By the summer of 1988, Sam Kinison's Back to School cameo, Louder than Hell album and Breaking the Rules HBO special had established him as the hottest comic in the country. Reeling from shuttering of his feature film Atuk on its first day of shooting, and from the death of his brother Kevin, Sam asked his brother Bill to take the reins as his business manager. These were high, wild times—drugs, booze, extreme behavior.
Dan Barton, comic/writer: Sam was a very naturally accomplished musician. He took the piano at Kevin's funeral and played and sang old gospel tunes.
Eddie Brill, comic and Letterman talent coordinator: At the Comedy Store, at the end of the show, he would do his stand-up, and then the band would come out and play. I would sing a lot of songs and stuff, and a lot of the guys would say, "Look, you're singing, and it's Kinison's band." So Kinison bought me some bongos and some percussion instruments and said, "You can sing back-up."
It was his birthday, and we were just singing and playing, and I had so many drugs in me. Then Billy Idol came in, and he did "Mony Mony." I remember sharing a mic and singing "Mony Mony" with Billy Idol and playing my little drum kit. It was really very bizarre.
Bill Kinison, manager: We were doing a Universal Amphitheatre show, and we had an all-star band there. It was two nights, and at the end they were supposed to do "Jailhouse Rock." At the soundcheck, Vince Neil and Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe were there. They had closed with that for years. I asked Vince, "What's the words to Jailhouse Rock'?" He said, "I don't know." "What do you mean, you don't know? It's been your encore for five years! How the hell do you sing it?" He told me, "I just mumble." Billy Idol speaks up and says, "I know the words." I said, "Then okay, tonight you do the words to it." Billy didn't know the words either, and it was a disaster.
The second night we couldn't do "Jailhouse Rock" and Leslie West from Mountain suggested we do "Wild Thing." [Playboy model] Jessica Hahn, who we had just met, was there, so she was going to come out also. Sam was just supposed to play the guitar. The problem was, no one knew the verses either. So when the verses come up, Leslie just turns around and hands the mic to Sam, and so he has to make up some stuff. That's pretty much how he did everything anyway.
Louie Anderson, comic: "Wild Thing" was a big breakthrough, a comic doing something out of their element. I guess Steve Martin would be the closest context, with the "Walk Like an Egyptian" thing. That was really the beginning of cross-promotion, rock bands pulling celebrities in.
Jimmy Shubert, comic: Sam was the first rock 'n' roll comedian. He was the first guy to kind of cross over and have all those guys like Tommy Lee in his music video for "Wild Thing."
Kinison: Billy Idol almost got his butt whipped. When they were shooting the video Billy kept spitting on Jessica Hahn. Sam told him a couple times, and I told him, "Hey dude, enough's enough."
Barton: In the opening vignette [of the video] are Sam, Rodney Dangerfield and Jon Bon Jovi sitting at a bar. Bon Jovi was there with his high-school sweetheart who he later married, and he was mainly interested in watching a basketball game. They had no script, and Rodney came up with five absolutely hilarious lines off the top of his head. Rodney always sweated profusely, and he had a towel over his leg. In between takes he would pat his forehead and go, "I don't mean to be the director here, but I got a line ..." They had no idea what to do. And so they just improvised it, and of course Rodney got the best lines.
Sam would say something like, "C'mon, Rodney, let's get out of here. I know a place where we can go meet some girls," and Rodney would say, "Huh, I dunno, Sam. At my age, when I'm done with a woman, I gotta go back for firsts!"
Rodney got Sam into Back to School and all that. He had a profound influence on Sam. There was an ABC News report on him once, where Rodney was interviewed. Rodney said, "Ha, I love Sam. Sam's got an original voice. He's probably the biggest thing in comedy to come along in the last five years, and I think he's going to be around for a long time." You hear this "Flick, flick, flick, flick," and the camera pulled up. Sam was counting out hundreds, and he gave them to Rodney. Rodney goes, "Does this take us up through last week?"
David Permut, producer: Rodney Dangerfield was in awe of him, and Rodney was a man who discovered so many comic talents. On the HBO shows he introduced Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Bob Saget, all these people. And I think out of all those comics, the one that really touched his heart the most was Sam. He thought that Sam was the most original comic that came along. This was a man who obviously had relationships with the great comics of the past. Lenny Bruce was a good friend of Rodney's. But he thought Sam was just a miracle.
Allan Stephan, comic: The Outlaws originally started in Texas: Bill Hicks and him and some Texas guys. He always liked the name. He and I hadn't spoken for a while—we were always having falling-outs—and I think after his first HBO special we started hanging out again. Somewhere along the line he wanted to reform the Outlaws of Comedy. I think originally it was just Carl LaBove and myself. Maybe we used Pauly Shore once, Lenny Clarke, Richard Belzer, different people, but we finally settled on Mitchell Walters. It was like that for a few years, and then Sam got bored and brought aboard Jimmy Shubert.
Shubert: Sam went on the road with obviously a hand-picked group of guys, which was me, Carl LaBove, Mitch Walters and Allan Stephan, and we toured the country opening for Sam. It was us four comics and then an intermission, and then Sam would come out and they would close with a band, with rock 'n' roll. It was really something special.
