It’s been eight years since Omarosa Manigault became a star, or something like it. The glamorous former White House staffer got in on the ground floor of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” in its first season — and made such an impact as the show’s love-to-hate-her mean girl that she was enlisted by TV producers again and again to bring her brand of toxic sass to ever more reality shows, talk shows, game shows. It became her career.
But this summer, the public glimpsed a human side of the cartoonish TV character. Omarosa, it turned out, was the fiancée of the lovable late character actor Michael Clarke Duncan — and the one at his side attempting CPR when he was struck by a heart attack in July.
On Saturday night in Washington, she was honored by the Association of Black Cardiologists at their annual gala at the JW Marriott.
“I was planning a wedding, and suddenly I was planning a funeral,” she told the group in a speech launching what she says will be a campaign to promote cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and heart health.
“If you love the person you’re with — your wife, your children, your family — you must learn CPR. Their life depends on it.”
Before dinner, the Howard University grad, 38, mingled in a pewter-colored ballgown and the plastic hospital ID bracelet she’s worn since her last visit with Duncan, who died Sept. 3.
“I just didn’t take it off,” she told us.
(And yes, she is warmer, prettier, softer in real life. So what’s up with her TV persona? It’s a choice, explained her friend Paul Wharton , himself a veteran of “The Real Housewives of D.C.” and host of a lifestyle show on TV’s DC50: “It’s the character that sticks, and you want to go with what people respond to. . . whatever gives you longevity.”)
Manigault met Duncan almost three years ago — not at a showbiz event, but at the Calabasas, Calif., Whole Foods. “I was looking terrible,” she said, fresh out of spinning class, when she heard a deep voice behind her: Hi, aren’t you that girl from that show? You were tough on that show!
He tried to chat her up, but Omarosa, unimpressed, walked on as soon as she could. Sure, she recognized the Oscar nominee. But “I live in L.A., I meet celebrities all the time.” Duncan didn’t get her number that day, she said, but tracked her down, pursued her, and eventually she fell in love. “He courted me like a man should,” she said.
The reality princess and the gentle giant had more in common than you’d think, she said: “We grew up in the midwest, working-class families, single moms” who cleaned houses for a living. “We had amazing similarities, we really did.”
When he was struck by cardiac arrest at home July 13, she drew upon the CPR lessons she took back during college, when a job at a rec center required it. “I was working off of a 20-year-old protocol,” she said. “It just kicked in. When you see the person you love [dying], you will do whatever it takes.”
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