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Not many years ago, Peruvian-born TV journalist Guillermo Descalzi could have been seen inside the Editorial El Mundo bookstore at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW asking for spare change or trying to sell stolen perfume. There would have been vodka on his breath, crack cocaine coursing through his veins. Then he might have repaired back to an alley or to a burned-out mansion on 16th Street NW, where he often slept. But the scene at the Adams Morgan store on the afternoon of March 30 was as changed as the Telemundo newsman himself, who has practically come back from the dead.
Descalzi, clean-shaven, in a trim gray suit and yellow tie, faced a line of people stretching out onto the sidewalk, kissing and hugging the well-wishers and signing his book, El Principe de los Mendigos (The Prince of the Paupers). Tales of decline and redemption are hardly new on this street corner, but Descalzi’s personal story of addiction clearly had a special resonance for the crowd of Latin-American immigrants who lined up to buy his new book (published in Spanish by Editorial Grijalbo of Mexico City; an English-language edition is due out next year).
“Most of these people knew me from the streets,” said the host of Telemundo’s Grammy Award-winning news show, Ocurrio Asi (It Happened Like This). “I used to ask this guy for money….These people knew me before, during, and after my addiction. I love these people.”
Within a two-hour stretch, Descalzi had signed 150 of his books, and a dozen women at the end of the line were arguing over the last copy. “He represents the American dream: Do not give up,” said his fawning wife, Rosa Descalzi, who doubles as his PR agent and handler. Throughout the adulation and the haggling, Descalzi remained at peace, preparing for his next book signing, at a Borders downtown: “I’ve seen the phoniness of being up and the emptiness of being down. My story is that the way out of addiction is within.” —Kevin Diaz