Sabrina Stephan (formerly Souiri), comic and Vegas native: Initially [sister Malika and I] were bored on tour, so I came up with a shtick to get us on the show. I go, "He has a water glass. Notice?" She goes, "Yeah, so?" I go, "We're Vegas performers. We can do this." So he reaches for his water glass and it's not there. He looks in the wings and me and Malika are dressed in these ridiculous costumes. I came out with the pitcher; she comes out with the glass. We did it all showy, like the Arabs do, you know, they pour the water high. And he's like, "Malika and Sabrina, ladies and gentlemen!" Then he's like, "That was just too funny. Let's keep doing it!" The costumes became more outrageous.
Shubert: I was 10 years younger than those guys were, and I was enjoying every minute of it, believe me. There was a truckload of personality, there was a truckload of booze being drank, there was a truckload of drugs being done. It was like one of those VH1 Where Are They Now? or Behind the Music kind of things.
Allan Stephan: He had a song out for a while, "Wild Thing," and it used to become the "in" thing for musicians to join us on stage. We used to play Vegas and we'd have to get like 12 other rooms in the hotel because Billy Idol would show up, and Jeffrey Osborne, who you wouldn't expect to see together; Grace Slick, Paul Kantner. Wherever we went, musicians would show up to play "Wild Thing" with us.
Sabrina Stephan: At one of those Bally's shows, Sam wanted to pop Billy Idol in the mouth because he groped my sister onstage. Sam saw it, and he flew off the handle. Billy somehow got offstage and disappeared, so for the second show, Billy's sidekick didn't know what happened, and, you know, Billy was gone. When this sidekick got onstage, Sam walked over to him and popped the sidekick in the mouth. It was like, "Why did you do that? It wasn't him!" "I don't care; I just had to hit somebody!" Literally cold-cocked him. We rewound the tape and kept watching it and watching it.
Kinison: We had Sabrina and Malika out there, and as he walked out, he—I don't know how to put this—sticked his fingers in both of them. Soon as the gig was over, Billy took right off. Sam told me, "Second show, I'm going to beat his ass onstage." The second show, he doesn't show up, but his guy, named Art, he shows up and ends up next to Sam. While Allan Stephan is on the drums, Sam leans over to Art and goes, "Where's Billy at? When you see him, give him this." Right on beat, he just nails him. Just hits him right in the mouth. Art goes down, and Sam turns around, never missing a beat, "Wild Thing!" The crowd is going nuts because they've just seen Sam deck a guy, and he's also doing "Wild Thing." Security helps help Art off the stage, he's barely conscious, and he's like, "He hit me." I said, "Well, go tell Billy you took it for him, dude. That would have been Billy if he'd been there."
Sabrina Stephan: Those shows always made you feel like you were in the dregs of show business. But something funny would come out of them, like Billy's sidekick getting popped, or we would wheel the little crippled guy out, [comedian] Dougie [Bady]. Malika was always whispering in Dougie's ear because he was a pervert, that little crippled guy. He was gross. She couldn't stand him so much, she's like, "One of these days, Dougie, we're just going to wheel you onstage, and we're going to yank this chair, and you're going to go flying out into the audience on your little french-fry legs!"
Permut: One of the funniest stories about Sam was when he got busted at the airport and his brother Bill told the arresting officer that it was his drugs, not Sam's. Bill was sentenced and then he had to go to rehab. He's a Pentecostal preacher functioning as Sam's manager, so he took the fall for Sam, and all the sudden he's in rehab.
Kinison: We were taking off to Cincinnati. We pulled up to the curb, and there's two skycaps and no one else there. One was standing up with his foot against the wall, looking at me. He said, "You need some help?" I said, "Yeah." He clapped his hands and within three or four seconds there had to be 30 or 40 DEA, FBI, LA County sheriffs, just bam, right there. I thought they were doing a random search, but the fact of the matter was that the FBI had tapped Sam's phone lines. I had tried to put together a deal with MTV for a show called The Party Train. The FBI and the DEA, geniuses that they are, thought that we were speaking in code and thought we were putting together a big drug deal.
Allan Stephan: On the way to the airport, we're in limos and trucks. We get there and somebody says, "You wanna get out of the car?" I said, "Sure, I'll get out of your way here." And he said, "No, you are the drug investigation." They brought dogs, and there were three police agencies—West Hollywood, Malibu and I think something else—and we had been followed by helicopters. They went through everything, and all they found was a bag of weed in Sam's suitcase. Sam said it belonged to his brother. They held up Sam's pants and put it next to his brother, and of course they were eight sizes too big. "Yeah, well, he was just keeping it in my suitcase."
Kinison: They get down to these two bags. One of them was what I carried my computer and batteries and everything else in, and the other one was Sam's black bag. Sam turns around to me when they get to these two bags and goes, "Hey Bill, they want to know if they can check your bags." I took him over to the side and asked him "What you got in the bag?" He says, "Well, I've got a little bit of pot." I said, "All right." I go to this Sergeant Ross, "These last two bags are mine; the black bag, I might as well tell you, you're going to find a little bit of pot." He goes, "What do you have pot for?" "I have a little bit of trouble sleeping on the tour bus, so I smoke a couple hits, it mellows me out, and I go to sleep." Well they open it up, and it's like the size of a football. It's two ounces of pot.
Allan Stephan: Bill had to go to a drug class. He stood up and they said, "What are you in for?" And he said, "Well, my brother ..." They said, "Well, if you're just going to make excuses, you're going to have to repeat this course." "Fine, I'm all drugged up." He sat there all dressed up in his three-piece suit, a preacher, in a drug class.
