very amusing things and of course he’s got a million anecdotes because of his experiences around the world,” McCain said.
Recalling how she landed Kissinger’s first televised interview, Walters said, “I think he was the national security adviser. He wasn’t even secretary of state. That’s how long it’s been. We’ve been friends for a very long time, which is why I am delighted tonight. He is a man of vision and a man of history.”
All smiles with his actress girlfriend Ricki Lander, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among the first to arrive and one of the few to have a gift in hand. Carrying a bag imprinted to look like the back of a Patriots team jersey with “Kissinger” imprinted above the number 90, Kraft gladly said his present was more of the same. “I brought him a locker room shirt,” he called out with a laugh.
Arriving more fashionably late with his wife Suzanne, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson was surprised to learn his rival was waiting upstairs. “Uh oh,” Suzanne kidded.
Jokes aside, her husband, like many of the guests en route to the party, spoke of Kissinger with reverence. Johnson first met the Washington insider in the early Eighties, when he joined the Council on Foreign Relations. Johnson said they traveled to Europe together. Recalling a particularly memorable trip to Sweden that involved a meeting with the Russian interior minister of defense, Johnson said Kissinger pretended to fall asleep when the Russian was speaking. “Then when it was his turn to talk, he magically wakes up. I had never seen anything like it,” Johnson said. “But he has been the most accomplished diplomat we have ever had.”
On his way into the St. Regis, Evans said of Kissinger, “Every time you speak with him he shakes the kaleidoscope in such a way that you see global affairs differently.”
Annette de la Renta is such a devotee that she skipped out on Monday’s CFDA Awards altogether — even though her husband was being honored — to celebrate Kissinger’s party start to finish with Diller. (She was also one of the few female attendees to forgo a gown in favor of her husband’s no-fail favorites — a black lace dress with a cashmere shawl.) “She had no choice,” Diller said. “I absconded with her,” before planting a kiss on her cheek.
The merriment was no doubt in full swing nearing 9 p.m., when Hillary Rodham Clinton sailed in with Oscar de la Renta fresh from the CFDA Awards. “Ready for round two,” she beamed as she waltzed into the freight entrance.