Al Gore is a funny guy. And, for his $175,000 speaking fee, he tells this story: after leaving the White House and heading back to Tennessee sans motorcade -- "in a rented Ford Taurus," he sniffs -- he and Tipper stop to get a bite to eat at a Shoney's, "which, as you may know, is a low-cost family restaurant."
The people in the restaurant "made a huge fuss. . . over Tipper." Then, a man spies Gore and stage-whispers, "Didn't he used to be the Vice President? He's fallen so low." Peals of delight from the audience. Gore smiles back. It's a nice moment.
But wait, there's more. Later, he goes on, he attempts the same story in Nigeria. Punch line, laughter, applause -- no problem. The next day, an official at the airport yells out to him, "Call Washington!" Hmmm. "What could be wrong in Washington?" he muses, scratching his chin. "That's when I remembered it could be a lot of things." The crowd goes wild.
Come to find out, Gore explains, a reporter in Nigeria had lost a bit of the story in translation. "Vice President Al Gore announced yesterday that he and his wife, Tipper, have opened a low-cost family restaurant called Shoney's and will be running it themselves," Gore intones. By the time he landed in the United States, the story had hit the wires, and he was -- again -- the butt of jokes on Leno and Letterman.
Three days later, he received a handwritten note from Bill Clinton, congratulating him on the Shoney's deal. "We like to celebrate each other's successes in life," Gore deadpans to uproarious laughter.
Funny guy, indeed. In one well-delivered anecdote, Gore manages to make fun of himself, the election, his relationship with his former boss, the Bush administration, and the media -- and still come out on top.
Gone is the robo-candidate who provided fodder for conservative bile and late-night merrymaking. After the 2000 election, Gore might have slunk away to a loser's life: a memoir here, a visiting professorship there, the occasional keynote speech or celebrity golf tournament.
Instead, in what may be the greatest brand makeover in history, Gore is being hailed as a visionary who was right about everything from global warming to Iraq. At 59, he's an Academy Award winner, a bestselling author, a front-runner for the Nobel Prize, and a concert promoter who turned out to be a bigger rock star at this year's Grammys than the rock stars themselves.
What no one is talking about is that he has also become a stunningly successful businessman -- and that has fueled his comeback.
Since his non-election, Gore has become a millionaire many times over, bringing him, in financial terms, shoulder to shoulder with the C-suite denizens he used to hit up for campaign cash. In addition to the steady flow of six-figure speaking gigs, he has become an insider at two of the hottest companies on the planet: at Google, where he signed on as an adviser in 2001, pre-IPO (and received stock options now reportedly worth north of $30 million), and at Apple, where he joined the board in 2003 (and got stock options now valued at about $6 million).
He enjoyed a big payday as vice chairman of an investment firm in L.A., and, more recently, started a cable-television company and an asset-management firm, both of which are becoming quiet forces in their fields.
Financial disclosure documents released before the 2000 election put the Gore family's net worth at $1 million to $2 million.
After years of public service -- and four kids needing high-priced educations -- Al and Tipper used to fret occasionally about money. Not anymore. They have a new multimillion-dollar home in a tony section of Nashville and a family home in Virginia, and have recently bought a multimillion-dollar condo at the St. Regis condo/hotel in San Francisco. Available data indicate a net worth well in excess of $100 million.