Then was the night we gave Lenny Bruce's mother a couple hundred thousand, I think. Madison Square Garden. Brought out the rest of Lenny Bruce's friends that were alive. That was fun.
Kinison: It was Valentine's Day. We did David Letterman either the day before or the day of. David was asking him about living with two sisters, and Sam's going, "Well, in this day and age, you can't be too safe" and all that. David I think brings up AIDS, and Sam makes a flippant remark, which I think was the worse thing to ever happen to his career: "Yeah, they say heterosexuals die of AIDS, too. Name one! It's like the capital of Vermont. You know it's there, you just don't know what it is." We got death threats, bomb threats; we had to bring in special security to travel with us. That was the start of it, then the Madison Square Garden show was actually supposed to be an HBO special. They call and said they were not going to use this as their special. This film crew is with us, they're filming everything, Sam's on Howard Stern, we're in this thing for thousands of dollars. Not only that, Sam has met Lenny Bruce's mom, Sally Marr, who he decides he feels sorry for and is going to give $100,000.
We had paid for everybody's flights and their accommodations and everything, all these old comedian friends of Lenny Bruce. When it was all said and done, it probably cost us $300,000 or $400,000. If you want to see it, it's on a DVD called Banned. Probably the worst one that Sam did by far.
I was told at the time he was the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden. The thing I thought was amazing, that was a Tuesday night. The very next night, on Wednesday, we're at Nassau Coliseum in New Jersey. He sold it out to 17,000 people.
Allan Stephan: We did the arenas and the stadiums, broke records in Vegas. I think we broke the record at the Dunes for attendance. When I grew up my father was a gambler, and I used to go, and they would do 2 in the morning shows for the help and the other celebrities that couldn't normally come to the shows. They hadn't done that in like 20 years, so when we were playing the Dunes I told Sam about it, and we started doing it. That show became the show to see. In two weeks we did like 38 shows, something ridiculous. It was the most bizarre thing you'd ever seen, Joan Rivers, Paul Anka, Charlie Pride, Jane Fricke, people you wouldn't normally expect to see at a show.
Barton: Sam was very much a high-roller. He loved Vegas. Just absolutely loved going there. He used to open his shows saying, "I've gotta get back in a town where they've got drinking laws." He had a bunch of gambling material and stuff like that.
Sabrina Stephan: Once he drank the entire casino out of Bailey's Irish Cream. This is at the Dunes. They had to go to the liquor store, and we were like, "You drank ... the casino ... out of Bailey's Irish Cream? Oh my God." The amazing thing was he wouldn't even touch a lick of alcohol if he wasn't doing drugs. He hated alcohol. So I knew he was high if he was drinking. I'd smell a glass and know, "Oh, geez."
Roy Jernigan, Riverside Resort Hotel entertainment director/former Orleans and Gold Coast booker: He was a crazy son of a bitch. We all knew that. The first time I saw him, I wondered why I was there. He was playing in Las Vegas, probably five years before he died. We were going show-hopping one night, and we stepped in to see Sam. He was going crazy. I thought, "This guy's a maniac. I would never want him working with me." Louie Anderson gave me the best advice with him. Louie told me that Sam was the most compassionate man he'd ever met in his whole life: "He makes his money, he gives it away to people who need it. He don't like money; he just gives it away."
Shubert: I remember Sam shooting out a TV set with a gun on either the anniversary of Elvis' death or Elvis' birthday backstage at the Dunes. We were there two weeks in a row; we got held over for a third week because they were supposed to have some kind of male revue in there, but they cancelled. Those three weeks in Vegas, man, were just absolutely f--king insane. It was literally f--king insanity. I came back to Los Angeles and went to AA for 88 days. Five thousand dollars in booze, just one giant f--king party. We'd do shows, go back to the room, party, do shows, hang out at strip clubs. The Olympic Gardens was one of the strip clubs we went to. That was the one I think we camped out at that particular time.
Allan Stephan: I have never laughed harder or had more fun. But at some point it just was too much. But where else can you shoot out TVs because it's Elvis' birthday, get on Lear jets and fly to another casino? We flew to Tahoe that night. Then, of course, when we got there the Dunes charges us for a TV that they've had since 1950. They didn't see the humor that it was Elvis' birthday.
Sabrina Stephan: I'm going to tell you exactly what happened: When he shot the TV, the bullets bounced off. The bullets never broke the glass on the TV. How the TV was really "shot out" was with a big sledgehammer. It came from one of the rooms in the Dunes, a prop room or something backstage. They charged Allan $1,758 for this TV that was from the original Dunes. He was like, "Are you kidding?! The thing looked like it should go in the garbage!"
Allan Stephan: When you drive out of Vegas, they used to look for fruits and vegetables. Sam was very paranoid about being arrested. As we're driving, he's smoking his pot, doing the blow, and I would always drive, because I trusted none of these people, especially with my life. He's panicking, going, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" I go, "They're just looking for fruits and vegetables. Buckle your seat belt and be quiet." So now we go into San Diego, and there they look for illegal aliens. I had just bought five peaches, four on the dashboard of this van, and I'm eating one, driving. He's doing blow, the guys are passing the pot around, and all the sudden Sam looks up and he sees the border crossing. "Are you out of your mind? Fruits and vegetables!" And he throws my peaches out the window. I said, "I'll do peach time! They're looking for Mexicans! Now go get my peaches!" He went and got the peaches. He was all pissed off.
