A local lounge singer found inspiration and new life through The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
Story by Judy Goppert | Photography by Matt Kocourek
What do you get when you cross a comedian with a true diva? A lot of laughs, fun, happiness and hope. That is what happened to sassy Suzi Sanderson when Amy Poehler and her team chose her to be the subject in the first episode of the new series on Peacock, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. The show is inspired by the book of the same name and will entertain with eight episodes. Suzi had the prestigious honor of being the rock star in the first one!
Suzi’s townhome is a part of her. It breathes with her. Lives with her. From the same producers as the famed “Queer Eye,” this team also swooped into Kansas City, altering Suzi’s décor and life perspective. At 76, she is a youthful spirit, and although the show’s premise is to reorient the fear of confronting our mortality and the stigma of aging, it is definitely not all about death! It is about rebirth, and how at any age, we can get more out of life.
How did Suzi become the subject of this exciting production? “I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t apply for this!” she smiled. “My girlfriend Andrea Buetner Wardell of Wardell Homes put my name in, and lo and behold, they picked me. My particular show is different than all the others. Each episode features a hero dealing with different stages of their lives and have a story to tell!”
“It’s a blessing, it transforms not only your attitude towards your stuff, but also your attitude about your life. When you clean out your things, it isn’t only people, but stuff. And you need to clean it up so your relatives don’t have to. My sister is always saying this to me. This show has been a wonderful transformational experience.”
She explained they fly in three people from Sweden. Katarina Blom is the psychologist, Johan Svenson is the decorator, then Elinor Engstrom sets up the system of removal. She helped Suzi put red dots on things to throw away, yellow on things to give away, then green on things to keep.
“I had a producer named Sammy who was my guardian angel. They put me up in a hotel on the Plaza for three nights while they did their magic,” she mused. “They transformed my loft area, and it’s just gorgeous now. Before it had my mother’s poker table from the 60’s in it and all stuff that probably belonged in a garage sale. Now it’s a beautiful office and sitting space where I can go up and really get stuff done.”
They also worked magic in Suzi’s Memory Room. “That room had pictures on every single inch of the walls, it was my life. They took them all down and left like 12 different frames. I was living in the past. I did send the photos to the people in the photos so they can enjoy them. That’s my part of recycling.”
Her life has been anything but dull. She currently works for Boveri Realty Group, and owns her own travel agency, Luckybuck Tours. She resides in Lenexa, but lived in Aspen for 30 years, where she worked as a singing waitress extraordinaire for over 10 years at the iconic Crystal Palace.
“I am originally from Western Kansas, and taught school in KC during the late 60’s. In 1970 I went to Aspen and met my now ex-husband, and stayed,” she noted. “I worked at The Crystal Palace where I served dinner and put on an hour show. I still perform! I’ve done two shows this year, one in Des Moines for a friend’s 80th birthday, and in Sedona for Mead Metcalf, owner of the Crystal Palace, celebrating and still entertaining at his 91st birthday. The Crystal Palace was a big part of my life. The friendships I made are eternal, we formed a little family and to this day, we stay in touch daily with somebody.”
“I had a singing telegram company and met so many celebrities! I sang to so many, including Robert Wagner & Jill St. John, John Denver and Ed Podolak, former Chiefs player, who moved to Aspen after I did. John Denver shared the same birthday as my then-husband and come birthday time John took precedence, so off I went to sing at his birthday party,” she laughed in her gravelly voice.
Ed Podolak started a charity golf tournament with Jimmy Buffett. Ed came and asked what I would I like to do,” she noted. “I told him I wanted to man my own hole on the course. I would kiss their golf balls with red lipstick, put a heart sticker on their cheek so I had a sign that said, “Balls Kissed Here, Heart on Guaranteed, Only $10-All proceeds go to charity,” Suzi chuckled. And boy did she kiss some famous balls!
“I did that for 17 years and earned over $45,000 for charity. Glenn Frey of the Eagles co-sponsored the tournament for a decade. I have pictures of me with so many, including Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, Bill Murray, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ed Bradley and Mickey Mantle,” Suzi shared, reminiscing about that glorious time of her life.
“I’m a vagabond. I’ve traveled all over the world,” Suzi said. “I love to bring back souvenirs from the places I visit, especially hats.” Looking around her place, these tokens are scattered about. “These hats are special to me and made it through the Stage 1 of the Swedish Cleaning,” noting the following cleansing stages will get more difficult as you deal with items that have more personal attachments.
“At the end of my show, we filmed at Missie B’s downtown. I thought I was just going to sing a couple of songs but beforehand they had a drag queen fashion show. As they came walking out, I commented that I really liked the pair of pants the second person was wearing. And lo and behold I realized they were mine! They ALL were wearing my clothes I had given away!!” she guffawed. “I had given them to Andrea and she brought them down here. All the drag queens decked out in my clothes I had just let go of!”
“I kind of had given up participating in life and was living so much on past memories. In a way, this show was perfect for me, I might be moving toward living someplace, maybe Mexico or Palm Springs.”
“That’s why they picked me. I’m kind of stuck. You need to make new memories instead of living in the past. Death cleaning is a way of life, not only physical transformation of a home, but emotional transformation,” she reflected. “It gives you a lighter view of death and life. Most people don’t like to talk about it but it’s inevitable. This show reminded me I’m still alive. I’m a big proponent of humor, it’s the thing that gets you through any situation in life if you learn to laugh at it. You learn the lessons as you go along. Some you don’t want to learn but you do.”
And look at her now. “I’ve made it in Rolling Stone!” Suzi exclaimed, along with People magazine and even in a Playbill publication. “And my girlfriend in New York, a Broadway actress, called me screaming that my face was on the yellow taxis! Can you imagine?” joking that maybe she could find a man if she visited NY, saying ‘hey that face is me!’
Also, she recently discovered the series has been nominated for an Emmy!
After watching her episode, it may inspire you to clean out that basement!