“He started out as a traveling preacher, but her found his true calling in comedy. It was here that Sam Kinison made his mark, becoming one of the naughtiest, nastiest, and most outrageous comics of his time.”

Oh Brother! … Sam Kinison

In show business, as in life, one day can make such a difference. Sam’s life changed forever on August 3, 1985, the night HBO broadcast “Rodney Dangerfield’s Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special.” Other young comics made strong showings that night, especially Louie Anderson and Rita Rudner, who Sam probably liked most out of all the female stand-ups.

But even Louie and Rita couldn’t touch Sam.

He was more than the nastiest, naughtiest, darkest. Sam was the one who didn’t remind you of any other comic you’d ever seen. He was the one people quoted to friends the next day.

Rodney made the introduction himself. “Here’s a guy who is rather unusual, and I love people who are different, you know? When I say ‘rather unusual,’ you’ll know what I mean when you meet him, okay? We all love him here. Let’s have a nice, warm reception for Sam Kinison.”

Sam walked out wearing an overcoat down to his knees. It was a gift from Yanna Widmark, an old girlfriend of Sam’s and Richard Widmark’s daughter. Richard Widmark had worn the coat on “Madigan,” one of Sam’s favorite TV shows when he was a kid. Sam thought it might bring him luck. “Well, I’m sorry I’m late,” Sam started off. “I was supposed to be here a little earlier, but I just spent the last two hours at a 7-Eleven going, ‘Marlboro! Marlboro Cigarettes! Smokey-smokey! How the fuck did you get this job? I shoulda shot your ass in Da Nang when I had the chance!’”

Just that quickly, Sam had the audience under his spell. Who is he? What will he say next?

In his six-minute HBO spot, Sam also targeted marriage: “I’m going around the country, I’m trying to get as many people as I can not to get married. I’ve been married, and I’m just trying to help. Anyone here who’s never been married? You never been married? What’s your name? Michael? Well, Michael, if you ever think about getting married, if you ever think you’ve met the right woman, you want to settle down and change your life, will you do me a favor, Mike? Remember this face. Aaaugh! Auggghh! Aaaughh! Because if you get married, Mike? That’s gonna be your fuckin’ face every morning.”

Henpecked husbands talking to friends on the telephone: “Hello, guys? Yeah, listen, I gotta cancel out. I can’t make it. Nah, I’m not gonna be able to go. She’s got my dick! Nah, she won’t give it to me. I been talking to her all day. Yeah, she got the spare, too. Well, she’s upset. I tried to sneak out of the house with it this morning. I was halfway out of the driveway, she came running out of the house, and I had to give it to her right there on the street. Huh? Okay, I’ll ask her, hold on. Honey? It’s the guys. No, they just called to say they’re all taking theirs. No, I just wanna take mine ’cause I don’t want to stand out. Okay, dear. Guys? She said no fuckin’ way. She said no way, the dick stays here. Do me a favor — if you guys see me working on the yard and stuff around the house next week, will you do me a favor? Do you love me? Kill me. Strangle me, shoot me, run me over — whatever it takes! I’m in hell! Oh! Aaaugh!”

And the pitch-black routine that people talked about most:

“I’m like anyone else on the planet. I’m very moved by world hunger. I see the same commercials, with those little kids starving and very depressed. I watch these things and I go, Fuck, I know the film crew could give this kid a sandwich! There’s a director five feet away going, Don’t feed him yet! Get that sandwich outta here! It doesn’t work unless he looks hungry! But I’m not trying to make fun of world hunger. Matter of fact, I think I have the answer. You want to stop world hunger? Stop sending these people food. Don’t send these people another bite, folks. You want to send them something, you want to help? Send them U-Hauls. Send them U-Hauls, some luggage, send them a guy out there who says, Hey, we been driving out here every day with your food for, like, the last 30 or 40 years, and we were driving out here today across the desert, and it occurred to us that there wouldn’t be world hunger if you people would live where the food is! You live in a desert! You live in a fuckin’ desert! Nothing grows out here! Nothing’s gonna grow out here! You see this? Huh? This is sand. Know what it’s gonna be a hundred years from now? It’s gonna be sand! You live in a fuckin’ desert! Get your stuff, get your shit, we’ll make one trip. We’ll take you to where the food is! We have deserts in America — we just don’t live in ’em, asshole!”