Ralphie May, comic: Comedy was real hot in '89. Sam Kinison was coming to town to play the University of Arkansas ballroom. His opener, Carl LaBove, had got stuck somewhere and couldn't show up. The radio station sponsoring the show, KHOG in Fayetteville, decided to have a contest. The joke that he liked the best was talking about the drummer from Def Leppard. "After he lost his arm, I felt bad about listening to him. Not that I'm prejudiced against handicapped people, it's just the fact that if I applauded, it was insulting to him, like Ha! Ha! Look at my use of two hands!'" Sam thought that was hilarious, and I won the contest at his behest.
On the way over to the venue, I'm riding with Sam and his brother Bill. He goes, "Kid, if for any reason at all you start to bomb, I want you to start yelling at the audience and cussing them out. The more you cuss them out, the more they'll love you."
I'm doing pretty good, and then I flip a punchline and a setup, and the joke bombs. And then I threw another punchline and a setup, and that joke bombs. I start to panic, and I'm like, "Hey you stupid, inbred, pig-f--king motherf--kers! You couldn't get these jokes if they were written down for you! You stupid f--king idiots!" Thirty-five hundred people in unison started to boo.
I kind of tear up a little bit, and I just leave the stage. Sam comes out without any introduction, music, nothing, yelling, "Can you believe that kid? Come out here and talk to you good people like that? He will never be in comedy again. I will see to it. He is DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!" I'm calling my mom collect to come pick me up. Sam's brother Bill comes over and hangs up the phone. He goes, "Kid, Sam thought that was the funniest thing he's ever seen. He never thought you'd have the balls to do it. And the fact that you did, you set him up perfectly. People love him now." At the time, Sam was being protested against by the religious right, and all these people were coming out in droves, but now there was no drama, and he loved it.
They invited me to the after-party. It was debauchery. There were rails of blow. There was tons of booze, some people were smoking weed, and here I am, a 17-year-old, never been drunk before, and I'm taking a sip of beer and putting half of the sip in the plant, doing that move. I'm just acting like I'm having fun. Sam comes out of a room, and he goes, "Kid, order some pizza." So I order from Shakey's Pizza, and we get like 10 pizzas sent up. Sam pays for the pizza and tips the guy three baggies of cocaine. Thirty minutes later we get a phone call, "Hey, you guys need more pizza?"
Allan Stephan: We were touring the country, and we stopped at Elvis' place. They gave us a tour, and across the street you could record Elvis tunes. Sam went in a booth and he recorded "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" Of course, when he got to the talking part it was a tirade of foul language. Somehow Carson got a bootleg copy of it and wanted him on the show.
We stayed up all night, got tuxedos, got four real singers and three musicians, and we went down there. When we were lining up behind the curtain to get ready to perform, Carson looked up and saw the real singers going into the booth. He started pounding the desk. He was just in hysterics. He whispered to McMahon; we hadn't even hit the stage yet and these two were crying. He did "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and we looked like terrific singers. In fact, my mother said, "You guys sounded like there was more of you." Well, there were.
Kinison: It was probably August, I don't remember exactly, when we came back and did Giants Stadium with Bon Jovi and four or five other bands. That's when Sam and Howard [Stern] got into it. Jon had did an interview with another radio station, and Howard felt that he had given him his break, playing his music when no one else would, so he took that as a betrayal. We end up at a party afterward at Richie Sambora's house. Sam talks to Bon Jovi, "You know, man, you guys need to patch it up with Howard." They agreed that they're going to go in with Sam the next morning and patch it up. Sam calls Howard. Howard turns around and gets a hold of the media, everybody from 60 Minutes to God knows who waiting for Bon Jovi to show up. About 5 o'clock in the morning, I'm telling Sam, "Hey dude, we gotta go over and do Howard." They're like, "We're not going on Stern." So Sam's like, "I can't go on then!" Howard thought that Sam had totally set him up, that it was never going to happen. They ended up for several months just trashing each other.
Shubert: There was the tour where we weren't doing any drugs, believe it or not. But one night we had a slip-up. Sam had had a heart scare, so to balance out his doing blow, he was doing Valium.
It was Sam and his girl, Malika, and me and this other girl. Her and Malika went in and were having a good time, and they wanted us to come in the bedroom. At that point I had taken like three Valium myself, and I was drinking. I passed out. The next thing I know, I woke up on the bus. But somewhere over the course of the night, Sam had banged his head or some shit and had to get stitches over his eyes; he woke up in the hospital and freaked out. But actually that's not the case; apparently they smacked his head when they tried loading him onto the bus, but they couldn't tell him that or he would have fired everybody, so I had to take the fall for that. That was the night I said, "I'm not doing coke anymore, I'll tell you that shit right now." The problem with the drugs was even when Sam tried to clean up his act, there was always someone showing up with drugs. I used to tell my brother, "Man, I think I'm addicted to this shit, and I don't even buy it." It just got to a point where I couldn't do it anymore. It was too crazy.
Barton: Bill [Kinison] tells a story about when they went back to Peoria. I was with them then. Sam passed out, and he had to help him to the bus. Bill did not do that by himself. It was me and Bill that got Jimmy and Sam on that bus. Bill left me out of that story, but he got me up there, and we did it together.
