Michal Horáček, PhD
Born 23th July, 1952, Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Father: Vladimír Horáček, Ph.D. (1922-1998), translator and art director of various Prague theatres, including the National Theatre.
Mother: Eva Horáčková, Ph.D., nee Heyrovská, (1923 – 2004), psychologist.
Sister: Kateřina Jose-Maria (b.1954), translator.
Son: Filip Horáček, M.A. (1978), lecturer at Charles University.
Daughters: Ruth Horáčková (1987), a graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, New York; Julie Horáčková (2011).
Education: M.A. at Charles University (Anthropology, 2007), graduate of American Studies at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Languages: government exams in Latin and Russian, CPE in English, fair Italian.
Having entered Charles University’s Faculty of Journalism in 1970, he was expelled in 1974 following an intervention by the Secret Police. Arrested at the Prague Airport upon his arrival from the United States, he was put into a detention jail and later charged with forgery. This was indeed a valid charge, as he had asked for, was denied and eventually forged a rubber stamp of the Socialist Youth Union – one of the many rubber stamps required when asking for so-called exit visa (a concept known to all Communist regimes). Since he never was and never wished to be a member of the Socialist Youth Union, he could not hope to get that organization’s approval of his travels beyond the Iron Curtain. What he did hope for, though, was visiting the free world. And he did.
Expelled from the Charles University, he went to search for an employment (not having one was a criminal offence at the time). Having tried his luck at life-guarding, dishwashing and other walks of life, he finally succeeded in acquiring, in writing and rubber-stamped properly this time around, a confirmation of being mentally ill. This helped him to avoid both military service and further attention from the authorities. Eventually, he landed at a co-operative offering work opportunities for the disabled…
Since 1977, he started publishing abroad. At first in Australia, later in Great Britain and in America. His articles for The Thoroughbred Record, published in Lexington, Kentucky, won him an award (1982) and helped him gain a stipend at the World Press Institute. This body, based at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., annually offered a course in American Studies for a dozen young journalists. The students were chosen from applicants coming from virtually all countries of the world… He arrived at St Paul in May, 1984.
In 1986 he gave up his Czech career of mental illness-related ventures and entered a big-time journalism as a reporter for Mladý svět, Czechoslovakia’s paramount news weekly.From this cathedra, he first attacked Pragokoncert, the state monopoly „importing“ live music performances. As Pragokoncert bought very little beyond Soviet and other „socialist“ rock-and-roll groups, it came as a shock to its well-entrenched directors when they had to face a publicly stated demand for the likes of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen and other representatives of what the ideologically ever-dependable Pragokoncert called „rotten Western culture“. After a vicious battle – which involved much popular support in the form of literally thousands of letters adressed to Mladý svět – , Pragokoncert caved in and agreed to reform its policy. The ground-breaking rotten Westerners on the Czech scene would be Depeche Mode… Others followed suit.
Another battle was fought and won in 1989. In what amounted to be the first investigative report published in Communist Czechoslovakia’s official media, Michal Horáček (OSA Nostra; with co-author Luboš Beniak) unearthed outrageous „rules“ according to which Communist officials took royalties from successful composers and lyricist and gave it to wholly unsuccessful, but ideologically „sound“ comrades. What turned out the be the most important venture of the Mladý svět era, however, was a series of columns entitled Letters of Love and Hate (Dopisy z lásky a nenávisti, 1989). In personal messages, adressed to various personalities of various times and places at face value, but in fact to the vast readership of the newsmagazine on the eve of the anti-Communist Revolution, a mozaic was slowly being created – one presenting a world of personal responsibility, of freedom to seek happiness according to one’s own standards, of rules respected and yet always improved… a world totally different from the pathetic environment of the moribund Communist system. And then, on November 17, 1989, came the Revolution.
By the summer of the crucial year, Michal Horáček and the local rock star of the time, Michael Kocáb, established a civic initiative called MOST (Bridge). It had a sole objective: to provide grounds for eventual talks between the Communist government and the dissidents. Admittedly, the former jailed the latter on and off and sweared never to meet them face to face… it came as no great surprise that very few gave MOST more than a ghost of a chance to succeed. That situation, however, was dramatically reversed by the outbreak of vast and ever-growing civic gatherings that grew into an anti-Communist revolt in a matter of hours. In three days, MOST succeeded in bringing at the same table the Communist prime minister and the dissidents, headed by the playwright Václav Havel (who would evetually become the country’s president). This dialogue helped to shape the Czechoslovak transition of political power as peaceful. It was eventually even dubbed the Velvet Revolution. In the course of the dramatic days and hours, Michal Horáček served as Civic Forum’s (Revolution’s leadership) spokesperson for foreign media.(During the crucial moments of the general strike he was being interviewed live by Dan Rather for CBS…) With Václav Havel ascending the presidency and with the country on course to its first free elections in 43 years, Michal Horáček retired from the leadership of the Civic Forum. Since then on, he would never seek either a public office or any involvement in politics.
