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He Came To America Looking For Stardom — And Found It As A Waldorf-Astoria Bellhop

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We have a story now about a man who passed away last month. His name was Jimmy Elidrissi, and he was so much more than the guy who took your bags at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. For more than half a century, he made guests feel at home, including seven presidents. And when he retired, he was believed to be the longest-serving bellhop in Manhattan. NPR's Rosemary Misdary reports.

ROSEMARY MISDARY, BYLINE: Just months after graduating high school, Jallali Elidrissi left his parents and 10 siblings behind in Morocco and made his way to New York City. He barely spoke English

RAJA ELIDRISSI: When he got to America, his childhood dream was like actually being an actor.

MISDARY: But his daughter, Raja Elidrissi, says he knew it was an impossible dream. He had to work and send money home to support his family. That's when he landed the role of a lifetime - Jimmy, the bellhop at the gilded Waldorf Astoria. He went by Jimmy to make it easier for guests to say, and also to fit in.

ELIDRISSI: He just loved talking to people. And he always wanted to, like, fall into that path of, like, having a job like an actor, talk show host. So, like, he took being a bellhop as like, oh, I want to be a marker in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I don't only want to be a bellhop. I want to be the person that people come to when they have the littlest questions about the Waldorf.

ELIDRISSI: And they did. Every new employee spent a couple of hours with Jimmy as part of their training. Even the general manager consulted with him. His best friend and retired bell captain, Billy Simms (ph), says they tried to promote him many times.

BILLY SIMMS: He was offered management jobs over and over and over and over again and just turned them down. He wanted to be in front of the hotel. He wanted to greet the guests and say goodbye to the guests.

MISDARY: Guests like former President Ronald Reagan, who would ask for him by name. Jimmy had the most mentions in the guest comment cards.

SIMMS: I wouldn't be surprised if he always wore that uniform, even at home.

MISDARY: The hotel's former room service manager, David Cirincione (ph), says Elidrissi had a passion for taking care of guests.

DAVID CIRINCIONE: When guests he knew weren't feeling well, of sending hot tea and lemon up to the room just as a feel better, get well soon. And we would always send a little card from Jimmy.

MISDARY: He did eventually get to be in the movies as an extra playing a bellhop in films like "Analyze This." But maybe his most memorable role was as a storyteller. When he died last month at age 74, Jallali Elidrissi left behind an unfinished book of his adventures at the Waldorf Astoria. His daughter now plans to complete it. Rosemary Misdary, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.