"You just have to give me a minute with this, Bundy. I thought I was here to save a human soul. [Notices his empty flask.] Oh, thanks a lot! You can turn water into wine but you can't send me with any booze, huh? Love ya!"
Barton: He was on that two-parter of Married ... with Children, and originally Married ... with Children was supposed to be him and Roseanne. But Roseanne wanted to get her own show.
Kinison: I've heard that, but it never was. First, I'd have known if he was ever up for it. Secondly, when Sam did [short-lived TV show] Charlie Hoover, which was 1991, I wanted the same money that Ed O'Neill got for Married ... with Children, and I remember them telling me repeatedly, "He's been on for seven years! He didn't start at $35,000 a week."
It's still their highest-rated show in their history. They almost cancelled it because Sam decided like on a Wednesday not to show up. I talked them back into it: "He wasn't feeling well." Truth of the matter is, he was partied out. While we were doing Married ... with Children, In Living Color wanted him on their show. It was over on the same lot but on a different set, so he did a couple skits. He walked out onstage with none of these people expecting him. They just went nuts.
Rita Rudner, comic: My husband, Martin Bergman, and I, one of our first attempts at movie-writing was a movie for me and Sam. It was called The Mistake. I married a prisoner on death row, and he got out and came to live with me. He read it, he liked it, and he wanted to do it. There was a great picture of Sam and I at a club together, and we sent it to an executive with the script. I didn't keep a copy of it. Of course, they lost the pitch, they never get back to you ... I just wish I had that picture back.
Barton: I wrote [Stranger in Town], and there were other people who put their names on it later. Sam paid me to write that script. It was funny, and it should have been probably made at some point, but after Atuk, which shut down its first day of production, I don't think anyone was willing to take a chance on it.
He was on the road so much, and he was partying so much. He didn't understand production. Production is a 7 a.m., 6 a.m. call. When he shot Charlie Hoover, he said, "Wow, when they say 7 a.m., they mean 7 a.m." He was never good with schedules. And that's why he never made it big in the movies, never really did anything beyond Back to School.
Shubert: There were times, like, you know, he didn't feel like getting on the f--king plane. He'd just rather stay there and f--king party. I watched him blow up big, like he was making $35,000 for a night in Atlantic City, and he's just gonna blow it off. I'm sitting there like, "Geez, $35,000!" When you're sitting there trying to pay your rent and the guy's blowing off $35,000 gigs ...
Brill: One night at the Comedy Store, he was working the Main Room, and I sat behind the curtain with his big vial of coke, and I held it until he took a break and would come backstage, and I would feed him his cocaine. He said, "All right, go grab all the other guys," and you know, is this generous, turning people on to cocaine? But that was a very expensive thing, and he was giving it to his friends, just, "You guys go do it." We'd have all these parties after the shows. Every night wasn't a big bash, but there'd be a party at a friend's house, and we'd sit around and tell stories, and he would hold court.
Craig Gass, comic: My favorite is this great story told to me by [deceased comic and Amarillo Comedy Club owner] Kelly Moran who said, "At this party one night, Sam had this mirror full of coke that he passed to a woman behind him as he was talking to somebody. The woman was eight months pregnant. Everyone goes, Sam, what the f--k are you doing?' Sam goes, Oh, I'm sorry! I'm f--king sorry! I didn't do it intentionally!' Then he goes, Plus you don't want this kid coming out next month going, "Where's the dealer's pager? AAAHHH! AAAHHH!"'" Then Kelly tells the story where it's a month later. "I'm in the Hollywood Hills with Sam. We're driving over Laurel Canyon, and I'm telling him, Remember that night we were doing coke and you handed coke to that girl who was pregnant?' Sam's face was completely blank. She was pregnant and we were like, "What are you doing?" And you had that great line? You said, "Oh, guess you don't want the kid coming out going, Where's the dealer's pager? AAAHHH! AAAHHH!'"'" He said Sam just giggled and said, "Did I say that? That's f--king funny. I should write that down."
Dwight Slade, comic: What I saw in Sam was a tendency to extremes. If he was broke, he was reeeally broke, and he was going to be in your face about, "You need to lend me money because I did this for you, and you need blah blah blah ..." This is through Bill [Hicks], what I heard. But when things were going well for him, it was always just, "Hey, we're going to get a limo, c'mon!" He did a show here in Portland—I think it happened here—but he got done with the show and went out of the theater. It was 2, and he goes, "Well, where are we gonna go?" They say, "There's no bars open." So he ordered a limo and said, "I want the limo stocked with all your liquor," and had the limo delivered to the theater so he could party with a bunch of friends.
Allan Stephan: Most of the stories that are funny about Sam are drug-related in my mind, and how outrageous he was. If he couldn't get liquor in a town—he was very clever—he'd order a limo, and it was stocked with liquor, so he got it 24 hours if he wanted it.
Kevin Booth, filmmaker/author: Sam would come into a town, and there'd be different liquor laws. One night he found himself somewhere where it was like 2 o'clock, all the bars are shut, no liquor stores open, and he's in a downtown hotel somewhere in a strange city. Sam had been doing a lot of coke, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. He called a limo service and ordered up two limousines with fully-stocked bars. They pulled up to the hotel and Sam went down and drank both limos dry with maybe a friend or two. The limo driver was like, "Where do you want to go?" "You can just sit right here."