Having published (in his own publishing house) his bestselling eyewitness account of the inner workings of a revolution, Michal Horáček earned enough financial means to start a more ambitious project: Fortuna, Czechoslovakia’s first bookmaking firm. It’s stated objective: to offer odds against anything that moves. Fortuna’s first branch was unveiled in May, 1990. Immediately, it attracted interest so huge, that it was physically impossible to serve all potential clients falling head over heels to bet on sporting and other events. In several years, Fortuna had 150 of those branches and by the end of the year 2002 it passed the 300-mark. Sister companies were being developed along similar lines in Slovakia and Poland, too, covering an area of 55 million inahabitants… By that time, Fortuna was a huge company, eploying over 3,000 people and yearly grossing billions in turnover. At the same time, it became well known for its support of a number of charities. Since its birth, Fortuna, a stock-holding company, had M. H. as Chairman of the Board and C.E.O.
In 1995, Michal Horacek moves with his family out of the capital city. He makes his new home in the township of Roudnice, somě 50 kilometres (32 miles) north-west of Prague. At the same time, he enrolls as a student at the Charles University.
In 1997, he is elected a new Chairman of the Board of the Czech Academy of Popular Music. There he inspires new Statutes of the body; he is the host of live tv ceremonies. Never before nor, as it turned out, after, these shows attracted viewership even distantly comaparble to those recorded in 1997 and 1998, respectively (guests included Cher, Andrea Bocelli and the R.E.M).
In 1999, M.H. makes a million-koruna bet with a business partner as to who would run the distance of 5,000 metres faster. He wins in 21 minutes and 46 seconds, eventually distributing all the money won to charities. One of such projects is the Centrum Paraple, taking care of paraplegics (people in wheelchairs). Since then on, the Run for Paraple becomes an annual event, attracting both celebrities and and number of less well-known citizens, running against each other and making bets, the loser paying out not to the winner, but to Paraple.
Michal Horáček is a t.v. talk-show host (live programme called Přesčas – Overtime). In December 2004 M.H. and the other co-founders of Fortuna (and the other companies in Slovakia and in Poland) sell 100% of stock to a group of investment bankers. The deal comes to pass as the second-largest transaction of the year (next only to the transfer of stock of the Moravian Coal Mines) in the Czech Republic. Simultaneously, Michal Horáček retires not only as Fortuna’s C.E.O., but exits the enterpeneurial world altogether.
In 2003-2004 he publishes a weekly column in the national daily, Lidové noviny, in 2006 for Hospodářské noviny.
In 2005 he is challenged by Nova (the most popular Czech television channel) to become the chairman of the jury of Česko hledá superstar (the local analogy of the American Idol); he accepts.
In 2006 he is sought out by Miloslav Cardinal Vlk, the archbishop of Prague, to be a patron of a new church and community center, built at Prague’s most populous suburb. In the same year, he accepts the offer of the former President Václav Havel to serve on the board of a newly established Václav Havel Presidential Library. He also gives university lectures, in „Creative writing for daily newspapers“ (Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno).
In 2011, he finishes his studies (General Anthropology at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, Prague) by defending his doctoral thesis.
In 2013 and 2014 he tours the Czech Republic and Slovakia with his recital, visiting a number of venues in both countries.
Apart from the ventures mentioned above, Michal Horáček has assumed a number of widely know identities; some of those should at least be mentioned in this brief account of the course of his life.
In 1982, Michal Horáček publishes his first book: My Kingdom for a Horse (Království za koně; publishing house Olympia); the first Czech-language history of horse racing. It comes out in two editions; both are sold out. The number of books sold reaches 90,000. In 1983 comes A Report from Kentucky (Zpráva z Kentucky, Turf Klub), describing the author’s journey across the horse-racing landscape of the USA.
Michal Horáček’s third book is his „revolutionary diary“ How the Ice Was Broken (Jak pukaly ledy; Ex Libris, June 1990). It becomes by far the most commercially successful of all his works, selling 180,000 copies. In this account, the author details his involvement in the Velvet Revolution, recording all what he heard said and saw done in places like the private apartments of both Václav Havel and the Communist Prime Minister, Ladislav Adamec, all what went on behind the closed doors of the eventful talks between the adversary forces of the Revolution. The book was re-published in 2007, and Václav Havel wrote a foreword to it.