Within one stunning week, the HBO spot propelled Sam from local notoriety into national stardom. The respected critic Tom Shales, reviewing the show in The Washington Post, singled out Sam as “the one discovery on the program” and “the one comic on the show with a little ferocity to him.” As for the flood of phone calls, the first important one came in from Marty Klein, president of the Agency for the Performing Arts. Best known for helping Steve Martin cross over from stand-up into movies, Klein had also represented Steven Wright, Andy Kaufman, Rick Moranis, Pee-Wee Herman, John Candy, Rodney Dangerfield, and Martin Mull. From his Hollywood office on Sunset, Klein called Sam at a comedy club in Colorado Springs.

“We want to sign you,” he told Sam.

“I’ve been waiting for this phone call for ten years,” Sam replied.

The rest of that August, the offers came in in a rush. HBO wanted Sam for his own one-hour special, with an option to finance three more. David Letterman, an old friend of Sam’s from the Comedy Store, offered Sam a six-show commitment. Warner Bros. Records pitched a deal for four comedy albums. Lorne Michaels called from Manhattan, wanting Sam to become the first non-hosting comic in history to perform stand-up on “Saturday Night Live.” Then Rodney Dangerfield came through again. He wanted Sam in his next feature film, a comedy in the works called Back to School. Rodney said that he and the writers would insert a few cameo scenes for Sam.

Sam got so hot so fast from one six-minute performance that it all seemed slightly bizarre. And even with all the sudden acclaim, Sam’s emotions were characteristically divided. Mostly, he was elated. But at times Sam was bitter and brooding. He’d created no new material. At the Comedy Store, he’d been killing crowds for years with the same exact stuff, and mainstream Hollywood knew it. Sam hadn’t changed at all — everyone else had. Now that he had a national television credit, everyone in Hollywood wanted to be his pal. Everyone told him, “We knew you could do it, Sam.”

“Why did it take so long?” Sam asked. “Were they fuckin’ blind until now?”

I agreed with Sam about Hollywood. As a whole, the industry struck me as a bunch of wimps. Still, I told Sam one night that summer, “A lot of it was your own fault. You wasted a lot of time, man. You’d make an important contact, get a meeting, then get fucked up and blow it off. Or you’d show up two hours late. You’d have made it a lot sooner if you were straight.”

Sam took offense. “No, man,” he said angrily. “It took everything I went through to get me here today.”

“Including the partying?”

“That’s right.”

“So it doesn’t matter what you do, how you act, as long as the end comes out right.”

“Yeah. The ends justify the means.”

To Sam it was all part of one necessary whole. Live hard, perform hard. I felt that was a cop-out, that the main reason Sam partied so hard was to try to dodge real life and avoid certain feelings. Sam, at least on the surface, never conceded this. And once the public found out that he used drugs, Sam used his image as an excuse to continue. That’s right — Sam was never “trapped” by his image. That’s a show-business cliche. Sam’s image was very convenient for him.

“That’s what my fans expect out of me,” Sam would tell me, typically when he was buzzing. “I’m an outlaw, man! You don’t break any rules, Bill! Gotta start breaking some rules, bro!”

Sometimes I’d walk in on Sam getting blitzed with his less successful comedian friends. I’d try getting Sam to ease up because those guys could sleep away the entire next day, but Sam had an engagement.

“Hey, man,” Sam would slur, “we’re partying out for a reason. If we get one idea tonight, it’s been worth it.”

In the weeks after the HBO spot, as it became clear that his career was about to explode, I wondered if Sam was emotionally equipped. Even when nobody knew who he was, Sam never learned how to pull back. How would he now?