Allan Stephan: One of the record companies gives us money to go to New York to promote the show. We're staying in some four- or five-star hotel, and Sam is drinking Dom Perignon. I think it was $250 a bottle. They had agreed to pick up our room tab. Somewhere over the course of the next day and a half, the manager of the hotel knocks on the door; they would like to borrow a couple carts. Apparently, we had not put any back out in the hallway. There's literally 20 carts in the place, and over the course of three days, what they thought would be a $3,000 bill ended up being either $13,000 or $23,000, and most of it was champagne.
Bob Saget, comic: One night he was sitting with a bottle of scotch, and he goes, "Hey Saget, how you been, man?" He goes, "You ever get depressed, Saget?" "Yes, of course, Sam." He goes, "The next time you get depressed, you come see me." Then he downed a shot. I'm like, "You are exactly the guy that I'm going to see."
Shubert: There was the story with Bally's on New Year's Eve, when Sam had been up all night partying. He was supposed to do like four shows that night, and they were getting ready to cancel one of the shows because they thought Sam was too f--ked up, and he was. But they rushed him upstairs, they got him a nice cold shower, they got him on oxygen, and he was able to sober up and convince the people at Bally's that it was all an act. "It's like Foster Brooks! It's part of my shtick!"
Kinison: I'm going up an elevator with Richard Sturm from Bally's, entertainment director, and Barry Fey, the promoter. We were supposed to still have a 2 o'clock show and a 4 o'clock show, and Richard's telling me "He is out of it, Bill. He's out of it." I said, "If I can prove to you that he can do the show, then we're back on." I call Sam up in the suite, put my phone on speaker; don't tell him I'm with Barry and Richard. I say, "Dude, they're canceling your 2 and 4 o'clock show," and Sam goes, "Why?!" Now he's fine. He's just had a shower, and he could recuperate faster than anyone I'd seen. I go, "They said you're out of it." He just goes on a tirade, not knowing that Sturm is there listening to him. He's like, "They deserve Gallagher, they deserve the shit they bring in here. It's an act like Foster Brooks and Dean Martin." He just goes off. I hang up and I turn to Richard Sturm, like, "Well, sounds like he can do a show to me." Richard's like, "Okay, we're back on, then."
Shubert: I felt bad for Sam's brother. He had his hands full with Sam, that was for sure. It's tough to tell a guy who's making all the money, doing all the shows, who people are there to see, that he's adequately f--king up, you know?
"Police were seeking comedian Sam Kinison Wednesday for questioning in connection with a sports car found abandoned after it crashed on a winding Mount Olympus street. The black 1986 Chevrolet Corvette, bearing the personalized license plate EX REV, was discovered smashed into a power pole off Nichols Canyon Road at Astral Drive, said Los Angeles police officer S.B. Jaramillo of the West Traffic Division. The Corvette apparently had been leased to the controversial stand-up comedian and former Pentecostal minister, police determined. Police confiscated the abandoned Corvette for their follow-up investigation."
Shubert: We were with Cheap Trick that night, and Robin Zander and Ricky [Nielsen] the guitar player. I guess C.C. DeVille from Poison had jumped in the car. Ten minutes later I come around the corner, and there they are. He had literally wedged his car up on a hill between a telephone pole. He couldn't even get out of the car. C.C. DeVille was out in the middle of the street, and Sam was trapped in the car. We had to smash out the window to get him the hell out of there. We got him in the back of our car and get him up to his house. He kind of abandoned the car; someone had dropped an 8-ball at the scene of the accident. It was another series of bad publicity Sam had to endure.
Kinison: I told him, "All your problems—personally, professionally, financially—is all the partying. I'm off this party train, dude. I'm done." That was the first time he ever said he had a problem. He said, "You can't quit now; I've got a problem." I said, "I'll work as long as you go to AA. You can't go to rehab because you can't afford to be off the road right now. But when we're in town, you go to AA. I found a place called the Log Cabin out in Malibu, and I don't care if you're drunk, high, whatever: Be there every morning." He said he would, he did, and he cleaned up.
Sabrina Stephan: My sister and him tried many times to go to AA and get sober. They would have a couple months under their belt, then some person who felt threatened that they may be on the outs with him or something if he wasn't high would come by: "Hey, here's some stuff, man." That was just the regular routine. It always seemed to be the person who was the most threatened by him becoming sober that would derail the whole thing.
Barton: Now rehab has almost become like a cliché and a punchline. It used to be a more serious thing. He made attempts at sobriety, and the longest one lasted about 88 days or 90 days or something. He used to go to AA meetings and stuff like that, but it just never took hold. And he also got into pills real bad.
I used to take him aside and go, "C'mon, let's be old farts somewhere. Let's be fishing in a boat someday, telling stories about this stuff." We all thought he was killing himself. Anyone who says that no one stopped Sam from drinking and doing drugs, I suggest they find someone and try to get them to stop. Then they'll realize what it's like. With drugs, a lot of us reached a point where, "I just can't take this. This is not good for me. My body can't take this." But with Sam, he never reached that point. He just had this tremendous capacity, like [John] Belushi, [Chris] Farley, these big guys that just could take all that stuff.
Booth: He was at the Laff Stop in Austin, and he was doing heroin at the time. He was so f--ked up onstage they literally had to carry him offstage in the middle of the show and give him a cold shower. In the middle of the set! Then they revived him and put him back onstage. It wasn't long after that that I heard that he died.