Michal Horáček’s fourth book was The Lottery Ticket and the Wager (Los a sázka, Fortuna, 2000). It was dedicated to two different concepts of gambling. In 2004, On the Motherland’s Fathers‘ Czech Blood (O české krvi otců vlasti, Nakladatelství Lidové noviny) offers a selection of Michal Horáček’s Lidové noviny columns. The first edition is sold out in nine days, altogether there would be four editions and a Top Ten place on the bestseller list. The next book is yet another volume of his newspaper columns, published in May 2007: On the Secret of the Queen of the Cows (O tajemství královny krav, NLN). A week after its publication the book hit number five spot on the bestseller list.
To the general public, Michal Horáček is known mainly as a lyricist; over the years, he wrote words for all the songs on eleven albums.
The most important occurence of his artistic life was the beginning of co-operation with the composer Petr Hapka, in 1984. By 1987 the two released the album Sly Guest (Potměšilý host), which was eventually voted the Album of the Year and contained the Song of the Year; all the songs were sung by Czechoslovakia’s acclaimed chanteuse, Hana Hegerová. In 1988, Hapka&Horáček opened what was to become their trademark: an album transcending the sum of individual songs and aspiring to give an artistic testimony to an era; singers competed and were chosen according to their ability to render a particular song better than anyone else. The resulting record, Boarding-house World (V penziónu Svět), is a Czech evergreen. The songs are still played on the radios decades after their recording.
In 1996 the third H&H album was released: Emotional Investment (Citová investice). Again, it won both Album of the Year and Song of the Year awards. Record number four came out in 2001, We Could Have It Even Better (Mohlo by tu být i líp), while the fifth hit the counters in November 2006 – The Flamekeeper (Strážce plamene). Quite like all H&H records, both of these albums topped the charts and contained huge hits; it won a Quadruple Platinum Record from the publishing house, Universal. In May, 2007, Michal Horáček produced, on DVD, a „picture version“ of The Flamekeeper – all the songs were offered to young film directors; each chose one and made a film version of it. The last of the songs was filmed by the grand old man of the Czech film history, 95-year-old professor Otakar Vávra. It was awarded the DVD of the Year trophy.In 2009 H&H released their sixth record, Kudykam. Again, it topped the charts.
Apart from the co-operation with Peter Hapka, M.H. was involved in a number of other projects – in 2000 he wrote all the lyrics for the record named Richard Müller – sings, Michal Horáček – writes. This one also went to the top of the charts and contained at least three hit songs, played on the radios almost daily ever since. More experimentally inclined was Michal Horáček in producing an album with the then little-known singer/composer Jarda Svoboda. Called So It Goes(Tak to chodí, 2002), it never appeared on the charts, but was critically acclaimed.
In October 2008 Michal Horáček introduced another album, tailor-made for female vocalists and involving a number of composers. He was it´s only lyricist, and, for the first time, also the sole art producer. Titled Endangered Species(Ohrožený druh), the CD immediately shot to the top of the charts and eventually won the Record of the Year title in the Czech Republic.
In 2012 MH, as a lyricist, was involved in the album On Love, Honour and Courage (O lásce, cti a kuráži), co-operating with the female composer and singer, Lucia Šoralová. The record hit number one spot on the charts in Slovakia.
In 2013 Czech Calendar (Český kalendář), a collection of Horáček’s 32 villonic ballades put to music by various composers and sung by 24 different singers, becomes the Czech Republic’s bestselling album.
In 2009 MH is the author and producer of Kudykam, a theatrical piece for which he coins the name „lyrical“ (as opposed to „musical“). The libretto is written in 2009 verses and the show premieres on 21 October, 2009 in the State Opera, Prague. It later moves to Janáčkova Opera, Brno. Eventually, the audience tops 72,000.
The verses, illustrated by Boris Jirků, also appear in book form, http://www.michalhoracek.cz/kniha/kudykam
In 2012 MH published his poetry in the collection entitled Czech Calendar (Český kalendář); all the poems observe the rules of the traditional genre of (Villonic) ballade. The collection eventually gets represented in the prestigious publication Best Czech Poems of the Year 2012 (Nejlepší české básně roku 2012, Host). One year later, Czech Calendar is published in the second edition and one of its ballades is included in the anthology Nad střechami světlo – Über den Dächern das Licht, a bi-lingual publication bringing together poems of contemporary Czech and German poets.
In December, 2012, MH publishes his doctoral thesis as a book titled Gamblers’Habitus (Habitus hazardního hráče, NLN).