Singer Don McLean announced Monday that he was receiving a lifetime achievement award from a UCLA student group, but the honor was rescinded hours later after the presenters learned from a reporter that the Camden resident had pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges.

McLean, 73, was to receive the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, presented by the Student Alumni Association of the University of California, Los Angeles, on May 17 in Los Angeles.

The online announcement of the award cited his “many contributions to the music industry,” including his 1971 hit “American Pie,” one of the best-known pop songs of all time. Other recipients have included Julie Andrews, Brian Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Alanis Morissette and Linkin Park.

McLean was arrested in 2016 and charged with several crimes related to  domestic violence against his wife, Patrisha McLean, at the couple’s home in Camden. McLean later pleaded guilty to the charges, and part of his plea deal included the eventual dismissal of some of the charges.

About two hours after the Student Alumni Association of UCLA was contacted by the Press Herald about the award being given to McLean, a spokesman sent an email saying the honor was being taken back.

“The Student Alumni Association at UCLA has rescinded its decision to present Don McLean with the 2019 George and Ira Gershwin Award. The decision to rescind the award was made by SAA’s Spring Sing Executive Committee upon learning that Mr. McLean had previously been convicted of domestic violence charges,” Tod M. Tamberg, senior executive director of UCLA Strategic Communications Media Relations, said in a statement.

“SAA rejects any behavior – including violence and the threat of violence in all its forms – that does not uphold the True Bruin Values. We extend our support to survivors of domestic violence,” the statement said.

Tamberg said the decision to give McLean the award was first made public Friday. The award was created in 1988 in recognition of composers George and Ira Gershwin, and their contributions to UCLA. On Monday, a publicist working for McLean, Jeremy Westby, sent out a statement announcing the award.

After being notified by the UCLA student group the award was being taken back, Westby sent an email to the group saying it is “publicly disrespectful and grossly humiliating to Mr. McLean to issue and then rescind an award based on the supposition of any violent criminal history.”

“As mentioned on the phone earlier I am incredibly surprised and disappointed that an institution such as UCLA, having had adequate time to vet all potential award recipients, would so easily and negligently overlook something as public as what has happened to Mr. McLean and his family three years ago,” Westby wrote in the email, which he also sent to the Press Herald.

Westby included a letter from McLean’s lawyer, Eric B. Morse, dated Feb. 19 and titled “Don McLean Criminal History Information.”  The letter says that in July 2017, McLean was convicted “on his plea to three (3) minor criminal counts” and that McLean “was not convicted of assault or of using any force at all.”

“Don McLean entered his pleas not because he was in fact guilty of anything, but to provide closure for his family and to keep the whole process as private as possible,” Morse wrote.

McLean was arrested at the couple’s home in Camden on Jan. 18, 2016, and charged with several crimes related to domestic violence. He  pleaded guilty to the six charges against him and was convicted of domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal restraint and criminal mischief in Knox County Court on July 20, 2016. Charges of domestic violence assault, domestic violence terrorizing, and obstructing the report of a crime were dismissed in July 2017 as part of a plea agreement. He paid a $3,660 fine.

Since McLean’s arrest, he and his wife have divorced and Patrisha McLean has become an advocate speaking against domestic abuse. A photographer, she’s created a photo and audio exhibit that includes portraits of woman who have been victims of abuse as well as her own allegations of abuse while married to McLean.

The exhibit, “Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse,” will be on view this year at various Maine venues, including Annex Arts in Castine this month, Waterman’s Community Center on North Haven in July and the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta in September. Patrisha McLean declined to comment when contacted Monday.

McLean threatened to sue the Free Press of Rockland newspaper earlier this year for writing about his ex-wife’s exhibition and his lawyer called Patrisha McLean’s claims of abuse “vicious misstatements” that will cause McLean “professional and personal damage.” At the time the exhibit was about to open at the Camden Public Library.

McLean is working steadily, despite his arrest in 2016 and his ex-wife’s exhibit featuring claims against him. He has some two dozen shows scheduled from now into October, in the United States and England. He’s scheduled to perform Father’s Day weekend at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, the former home of Elvis Presley. In March he performed at the Grammy Museum.

The decision by the UCLA student group to rescind the award it had bestowed on McLean highlights the issue of whether a domestic abuse incident should diminish someone’s public achievement, or make people view it differently.

“The debate is about whether it’s OK to do that (domestic violence) and be recognized for public accomplishments,” said Francine Garland Stark
, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “In these times, I would think that folks giving out such awards would take care and pay more attention to such matters.”

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