Barton: It was painful to watch, and painful to stick around. I stepped away at one point. I went down to the set of Charlie Hoover to see him, and I hadn't spoken to him for about six months. We had a falling-out because I went, "This guy's priority is just drugs and partying. It's pissing away a career I would kill to have."
Saget: We got see each other a little bit, and he said he was in a good place. It was probably about six months before he died. I was doing some PR thing with Dave Coulier for Full House, and we both hugged him. It was very warm, like seeing a relative. He seemed very peaceful at that time, and that's how I remember him.
Barton: The best comedy he did was at the beginning of his career and at the end. The very end. A VHS was released of a show Sam did two weeks before he died. Bill released it. It's just one single camera from a balcony, and the audio's so bad they had to use subtitles. But he was back on track in terms of his comedy, and he was doing very brilliant, original stuff. When he died, I think he was starting to be on the other side of a lot of things. I think he had gone through the worst of his drugs, alcohol, and having that affect his creativity.
Kinison: I called Florence Troutman, who was our publicist in Vegas, and said, "I need a suite [at the Las Vegas Hilton]. Sam and Malika decided they want to get married." They wanted to get married on my father's birthday, April 5th, which I think was a Monday.
He's like, "I'm doing it like a tattoo, brother. I'm gonna get drunk, then I'm gonna go, I did WHAT?'" It had to be 3 o'clock in the morning when we decided to go down and get the marriage license and over to the [Candlelight] chapel and get married. They went to Hawaii for five days, came back on April the 10th.
That was supposed to be our last road gig. That week he was on his vacation I signed the FOX television series, I signed a three-movie deal with New Line. We had finally got to where we wanted to be. We worked those years to get there. Our whole theory was, we'll do the casinos, with maybe a 10- or 12-city tour in the summertime and then just do TV and movies.
Sam always thought he was going to die in a plane crash, so whenever he didn't have to fly, he would drive. He told me, "Let's meet in Barstow," which we did. Then we were driving to Laughlin. We didn't make it.
"That's when you know you're pretty f--ked up, when it makes sense to fall asleep ... I was driving between Needles and Barstow... It's about 120 miles of desert... It's 4 in the morning, man... Hey, this is a pretty good time to go to sleep ... (SCREAMS HYSTERICALLY) So I totaled this f--kin' car out, man! ... I f--kin' totaled it! And it made SENSE at the time!..." (From the Sam Kinison Family Entertainment Hour, April 4, 1991)
IRONY OF IRONIES: On April 10, 1992, almost a year after delivering that routine on HBO, Sam Kinison was killed in a head-on collision on that same stretch of arid desert road between Needles and Barstow, Calif., the same haunted section of U.S. Highway 95 that opens Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A 5'8", 275-pounder whose appetites matched his bulk, a kamikaze comic known for his piercing screams and full-bellow takes on sex, religion and drugs, Kinison was heading for a stand-up gig in Laughlin, Nev., five days after marrying his third wife, Malika Souiri, 27. Eleven miles north of Needles, a pickup driven by an allegedly beer-drinking 17-year-old smashed into Kinison's Pontiac, leaving Souiri unconscious and the 38-year-old comedian dead."
Tammy Pescatelli, comic: We were at the beach. The radio station busts in and it was like a total bad movie, you know, "This just in: comedian Sam Kinison killed ..." and nobody believed it. And then every radio on the beach went on the same station ...
Jernigan: I'd booked him. He'd just got married, been to Hawaii; he needed to make money to buy a house for his wife. He turns down the wrong highway. Instead of going down to River Road, he went across to Searchlight, hit a pickup truck, and it killed him.
Everything was all set, both his shows were sold out. I got a call from the Needles hospital. His brother called me and said, "He's gonna die. He's dying." He was already dead, he just didn't tell me at the time. I had my assistant go out and announce it: We were going to have to cancel the shows. Let me tell you, they did not believe it. His fans, they were a cult. People came from all over the country just to see him there because he hadn't worked in a long time.
Charlie Viracola, comic: Unfortunately his legacy is drugs and a guy who just got his life cleaned up and turned around and got married. Who knows what the future would hold. Then he's suddenly killed in a car accident. I mean, his legacy is irony. All the shit that he did his whole life that should have killed him, nothing does, he gets his shit together and then a drunk driver in a truck wipes him out.
Shubert: I watched him when he was clean and sober; I saw him when he was completely f--ked up. Sam was one of those guys who could drink and do blow and still go out and do a show and do pretty well. I was just happy the guy didn't OD in a freaking hotel room somewhere with a couple of hookers. It would have been, "See, I told you so. I told you this was going to happen." By dying in a car accident, at least the guy was able to maintain a little bit of dignity.
Barton: Something that had been a turning point was that Sam had gotten a dog, Russo. He used to call the dog "my son." There's a picture of him somewhere when he's watching the premiere of Charlie Hoover, and he has the dog with him. He just absolutely loved that dog. The night he was killed, he moved Russo from his car to the car behind him. People thought that unusual because Sam always wanted to be around Russo.
Rudner: It was a real shame, and I can't believe it's been 15 years. Whenever we're on our way to Needles, Martin and I always think, "Oh my gosh." You can't help thinking about it.