Sam always liked calling himseIf the Robert Redford of comedy. He meant that he was the Natural. Unlike most comics, Sam never sat down and wrote out his routines. Instead, he did his stand-up the same way he’d preached — extemporaneously. He always had some idea of where he would start and end, but no clue at all where his mouth might stray in between.

Nevertheless, in one respect Sam was exactly like other stand-ups. He collected material every waking hour. Around Sam, your life was not quite your own. It was Sam’s, to use in his act.

On November 14, 1985, three months after his breakthrough on HBO, Sam made his network debut on “Late Night With David Letterman.” A few weeks earlier, back in Los Angeles, he and I had gone shopping with my daughter Ginger. Leaving a music store with a bag full of CDs, Sam watched me pushing Ginger around in her stroller. I must have seemed slightly dazed.

He said, “You look like Dawn of the Dead, man.”

I laughed, then I didn’t give it much thought — until I watched him that afternoon in New York, taping the Letterman show. “Any of you have kids?” Sam asked the studio audience. “Have you seen those guys? Those guys in the malls with the strollers — have you seen them? With that look on their face like they envy the dead?” Pretending to be a zoned-out suburban father pushing a stroller, he suddenly started screaming, “Somebody shoot me! This isn’t a mall — I’m in hell! Oh! Oh! Auggghhh!”

After Sam’s first network TV spot, David Letterman seemed to be tickled by him. Before introducing his next guest, Letterman yelled into the camera, “Ahhh! Shoot me! Ahhh!”

Sam flew back to New York three weeks later to work on his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” Although he loved the cast, especially Dennis Miller and Randy Quaid, by midweek Sam was irate at NBC. While promoting the upcoming show, NBC kept referring to him as “the Beast,” a name tag he’d picked up, along with “the Screamer.” Sam already had designs on starring in feature films. Billed as the Beast or the Screamer, he feared he’d never transcend stand-up comedy. He wanted the public to just call him Sam Kinison.

When Sam found out why they kept pushing him as the Beast, he was no longer angry at NBC. He was now irked at A.P.A., his new big-time Hollywood agency. A.P.A. had sent NBC a promotional photo of him. Under Sam’s name it read in bold black letters: THE BEAST.

The Friday afternoon before the Saturday broadcast, Sam called his agent, Marty Klein, at his office on Sunset Strip. Sam had another Hollywood guy working with him, a temporary adviser named Bill Hand. On a coast-to-coast conference call, Sam complained about the head shots that called him the Beast. Klein managed to calm Sam down, but then he made a mistake. Klein told Sam not to wear his beret when he went on “S.N.L.”

Already self-conscious about his thinning hair, Sam told Marty, “Forget it.” But Sam was too embarrassed to tell Marty why.

I don’t know what Marty said next, but Sam went ballistic. “Fuck you!” he exploded. “I’m not asking you to change my image! I’m wearing the beret! And I don’t want to be advertised as the Beast! If you can’t handle that, I’ll find someone else!”

Sam listened for a moment or two, then he lost it again. “Obviously, you’re not getting the picture! When I get back on Monday, why don’t you just have my papers ready for me! Fuck you, and fuck your agency!”

Sam asked Bill Hand, who apparently hadn’t said much, “Are you jumping off the ship, too?”

Hand said yeah.

The purge unloosed, Sam slammed down the phone and called his attorney, Peter Paterno. “Hey, Peter, I just dumped Klein and Hand. Are you on the ship or not?”

Paterno told Sam that he was sticking around.

After waiting ten years for the phone call from Marty Klein, Sam fired him in four months. In part, Sam felt only he had the right to monkey around with his image. In part, he still resented the show-business establishment for taking so long to allow him into their club. In part, Sam only truly respected his fellow artists; he thought agents and managers came and went like busboys. Mostly, however, he left A.P.A. so fast because he had a war raging inside him. With Sam, the line between love and rage was very thin.

