Obituary: Jimmy Elidrissi, Waldorf Bellhop (74)

Photo: Jimmy Elidrissi was an affable fixture at the Waldorf Astoria for more than a half-century and was considered probably to have been Manhattan’s longest-serving bellhop when he retired.Credit…via Elidrissi family

His goal was to make guests, including nine U.S. presidents, feel right at home amid the grandeur of a landmark Manhattan hotel.

27 July 2021 | Sam Roberts | New York Times

Jimmy Elidrissi was 19 when he left his native Morocco for the United States, alone and barely able to speak English but full of ambition. He knew that as an immigrant he could never grow up to become president, but he found a job in New York where, he said, he got to meet nine of them.

He became a bellhop at the Waldorf Astoria, where he remained until Jan. 31, 2017, a month before that storied Park Avenue hotel closed for a six-year gut renovation. On the day he retired after 51 years, he was its longest-serving employee and probably the longest-serving living bellhop in Manhattan, according to his union, the Hotel Trades Council.

Mr. Elidrissi died at 74 on July 6 at a hospital in Queens, where he lived. The cause was pancreatic cancer, his daughter Rajaa Elidrissi said.

“When I started, bellmen and bellhops were called ‘boys,’ but that’s not OK any more,” Mr. Elidrissi told Condé Nast Traveler in 2015. “Also, we had to call all guests ‘Madame’ and ‘Sir,’ even if we knew their names. You know why? Because if the guest came in with their spouse and we already knew their names, the spouses would get suspicious as to why they’d been here already.”

After he was hired in 1966, Mr. Elidrissi saw much change. The bellhops’ uniforms evolved. The Waldorf’s landmark 47-story building, for decades the world’s tallest hotel, underwent several makeovers. Even the hyphen connecting the two family names — a vestige of the entente between the descendants of William Waldorf Astor and of John Jacob Astor that had led to the hotel’s creation — vanished. But the white-glove grandeur that defined the hotel and made it the signature Manhattan way-station for presidents, princes and celebrities remained unchanged, he said.

“When it comes to service, the clientele doesn’t matter, whether it’s a former president or a new couple staying for the first time,” Mr. Elidrissi said. “It’s your responsibility to have the same level of impeccable service for everyone.”

Mr. Elidrissi’s bellhop career spanned nine presidents of the United States, all of whom stayed at his hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, including Barack Obama.
Mr. Elidrissi’s bellhop career spanned nine presidents of the United States, all of whom stayed at his hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, including Barack Obama.Credit…via Elidrissi family

Jallali Elidrissi was born on Aug. 25, 1946, in Temara, just south of Rabat on the Atlantic coast, to Fatima Abbou, a homemaker, and Ahmed Elidrissi, a fruit and bread vendor. He had a high school education in Morocco and took some college classes at night after he arrived in the United States on a work visa early in 1966.

In addition to his daughter Rajaa, an associate producer for the news website Vox, he is survived by another daughter, Fouzia Michel, a patient advocate, from his first marriage to Khadija Elidrissi, which ended in divorce; his wife, Souad (Azmi) Elidrissi, whom he married in 1991; and a granddaughter. A son, Aziz, died in an accident while serving in the Marines in 2007.

“He loved acting and music, but knew it would be hard for him to have a career path in that as an immigrant in the ’60s,” Rajaa Elidrissi said of her father. “He also had to send remittances to his family in Morocco. He sought out help from a Catholic Charities organization, and they helped him out with finding the Waldorf.”

He was hired at the hotel on April 21, 1966, at $1.23 an hour (about $10.50 in today’s money) and started by rotating through various jobs. He asked for a tryout as a bellman. “Almost 50 years later, there I remain,” he said in 2015.

He was such a fixture at the Waldorf, his daughter said, that he played a bellhop as an extra — no rehearsals necessary — in several films, including “The Out-of-Towners” (1970), with Jack Lemmon; “Scent of a Woman” (1992), with Al Pacino; and “Analyze This” (1999), with Robert De Niro.

After he retired, Mr. Elidrissi intended to write a tell-some book. It was to include, he said, his reflections, however brief, on every president he had met, from Lyndon B. Johnson to Barack Obama. “He started writing stories down, and I would transcribe them, but we didn’t get to finish,” his daughter Rajaa said. He had plenty to tell.

Such as when Lucille Ball demanded breakfast at 5 a.m., or when Eddie Fisher ordered 40 sandwiches for friends after a late-night supper club performance, or when Jerry Lewis checked in at 3 a.m. and cavorted down a corridor ringing the bells of rooms as he passed.

He remembered encountering Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter.

“‘Here you go, Mr. President,’” he recalled saying in greeting the candidate, “and he goes, ‘No, no, don’t call me that yet!’ So I say, ‘Look, Mr. President, you’re going to win and when you win send me something for my son.’ Later that year, he sent us a signed picture made out to my son.”

When Reagan returned to the hotel years after leaving office, he greeted Mr. Elidrissi by saying, “‘You’re still here, Jim!’”

Mr. Elidrissi’s rule about chatting with the rich and famous was simple, he told Town & Country in 2017: “I treat them like any other guest. I’m friendly, I talk to you, and we connect right away.”

That was just the way Mr. Elidrissi expected to be treated when he was a guest, say, at his favorite neighborhood diner in Elmhurst, Queens. “I like tomato juice, and the guys know that,” he said. “They welcome me back. It’s the best kind of service.”

Sam Roberts, an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV. @samrob12


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