Aspen’s Michael Cooper remembered as iconoclast
ASPEN – Michael Cooper had a knack for shaking things up during his three decades in Aspen – and doing it in a way that made most people smile.
He riled the real estate establishment in the early 1990s when he started Aspen’s first firm representing buyers rather than sellers. He was a thorn in the side of Pitkin County officials as a member of the financial advisory board. And he frequently collared newspaper reporters and other political observers to rail about “commie conspiracies” by the Aspen City Council.
Cooper built a successful real estate firm in Aspen, but he did so with a smile on his face and a poke at the industry. He used a newspaper advertisement to lampoon real estate agents who took themselves too seriously. A serious-looking mug shot of himself in one of his ads ran with the caption, “Not Mother Teresa.”
“He loved to get attention, either negative or positive,” said Bland Nesbit, his wife of 26 years.
Cooper’s death last week also shook up family and friends. Cooper, 65, died in his sleep Thursday morning, one day before his 66th birthday. The cause hasn’t been determined pending further tests. Nesbit said there are inaccurate rumors circulating that he committed suicide. Police classified the death as unattended but not suspicious.
Nesbit said a public memorial service will likely be held in August, possibly in some irreverent place like the shooting range in Basalt. Cooper was an avid gun collector and target shooter who strongly defended Americans’ right to bear arms. Nesbit said she thinks her husband voted Libertarian as a matter of course in all presidential elections.
Friends will remember him as an agitator. His vanity license plate said “RESIST.” His ability to rack up speeding tickets was legendary. He also was a pilot and motorcycle rider, leading friends to believe he would die in a spectacular crash rather than in bed.
Unlike many agitators, Cooper had a sense of humor. He could vehemently press a point one minute, then flash his million-dollar smile the next.
“He always had a quick, twisted sense of humor, which I enjoyed,” said Brian Heeney, who befriended Cooper about 20 years ago. Cooper had an easy way with people, a way of making them feel like they had known each other for years, Heeney said.
“He was a very loyal and generous friend,” he said.
Cooper retained a certain adolescent joy in creating mischief, said his longtime attorney and friend Tom Todd of Aspen. Todd recalled not quite knowing what to think when, as a young attorney just getting established in Aspen, he met with Cooper about a dispute with a neighbor. Cooper opined that he found it useful in the past to stuff a dead chicken through the neighbors’ mail slot while they were out of town for a few days. The smell would get so bad that it would permeate the house and be nearly impossible to remove. Cooper was kidding – Todd thinks.
Cooper was selling commercial real estate in Florida when he took a vacation to Aspen in 1979. He was enchanted and stayed, working a variety of jobs as a bartender, cook and waiter in Snowmass Village restaurants.
Nesbit met him in 1983 at the Hotel Jerome bar during a staff party for The Aspen Times, where she used to work.
“People always said, ‘You’ll never meet your husband in a bar.’ But I did,” Nesbit said.
She was captured by his sense of humor. “He was the funniest person I’ve ever known,” she said.
Cooper’s skills in the kitchen were so good that she considered him a chef. He insisted he was a cook.
Cooper longed to get back into real estate after several years in Aspen, and when he did it was on behalf of the buyers. He felt the system favored the sellers and wasn’t in tune with buyers’ needs.
“He loved to upset that dominant paradigm,” Todd said.
Cooper was thorough in investigating a property for his clients and loved haggling with the seller’s agents over sales prices. “He was a pit bull. You didn’t want to be on the other side of the table from him,” Nesbit said.
Buyers’ agencies eventually became much more accepted. Copper joined a handful of other real estate firms before starting his own firm in 2005. One of his highlights included handling the sale of the 10,000-acre Eagle Valley Ranch near Eagle earlier this decade.
Todd, who is 15 years Cooper’s junior, said Cooper used to warn him about the dangers of getting old. Cooper quipped middle age was “The Age of Invisibility” for men because they become invisible to younger women. “You’re more opaque if you have money,” Cooper used to say, according to Todd.
Cooper also had a serious side. He checked in with Todd’s wife every day when Todd was dealing with a family emergency.
“He was a very loyal and concerned friend, particularly when the chips were down,” Todd said.
Nesbit said Cooper touched a lot of people.
“Michael never ever realized how many people really cared about him. I have gotten so many wonderful phone calls,” she said.
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