The following night, minus his prominent agent Marty Klein, Sam made pop­culture history. While other comics had hosted “S.N.L. ,” none had come on just to do stand-up. Sam opened up with a bit on the 12 disciples: “I felt sorry for the disciples, though, you know? Those guys had the toughest job in the world. They could never call in sick.” Sam mimed a disciple making a phone call, faking a nasty cough so Jesus will buy his excuse. “Yeah, listen, Jesus? Four or five of us went fishing last night, and we forgot our sweaters. We kind of got a cold, and we’re not gonna be able to walk with you to Jerusalem today.” For a few beats, the disciple listens to Jesus. “Uh, what? We’re healed? What do you mean, we’re healed? You don’t have to be here — you can send the word and we’re healed? I didn’t know that. All right, we’ll see you in about ten minutes. Come on, guys, let’s go. We’re healed!”

Using Jesus Christ as his bridge, Sam lamented mankind’s treatment of visionaries and prophets. “Seems like everybody who tries to help kind of goes that route. That’s the wonderful thing about the planet earth here: Anybody tries to change the world, we shoot ’em. ‘He’s trying to change the world-shoot him!’ Every guy, I swear to God. Look at history. Gandhi. Abraham Lincoln. Sadat. It was like, ‘Well, he was gonna bring peace to the Middle East.’ Yeah, good luck, pal. ‘Sadat, you did such a good job, we decided to have a parade for you. Make sure you wear something bright, and sit down in front, okay? This one’s for you, pal.’”

After the show, the producer Lorne Michaels invited us to a meal with the “S.N.L.” cast. Riding with Lorne in his limousine, Sam and I were impressed by his friendly but blunt-spoken manner. Sam said that Robin Williams might be meeting us at the restaurant. Lorne told Sam not to bet on it, Robin was famous for not showing up where he said he would. At the restaurant, just before Lorne stepped out of the limo, he praised Sam’s performance that night and invited him back on the show.

“This is unreal,” Sam whispered to me.

Inside, he paid his respects to the “S.N.L.” cast and to that week’s guest host, John Lithgow. Then Sam took me into the bathroom and tried to get me to do blow.

I’d first done drugs in Houston, along with Sam, at the same time he discovered them. I was 30 by then. I’d been preaching since age 19. Doing drugs was fun and strange and rebellious. It was also something to share with Sam.

In Houston I smoked pot and did an occasional Quaalude. Sam was already taking cocaine, but only rarely. I didn’t use blow myself until three or four years later, and then mostly with Sam once he’d moved to L.A. With cocaine, the innocence and fun went out of things quickly for me. Cocaine made me angry. Sometimes I used it because I was already angry. After a few years, I quit when my daughter Ginger turned one year old — not so much for her, but because I wanted a cleaner life for myself. For one whole year after that, Sam made it a personal quest to get me to backslide.

“That’s the wonderful thing about the planet Earth,” Screamed Sam. “Anybody tries to change the world — we shoot’em!”

“Just one little line,” he’d say. “It ain’t gonna hurt you, brother.”

It was awfully tempting. When Sam wanted a partying partner, he could be amazingly persuasive. But I never once buckled.

Now, at’ the New York restaurant, the bathroom was small, we were alone, and Sam locked the door behind us. Cutting lines on the counter in front of the mirror, Sam made two or three vanish, then nodded at me.

“Come on, dude, let’s celebrate,” he said, sniffing. “I just did ‘Saturday Night Live’!”

“No, Sam, I quit.”

“Quit tomorrow, man.”

“No. You can do whatever you want, but I’m not doing it with you.”

Sam kept snorting and talking. He asked me again what I thought of his new manager, Elliot Abbott. Ever since Sam moved to L.A., he’d been pushing me to become his manager. Since I still wasn’t prepared to, Sam had just hired Elliot, who came recommended to him by Lorne Michaels and Penny Marshall. After meeting one night at the Comedy Store, Penny and Sam had recently started dating. “Elliot’s fine for right now,” I said, “but I’d dump him soon. Let him do what he can for you, then get rid of him. The guy’s’ a phony.”

