Let’s start with the difficult questions: Who, exactly, Is Shadoe Stevens and what, exactly, does he do? Well, he’s the kind of guy who could have appeared on What’s My Line and really furrowed the brows of the panel. He’s the kind of guy who gives his accountants a real task at tax time when they have to fill in the box on the 1040 form marked “Occupation.”
Nominally he’s the announcer-in-a-square on TV’s syndicated Hollywood Squares, and he has just replaced the venerable Casey Kasem as the host of radio’s American Top 40. But in reality, Stevens, 41, is a showbiz phenomenon. In place of discernible talent (the guy doesn’t sing, act or dance), he possesses a soft-rock radio voice, highlighted blond hair, more than the shadow of a smile and that Indefinable Something that makes for a major cult figure. That he’s called the male Vanna White doesn’t cause him a consonant of consternation. “I tell people that I actually am Vanna White,” says Stevens. “Do you notice that she never talks? It would be a dead giveaway. I use a lot of makeup.”
Judged by the level of delirium he inspires, Shadoe is indeed identical to Vanna. The stacks of mail he receives each day reach alpine proportions. On a recent trip to New York City, when Hollywood Squares was taping at Radio City Music Hall, fans bearing We Love You, Shadoe signs started lining up at 6 a.m. Security guards had to escort Stevens from his car while women tore at his hair, clothes and any other part of him they could reach.
Sitting in his 20th floor Los Angeles penthouse (a nine-room abode done in Southwest desert decor), his pale blues beaming fondly at his wife, Beverly, 35, and their 23-month-old daughter, Amber, Stevens admits of his career, “This really isn’t work to me.” And to hear him tell it, this veteran of radio and TV has spent most of his life not really working.
Born Terry Ingstad, he grew up in Jamestown, N.Dak., the eldest of five children in a setting he describes as pure Norman Rockwell. His mother, Laverne, is a housewife; his father, Keith, is the owner of a clothing store. Shadoe’s interest in radio surfaced at age 10, when he built a transmitter in his house and began broadcasting rock and roll. A local radio station caught his act and put him on the air as the world’s youngest deejay, with a show called Spin with Terry.
He’s been spinning records ever since, though not as Terry Ingstad. He chose his disc jockey handle in 1969, thinking that Shadoe Stevens not only imparted a certain airwave panache but also the necessity of “having a sense of humor, of never taking myself too seriously.”
He kept the name at radio stations in Boston and L.A. and, on TV, as the announcer for the nationally syndicated Steve Allen Show. Keeping his sense of humor, however, was more challenging. His first marriage ended in 1978 after 10 years. (A son, Brad, 19, lives in Seattle with Shadoe’s ex-wife, who is now a chiropractor.) His three-year second marriage, to aspiring actress Cynthia Gaydos, ended in 1984.
That same year marked another, more promising change for Stevens—overcoming his 14-year drug and alcohol addiction. A self-admitted addictive personality, he started mixing pot and speed and ended up combining coke with a quart of Scotch a day. Once, Stevens says, “my doctor said I could have a stroke and, if lucky, I would die. More likely I would end up paralyzed.” That severe warning wasn’t enough. Often, after days without sleep, Stevens would get so high on coke he’d convulse on the floor. When coming to, he’d remember thinking, “What a good hit!”
His family finally intervened and sent him to a hospital. “We approached him with the idea of getting help,” says his mother. “We said, ‘Terry, if you won’t do it for yourself, then please do it for us.’ He went that very afternoon.”
“I went very reluctantly and afraid,” says Stevens. “I was huffy and loud about being stuffed away.” A few weeks into the program, however, Stevens got the message and is still sticking to the sobriety program. “I wouldn’t go back to drugs and alcohol now,” he says. “I’d rather gouge my eyes out with soupspoons.”
It might sound predictable, but it’s true—Stevens’ life changed dramatically once he cleaned up his act. In 1985 he met model Beverly Cunningham, and he married her a year later. “I had to kiss a lot of frogs before I found my prince,” says the adoring Mme. Shadoe. In 1986 he took the job of Hollywood Squares announcer, and Shadoemania has grown steadily ever since. So has Stevens’ income. His lucrative contract for American Top 40, which is broadcast to 1,015 stations in 40 countries, runs for seven years. A line of Shadoe posters is also in the offing. Forewarned is forearmed.
Given his lack of performing ability, how does Stevens account for his extraordinary fortune? There can be only one possible explanation, and he knows it. “It’s divine intervention,” says Shadoe. “There’s somebody writing the script for me, and He has a tremendous sense of humor.”