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updated: 8/12/2017 10:13 PM

Sold-out birthday bash for 90-year-old Louisiana ex-governor

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  • Trina Edwards, left, joins her husband, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, as he cuts a cake in celebration of his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)

    Trina Edwards, left, joins her husband, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, as he cuts a cake in celebration of his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 17, 2014 file photo, Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, center, walks down the hallway pushing his son, Eli, as he is accompanied by wife Trina Scott Edwards, right, and Charlotte Guedry, left, before speaking at the Baton Rouge Press Club in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this March 17, 2014 file photo, Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, center, walks down the hallway pushing his son, Eli, as he is accompanied by wife Trina Scott Edwards, right, and Charlotte Guedry, left, before speaking at the Baton Rouge Press Club in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011 file photo, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, 84, and his wife Trina Scott Edwards, 32, serve as honorary bartenders at Molly's On The Market Bar during a Press Club of New Orleans function in New Orleans. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011 file photo, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, 84, and his wife Trina Scott Edwards, 32, serve as honorary bartenders at Molly's On The Market Bar during a Press Club of New Orleans function in New Orleans. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this July 29, 2011 file photo, former Governor Edwin Edwards, right, kisses his new bride, Trina Grimes Scott, after a ceremony in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this July 29, 2011 file photo, former Governor Edwin Edwards, right, kisses his new bride, Trina Grimes Scott, after a ceremony in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this July 29, 2011 file photo, fourteen-year-old Logan Scott gets ready to kiss his mother Trina Grimes Scott, who married former Governor Edwin Edwards in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this July 29, 2011 file photo, fourteen-year-old Logan Scott gets ready to kiss his mother Trina Grimes Scott, who married former Governor Edwin Edwards in the French Quarter in New Orleans, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2000 file photo, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, right, and his son Stephen share a moment on a park bench in front of the federal courthouse in Baton Rogue, La. Both men were on trial on federal gambling and corruption charges. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwin Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2000 file photo, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, right, and his son Stephen share a moment on a park bench in front of the federal courthouse in Baton Rogue, La. Both men were on trial on federal gambling and corruption charges. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwin Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 13, 1985 file photo, Tom Benson, left, and Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards are all smiles as they announce that Benson just signed a deal purchasing the New Orleans Saints for $64 million at a press conference in New Orleans. Louisiana's former four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this March 13, 1985 file photo, Tom Benson, left, and Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards are all smiles as they announce that Benson just signed a deal purchasing the New Orleans Saints for $64 million at a press conference in New Orleans. Louisiana's former four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2011 file photo, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards arrives with his daughter Anna Edwards, center, at the Ecumenical House, a halfway house, to begin serving the remainder of his prison sentence after being released from the Oakdale Federal penitentiary in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwin Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2011 file photo, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards arrives with his daughter Anna Edwards, center, at the Ecumenical House, a halfway house, to begin serving the remainder of his prison sentence after being released from the Oakdale Federal penitentiary in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwin Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this February 5, 1977 file photo, actress Gloria Swanson was crowned Queen of the Mardi Gras festivities by Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards at a gala party in Beverly Hills, Calif. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this February 5, 1977 file photo, actress Gloria Swanson was crowned Queen of the Mardi Gras festivities by Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards at a gala party in Beverly Hills, Calif. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Feb. 8, 1969 file photo, President Richard Nixon greets Victoria Edwards, queen of a Louisiana Mardi Gras to be held in Washington. She is introduced by her father, Rep. Edwin W. Edwards, D-La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this Feb. 8, 1969 file photo, President Richard Nixon greets Victoria Edwards, queen of a Louisiana Mardi Gras to be held in Washington. She is introduced by her father, Rep. Edwin W. Edwards, D-La. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 20, 1976 file photo, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards answers a reporter's question as Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter grins on in front of the Carter home, in Plains, Ga. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.

    FILE - In this Aug. 20, 1976 file photo, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards answers a reporter's question as Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter grins on in front of the Carter home, in Plains, Ga. Louisiana's four-term former governor Edwards is having an ostentatious 90th birthday bash, with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. The powerful and charismatic Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for decades before he went to federal prison for a corruption conviction. Out of prison for six years, he's got a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and continued popularity in his home state.
    Associated Press

  • Counter clockwise from bottom left, first lady of Louisiana Donna Edwards, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, Trina Edwards, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards pose for a photo while celebrating Edwards' 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuck /The Advocate via AP)

    Counter clockwise from bottom left, first lady of Louisiana Donna Edwards, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, Trina Edwards, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards pose for a photo while celebrating Edwards' 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuck /The Advocate via AP)
    Associated Press

  • Trina Edwards, left, joins her husband, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, and their son, Eli, as Edwards cuts a cake in celebration of his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La.  (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)

    Trina Edwards, left, joins her husband, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, and their son, Eli, as Edwards cuts a cake in celebration of his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)
    Associated Press

  • Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, left, celebrates his 90th birthday with his wife, Trina Edwards, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)

    Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, left, celebrates his 90th birthday with his wife, Trina Edwards, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)
    Associated Press

  • From left, Trina Edwards and her husband former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards applaud with executive chef Drue Vitter, right, after their son, Eli, second from right, blew out the candles as Edwards celebrates his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)

    From left, Trina Edwards and her husband former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards applaud with executive chef Drue Vitter, right, after their son, Eli, second from right, blew out the candles as Edwards celebrates his 90th birthday, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk /The Advocate via AP)
    Associated Press

 
 

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A more traditional person might call it crass, an ostentatious 90th birthday bash with a $250-per-person price tag to attend. But then, no one would call Louisiana's four-term former governor, Edwin Edwards - the convicted felon with a wife five decades his junior, a 4-year-old son and a lifetime of making headlines - anything close to traditional.

The birthday festivities Saturday night at a posh Baton Rouge hotel sold out weeks in advance, with hundreds of elected officials, lobbyists and onlookers ponying up for tickets and a chance to watch the throw-back celebration remembering when Edwards was the Democratic king of Louisiana politics.

"A lot of people just feel personally close to him. No other governor has served four times. To me this is just a once-in-a-lifetime historic event," said Robert Gentry, a former newspaper publisher and the long-time Edwards friend who organized the celebration.

Edwards called it "one of the highlights of my long career" to see the cocktail party and ballroom packed with more than 500 people, including Louisiana's current governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards (no relation), Democratic former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and Republican Senate President John Alario.

"Obviously he's beloved by a lot of folks," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The former governor's daughter Anna was surprised so many celebrants turned out for a man out of office for two decades, but she's been gratified to see how many people continue to embrace her father's legacy even after his federal corruption conviction.

"You never know what to expect when somebody comes home from prison. Will he be shunned? Will he be greeted warmly?" she said. "From the day I picked him up from prison he's been greeted warmly by people from all walks of life. It's amazing, and it's heartwarming."

The program included a highlight video of Edwards' life, an appearance by New Orleans burlesque dancer Chris Owens and a speech from Edwards. And everyone at the party was going home with a gift bag: photos of Edwards with his wife, Trina, and preschooler son Eli, a souvenir magazine and a commemorative poster. More items were available for sale outside the ballroom.

Edwards was the dominant figure in Louisiana politics for the second half of the 20th Century, with charisma and power rivaled only by that other famous Louisiana legend from decades earlier, Huey Long.

Edwards sums up his 90 years succinctly and without bitterness: "It's very wonderful to reach 90. I've had a great life, and while I've had my ups and downs over life, I have no complaints."

He won his first office, a city council seat, in 1954, followed by elections to the state legislature and Congress before serving as governor for 16 years between 1972 and 1996. He was famous for deadpan one-liners delivered with a Cajun accent, deftly cutting one opponent by describing him as "so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch '60 Minutes.'"

That wit is what Edwards' authorized biographer Leo Honeycutt believes is drawing so many to the birthday festivities: "People are tied of seriousness. They're tired of belligerency."

As for the attendance price tag?

"I look at this like Edwin is an entertainer," Honeycutt said. "And I haven't been to a concert yet where an entertainer just said, 'Come on in for free.' Everyone's willing to pay to see him perform."

The lovable rogue nostalgia chafes Bob Mann, an LSU mass communication professor who worked for years as a Democratic political operative. Mann said the Edwards terms were marked by razzle-dazzle, but few long-term accomplishments - and he said elected officials should "stay 10 miles away" from the party for a man convicted of corruption.

"I don't know anybody who says the state is so much better off than we were in 1972 when he took office. After four terms, he didn't markedly improve the state's lot in terms of poverty and education," Mann said. "I don't think there are many people who would argue that he ran anything close to an ethical administration in any of his four terms."

During decades in office Edwards drew a reputation for shady, backroom dealing. The ex-governor seemed to foster the status, with quips about two dozen investigations and multiple trials. As he defeated white supremacist David Duke in the 1991 governor's race, bumper stickers promoting Edwards declared: "Vote for the Crook. It's Important."

Edwards' luck with federal investigations ran out in 2000, when he was convicted in a bribery and extortion scheme to rig riverboat casino licenses during and after his fourth term. He spent more than eight years in federal prison, always maintaining his innocence.

Prison did nothing to quell public interest - or Edwards' popularity in many pockets of Louisiana. Freed in 2011, Edwards was quickly back in the spotlight, getting married for a third time, having a son and starring in a short-lived reality show while traveling the state touting his biography.

Though he continued to captivate, Edwards was unable to regain political footing. He was handed his first-ever election defeat in 2014 when he ran for Congress in a heavily Republican district. He's a real estate broker now, living in the Baton Rouge suburbs and raising his fifth child.

Edwards hasn't given up on politics entirely. Son Eli bears his same initials, EWE, a well-known monogram in Louisiana politics. Edwards said his wife printed T-shirts bearing the slogan "EWE for Governor 2043."

___

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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