I’d just met Elliot that week in New York. I said something mundane, and, trying to kiss my ass so he could represent Sam, Elliot said, “Bill. What a perfect way to put that.”

From that moment on, Elliot Abbott started to lose my trust.

Back in Los Angeles that winter, Sam ended his brief affair with Penny Marshall. In perfect Hollywood style, they broke up over a movie.

While preparing to direct her first feature film — Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg — Penny had offered Sam an important supporting role. Then Penny called us back while we were in Las Vegas. She told Sam that Whoopi Goldberg had nixed him from Jumpin’ Jack Flash. When I took the phone, Penny told me the same thing. She seemed to be telling the truth, but I wasn’t angry at Whoopi. I thought she’d simply made a smart business decision. She didn’t want Sam to blow her off the big screen.

Sam took it personally. He felt back-stabbed by Whoopi and he never forgave her. Making it even more galling to him, Sam never thought Whoopi was funny. “Whoopi Goldberg,” he told a reporter for Rolling Stone, “a nation decides not to hurt somebody’s feelings.” In The Village Voice, he flippantly said he’d slap her the next time he saw her.

“Tell him to bring his fat ass to the Comedy Store,” Whoopi responded. “Let him try it there.” On “The Howard Stern Show,” she called Sam an “illiterate, impossible, talentless turd.”

Exacerbating it all was the flap over “Comic Relief.” Sam, one of America’s most popular comedians, was never invited to the comedy event of the year. He never even got asked to sit in the audience. Sam mostly blamed Whoopi for this, but when he went on “The Howard Stern Show,” he castigated them all — Whoopi, Billy Crystal, even his friend Robin Williams. If Robin had said the word, “Comic Relief” czar Bob Zmuda would have invited Sam in a heartbeat. The comedy industry knew it. Sam knew it. Famously loyal to his friends, Sam never understood why Robin didn’t go to bat for him. And even with all his other accolades, “Comic Relief” became a tremendous sore spot. Sam’s fans would ask him on the street, “How come you’re not on ‘Comic Relief’?”

After Sam split up with Penny Marshall, his next celebrity girlfriend was Beverly D’Angelo. Beverly was so strikingly pretty, without any Hollywood trickery, that Sam wasn’t even depressed when their fling ended quickly, too. He just seemed thankful it ever got started.

Seeing Sam dating Beverly D’Angelo was a bold sign in itself that his fortunes had radically changed. Shortly before they broke up, he and I had both gotten another huge indication. One night in Las Vegas, while walking along the Strip to meet Beverly at her hotel room, people kept rushing up and shouting in Sam’s face, “Oh! Oh! Aaaugh!” This took about two minutes to get unnerving, but people screamed in Sam’s face throughout his career.

As a child, Sam felt unliked and unwanted. Now that he had people to talk to and a way to express himself, he never missed his old life. Still, he was starting to see that fame could feel lonely, too.

“Being a celebrity is really strange,” he told the Los Angeles Reader that winter. “People look at you like you descended from a saucer or something, and I’m just me — the same person I’ve always been. There are times when I need to just hide out. I’ll go to a friend’s place, and we’ll unplug the phone. It’s only a couple of hours until someone tracks me down again. That’s where I got my idea for my bit on Jesus in need of a vacation. You know… he’s been the messiah for a couple of years, day after day, and he just wants to get away, just be alone somewhere, and no matter where he goes, a leper or some blind guy finds him, going, ‘Heal me! Heal me!’ What I keep in mind is, I’m doing this for a reason, a purpose. I want to say what I think.”

On January 27, 1986, just ten weeks after his first appearance, Sam played again on “Late Night With David Letterman.” That week he also debuted at Caroline’s, a prestigious comedy club in New York City. One night, with my mother and me in the crowd, an electric-haired black man stood near the back of the room yelling at Sam, “You’re a fighter! From the womb to the tomb! You’re a fighter!”

