One reason he does is that Kessler understands the difference between minor swelling, which can be quelled with a steroid injection to help get through a performance, and full-blown vocal cord bruising, which can be caused when a performer screams or strains his or her voice. And his penchant for skipping the substance-abuse lectures—despite the punishing, drying effect alcohol and weed have on the throat—likely appeals to those patients who swill booze and smoke pot.
Despite his starry roster, Kessler, 56, doesn’t name-drop. And while he initially charged each patient the same fees regardless of their Q ratings, he chucked that strategy early on. Now, in a bit of a Robin Hood scenario, he happily reports that ministering to the rich and famous enables him to provide some services gratis or at a reduced fee, such as those he offers to Juilliard students and uninsured performers. “He’s nonsectarian,” says Carly Simon, another longtime patient. “He can fit almost everybody in, even unknown actor-singers and children performing in their high school musicals.”
A major theater and music buff, Kessler studied otolaryngology at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center and briefly considered a career in plastic surgery. It wasn’t until he worked with a doctor who treated high-maintenance opera singers that he discovered his calling. “I saw there was this need for singers and performers—they needed a different set of rules,” he says. Former Met star Sherrill Milnes worked his way through a list of New York’s top otolaryngologists in the Eighties before he found Kessler. During a performance of La Traviata, Milnes recalls, Kessler examined his vocal folds “almost between every scene. Well, doctors don’t do that. I’m old enough to have gone to all his predecessors, most of whom were from Europe. Scott blended the best of the European know-how with American smarts.”
He also offers genre-specific care. “Opera singers need to be as perfect as possible for each performance, and it’s often wiser to cancel a show rather than just ‘get through it,’” Kessler notes. “Broadway performers, on the other hand, might be able to push through in spite of a minor illness so they won’t disappoint the audience, and they often sing when they shouldn’t.” And while recording artists can electronically beef up their vocals in the studio, they still need stamina to deliver the goods live. To that end, Kessler sends medical “care packages” to touring patients and provides referrals for docs around the globe.
“He has saved my ass on so many occasions,” says Manilow. “We singers work so hard, and then you get a virus, you get bronchitis. I don’t know what he does, all the voodoo stuff he’s got. But I follow his directions with his magic potions and stuff that I spray in my mouth and breathe. He has done some miraculous things for me.”