Allan Stephan: I wasn't surprised when I heard he died. I was surprised it was at someone else's hand. I thought Sam got lazy. When you're a comic and you haven't made it, you have 10 years to do that first album. That's why it's usually so good. Then you have about a year and a half to two years to come up with the next one. And that's when you start to see the arc, they're getting thinner and thinner. It's because he was just lazy and not focused. Would he have gone further? That's hard to say because he was at that point of his career where it was time to cross over. He was mostly a cult figure in my eyes, and he hadn't crossed over to that big, big place yet.
He was all clean and changing his life? I think he had seven or eight or nine chemicals in his body when he died. Some might have been part of cleaning up and some might have been on their way out, but it certainly wasn't the picture he was painting.
Sabrina Stephan: Someone the other day was asking, "Can you imagine if Sam was alive today?" I said, "No." He wasn't here for that long, but he made such an impact. And I think it was always meant to happen the way it happened. I think otherwise he would have gone out like many artists have before him, at the fault of their own hand. I just don't think he could have got it together enough. Something really miraculous would have had to happen for him to clean up. Because all that crap about him cleaning up before he died, what a crock of shit. He didn't happen to be high when he was driving that day, you know?
Bobcat Goldthwait, comic/filmmaker: Sam and I didn't get along ... I don't know if it was because we were both these very loud, fat '80s comedians. But recently I ran into Carl LaBove, who was his friend. He told me that Sam kind of towards the end actually wanted to be friends, which is a very sweet thing for him to tell me. It's really funny, like when you watch any sort of gossip show, when people are having a feud, they're usually really alike. Like, I don't have a feud with Paris Hilton. People don't like people who are a lot like them. We are what we hate, so I'm sure that's what that was. But it's sad. That's the reality of it. What's dead is dead, you know. That's weird. When you have a feud with someone and they die, then 15 years have gone by, holy shit, you know what I mean?
Allan Stephan: I think I said this at his eulogy—when they said he knew nothing about gays? I think he knew plenty about what he talked about, that's why he was able to do it. Whether you agreed with his slant on it was another thing. But you're not going to find anything better. "The desert is always going to be the desert! You gotta move!" It's just the most brilliant thing he's ever said. There's nothing funnier than the truth, and that's certainly true and brutally right. That first album was just brilliant. If you think about the last 15 years, there's been nobody stirring the pot like Sam Kinison.
Barton: Rodney came to the viewing when Sam was killed. He was there, just devastated, going, "What can I say? What can I say?" Richard Belzer spoke, Robin Williams spoke, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top spoke, Carl LaBove.
Saget: Carl spoke, Robin spoke, Belzer hosted it, I think. A bunch of people got up. I don't remember everybody, but I remember Carl LaBove. It was an interesting and complicated relationship. He cried and said he loved Sam, and that he was going to miss him, and then he said he was at Igby's, two shows on Friday and two shows on Saturday. It was one of my favorite laughs at the funeral.
Pauly [Shore]'s thing was that Sam told him to follow his rainbow. You know, how you go and follow who you are, your comedy voice. For better or for worse, that's what all of us wanted to do.
David Plastik, photographer: I went to his funeral in California at Forest Lawn. Robin Williams spoke; I believe Bill spoke. It wasn't a happy scene, I can tell you that. It was a lot of people in disbelief that it was all over. The fun was gone. The ringmaster was gone. Everyone just went on their separate ways after that. If Sam had lived, God knows what everyone would be doing now. But it was the end of a time period.
Anderson: He was the guy that you respected, and you were scared to ever live like that. You've got to say that he lived his life pretty full.
Pescatelli: Late at night at the Comedy Store sometimes people say that they hear Sam, but if Sam is hanging out late at night I don't think they'd hear him; I think they'd hear the broads he was with.
Gass: I started calling in [to Howard Stern] in summer of 1995 as Sam Kinison calling from hell. I actually never listened to Howard until three years after I started working for him. But I knew about him. I knew he was good friends with Sam. And so I just threw it out there. I overnighted a tape and they literally called me the next day.
"Who gives a f--k what everybody knows you as? That's their problem. You gotta start showing people the guy that your friends and your family know. The guy that used to cook me burgers at the Comedy Store in Westwood. That guy. The Wiesel's just a defense mechanism to keep the whole world at arm's length." "Like your scream?" "Yeah, like my scream."
Gass: Pauly and Sam had a very close relationship; Sam was Pauly's babysitter when Pauly was a kid. For Pauly it was a really touching moment in the movie where he lets his guard down and shows a side of himself he'd never shown before. It was because of what kind of relationship he felt he had with Sam.
Saget: My friend David Permut's making a movie about him. David loved Sam very, very much indeed.
Permut: We're developing this project at Universal. My partner on the project is Tom Shadyac. We haven't solidified the filmmaker yet, but we're about to. Once that happens we'll really get this project in full gear. I'm hoping we'll go into production later this year.
Viracola: They have a screenplay adaptation by the writing team that wrote American Splendor.
Permut: This potentially could be a classic movie. When I think about Lenny Bruce's story and Dustin Hoffman and his portrayal of Lenny having won the Oscar ... that was just a brilliant film looking through the keyhole at the world of Lenny Bruce. I think much the same can be said about this film.
Some of the audiences who go see this movie when we get it made may never have seen Sam Kinison in real life, or never even heard of Sam Kinison. To me the challenge with this picture will be to make a great film that stands on its own. It will be a testament to who he was and the spirit of who he was.