With the spotlight blinding Sam to all but the first few rows, he could only hear the man’s voice.

“From the womb to the tomb?” Sam said to the crowd. “Who is this fuckin’ guy?”

The tall-haired guy was boxing promoter Don King, who I’d recently met while preaching in Atlanta. While introducing me to Muhammad Ali, one of my idols, King had inquired about managing Sam. I thought he was just talking, but there he stood now, at Caroline’s in Manhattan, telling Sam he was a fighter, from the womb to the tomb! After the show we told King we weren’t interested. But if Don King wanted in, clearly Sam was happening.

Later that week, the astronauts died in the Challenger explosion. The gruesome network footage depressed the entire nation, including Sam, who was with me in New York. He became melancholy that evening and took cocaine. When the coke ran out, Sam wanted more. Getting desperate when he couldn’t find it, he even asked our elevator operator. Then he asked our cabbie, who said he could help.

We rode in the cab to a neighborhood in the Bronx, but it looked so forbidding that Sam was scared to get out. Instead, he gave his cash to the cabbie, who quickly ran in and back out of a grimy, two-story brick building. Sam hungrily opened the square of tin foil. The stuff was white, but it didn’t look like cocaine. To my horror and shock, Sam pulled out his coke spoon anyway.

“Hey!” I said. “Are you nuts? You don’t even know what it is. You can drop dead back here.”

Sam couldn’t hear me. His demons were screaming at him.

He’d snorted all the shit by the time we drove a few miles.

Still in New York the next night, we had our first big fight about drugs, in a small Chinese restaurant. I’d lent Sam some money a few days before, just until he got paid at the end of his week-long engagement at Caroline’s. At dinner I realized that Sam had spent it all on cocaine. When I gave him a hard time, he thought I was getting religious on him. It wasn’t that long ago that we’d snorted together.

I said, “You’re doing too much cocaine, man.”

Sam said, “I got it under control.”

I said, “How do you figure? You con me outta money, you con your mother, how do you call that under control?”

Between 1980 and 1985 — after Sam moved to L.A. but before he hit it big — our mom and her husband, A.D. Marney, sent him about $100,000. Only Sam knew how much went into his binging.

“I got it under control,” he repeated. “I can quit whenever I want to.”

“The other night — you had it under control? Cab drivers taking you places you’re afraid to get out of the cab? You got it under control, Sam?”

“You used to party with me. Now you’re on my case. Fuck you, man.”

That meant he wanted to fight, and once he got warmed up, Sam liked going all night. Normally, I’d just shut up, which would piss him off even more. This time I tore back into him. We walked out of the restaurant barely speaking.

Later that week, a few minutes after Sam got paid by Caroline’s, we were parked in a limo outside the club. Sam was straight and relaxed. We hadn’t forgotten the other night, but we’d forgiven.

Sam said, “Bill, this is amazing. I just made five grand in less than a week.”

I said, “It is amazing. I know.”

“Forget about doing crusades and everything. In church, what’s the biggest week you ever had?”

I didn’t respond. I was never quite sure what Sam might hold against me.

“Come on, man,” he pushed. “How much?”

“In church? Well, I used to go down to Jacksonville, Florida. I could usually make about seven thousand a week there.”

“Really? Do you know I never had a single year in the ministry where I made $5,000? You made more in one week in a church than I made in any year.”

“Sam dropped to his knees in front of Howard Stern. “You’re the comedy god! He’d shout. “I wanna suck your dick!”

“Well, Sam, things have turned around.”

They might have been turning too fast. Our one week in New York had felt like a month. And from that period on, New York was a hazard for Sam.

