The Wolf of Wall Street forgives but he never forgets. Ten years ago when I last met Jordan Belfort, convicted criminal, aspiring author and shortly to be a man at the center of a fierce bidding war for his biography, I suggested his hair was “the sort of dark brown that only passes for natural in LA”. Also his skin was a little too taut and maybe he wore lifts.
A decade on the 55-year-old still looks 10 years younger than his age. And his hair is still a rich mahogany. But he’s keen to point out it’s all natural. “I swear to God,” he says. “Do I dye my hair?” he asks Anne Koppe, his partner, as they sit in their Manhattan hotel suite.
Koppe – the sort of blonde who probably gets described as “willowy” and spends part of the interview curled round Belfort like a cat – points at his chest hair, peaking out from his polo shirt. That’s definitely brown. “It’s all an expensive dye job,” I say. The couple laugh. “You’re killing me,” he says.
Back in his native New York for a family visit Belfort seems very happy. It’s over 11 years since he was released from jail having served four years for running a “pump and dump” share selling scheme at his broker, Stratton Oakmont, that prosecutors said led to losses of approximately $200m. Life has moved on for him, and how.
His drug-fueled crime spree, in which he crashed a helicopter (while high on quaaludes), sank a yacht and arranged midget-tossing in his office, was turned into a film by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio, that became an international box office hit.
He remains friends with DiCaprio. He taught the actor, who has never done drugs, how to act when he was portraying the scenes of Belfort out of his mind on his usual cocktails of narcotics. It was: “Valium for breakfast, marijuana for lunch and quaaludes for dinner,” one of his associates said.
Now he has another book out, Way of the Wolf, that promises to teach anyone how to be an ace – and ethical – salesman, and is in the early stages of turning his life story into a Broadway musical. Crime does pay!
Belfort, 20 years sober, lives a charmed life. It took almost seven years for the film to be made after it was optioned and even that delay worked in his favor. The script originally ended with Belfort in jail. By the time it was made, Belfort had rebuilt his business, giving seminars about his “straight line” sales techniques and the film ended with him giving one of those talks. It was “amazing” he says. “In a way the fact it was so late really worked.”
Now living in Los Angeles, Belfort says he leads a quiet life. “We are very boring,” he says. “All these delivery services, Doordash, Grubhub. They make it too easy to stay home and have bed picnics. That’s our favorite thing to do.”
But the bizarro world of the Wolf continues. The US government now owns the TV rights to his story (but not the Broadway ones) after the film’s producers, Red Granite Pictures, reached an agreement with federal prosecutors looking to recoup some of the billions they claim were stolen from the Malaysian government and used, in part, to finance the film.
Belfort says he had a strange feeling about those investors from the start. “The way they spent money, I have never seen anything like it,” he says. The Malaysian investors flew Kanye West out for the film’s launch party. When you steal money, he says, you just want to spend it. “It’s like a weird compulsion,” says a man who should know.
For his own part, Belfort says the high-spending days are over. He wants to pay back Stratton’s investors (he’s already paid about $20m) and get on with his life. But his celebrity – and his past – do get in the way.
All the harping on the past can be a bit annoying. “The movie came out a few years back but it depicts events from my life almost 30 years ago. I’m not the same Jordan Belfort. I continue to pay back money and I am hopeful that I will pay back all the money. It’s frustrating because you want to reinvent yourself and you feel you have. And he knows your past is always there.”
The book, he says smoothly moving into sales pitch mode, is about that. “It’s really about a strategy for coming back from failure,” he says.
“I should have written this book a long time ago,” he says. The problem is he hates writing.
Anne shows me a video of him typing away in bed (they clearly spend a lot of time there). He holds the laptop in one hand and types one finger at a time. “Even better,” he says out loud in the video. “Better yet. Better though.” He pauses. “Once you’ve been. Once you HAVE been …” It goes on and on and looks excruciating. Anne says it helped him sleep. A lot.
But the result is fun, with more insights from the world of Stratton Oakmont and allusions to The Italian Job and Forrest Gump. It’s the sort of easy read that will no doubt fly off the bookshelves at airports around the world. It’s not just for sales people, he says. Everyone is always selling themselves. “There are so many people out there who are brilliant, hardworking and industrious but lack the art of persuasion,” he says. “And because of that they end up dying with their music on their lips. It’s crazy.”
If he wants to make the switch from villain to hero, there are others to take his place. In the pantheon of Wall Street villains Belfort has been eclipsed by Martin Shkreli, the “pharma bro” who hiked the price of a lifesaving drug 5,000% and is now in jail after calling on his Facebook fans to steal a lock of Hillary Clinton’s hair. “There has got to be something wrong with that guy,” says Belfort. “Is he crazy?”
But it’s not the players, it’s the bigger picture on Wall Street that worries him these days. He says bitcoin is a bubble waiting to burst. “It’s artificially created scarcity,” he says. “The problem I have with bitcoin right now is that it’s very much like at the tail end of of 2007, 2008 right before the mortgage market blew up. You’d be getting your haircut and he’d be like: ‘Oh yeah I also do mortgages on the side.’ Everybody was a broker. Everyone’s flipping houses. Now everyone’s buying bitcoin. I promise you the end is near.”
He also thinks that the stock markets – which seem to reach record highs on a daily basis – are in for a fall. “I think the lessons of the crash have been forgotten,” he says. “It feels like we are going back into a cycle of irrational exuberance. Like with Trump. How can the country be that unsure of him, how can we be that unsure of him and the markets be so high? If there is that much uncertainty then there is risk,” he says. “The market itself might not be linked to reality any more,” he says. “It’s the ‘greater fool theory’. If there is a greater fool that will buy it from me at a greater price then I did good.”
Something is off and there is going to be a big correction, he says. “There is North Korea and yet … What are they going to do with the national debt? Something is going to happen.” Whatever it is, you get the feeling it’s going to work out just fine for the Wolf of Wall Street.
Source: The Guardian
Original author: Dominic Rushe
Article Link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/30/jordan-belfort-way-of-the-wolf-wall-street
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