Temperamentally, Sam was probably best equipped for doing live stand-up in comedy clubs. There were no retakes, no film editors or directors to fix his mistakes. Sam went out alone, before a live audience, and he got it right the first time or else he died up there. It gave him such a rush — the risk of performing live — that Sam often talked about it in sexual terms. He said the greatest comedians, like Richard Pryor, stripped themselves naked emotionally. He said the sensation he felt performing live was “orgasmic.” When an opening comic stayed out too long, Sam jokingly called them “stage whores.”

Doing live stand-up in clubs was also about control. Sam created the material. He performed it. He had no censor to clear it with first. Up on the stage, he was omnipotent “I may not be able to be the Comedy God,” he kidded, “but I can always be comedy’s Jesus Christ.”

But Sam always dreamed big, and like Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, and Robin Williams, he wanted to make his move into movie stardom. Still, at the same time he yearned to emulate their success, he was also extremely aware of all the lousy movies that other comics were making.

Caddyshack II?” Sam told Rolling Stone. “Dan Aykroyd’s got an arrow on his ass, going, ‘Will you please suck out the poison?’ Oh, man. What the fuck is that, man?” Talking about Bob Goldthwait, Sam said, “Watching somebody you hate in a bad movie is such a high. You know they hate their lives. It’s like they’re in gay porno!” Sometimes Sam and Sly Stallone would rent movies starring Goldthwait, whom they both disliked, just so they could sit around and howl.

Sam broke into feature films on Friday, June 11, 1986, when Back to School opened in 1,605 theaters. Although excited about its release and the good industry buzz Sam had no inkling of how it would strike the public. Nobody in Hollywood ever does.

Back to School came charging out of the gate, earning $8.8 million in its opening weekend, making it the country’s No. 1 movie. When it went on to earn more than $90 million, it became one of the summer’s biggest hits. For his two days of filming in Santa Monica, Sam had been paid union scale-about $1,500. In the long run, however, we figured he made millions from Back to School. His part was small, but it gave him tremendous exposure. Even after seeing him in the movie, some still didn’t know Sam by name, but the moment someone would say “the history teacher who snaps,” there would be immediate recognition.

Rodney Dangerfield carried the picture as Thornton Melon, a wealthy clothing magnate who goes back to college to help his freshman son become a man. In his one extended cameo, Sam appears in a classroom as Professor Turgeson, a history teacher who initially seems sane. After earnestly telling the class how “sacred” he holds history, he asks if anyone knows why the United States finally pulled out of Vietnam. A prim coed answers, a bit too politically correctly. Turgeson grins at his students through gritted teeth.

“Is she right?” he asks the class. Nobody says a word.

“Because I know that’s the popular version of what went on there. I know a lot of people like to believe that. I wish I could, but I was there. I wasn’t here in a classroom, hoping I was right, thinking about it. I was up to my knees in rice paddies, with guns and ammo, going up against Charlie, slugging it out with ’em, while pussies like you… were back here partying, puttin’ headbands on, doing drugs, listening to goddamn Beatles albums! Ohhh! Augghhh!”

Rodney, playing the oldest student in class, tells Turgeson to calm down. So Turgeson poses his next question to him. Back in the Korean conflict, “how come we didn’t cross the 38th Parallel and push those rice-eaters back to the Great Wall of China … and take it apart brick by brick, and nuke them back into the fucking Stone Age forever? How come? Tell me why! Say it! Say it!”

“All right!” Melon fires back. “I’ll say it! Because Truman was too big of a pussy-wimp to let MacArthur go in there and blow out those commie bastards!”

Turgeson suddenly mellows. “Good answer. Good answer. I like the way you think. I’m gonna be watching you.”

On October 18, Sam made his fourth appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” This was the show for which he was censored on the West Coast, then apparently banned from NBC for life. When the network backed down, and Sam guest-hosted “S.N.L.” just one month later, he demanded that the porn star Seka join him onstage for the opening bit. This would serve Sam two purposes. On national television, it would underline his image as an outlaw. And it might get Seka to sleep with him.

They’d met just a few weeks before doing “Saturday Night,” backstage at Sam’s show at Chicago’s Vic Theater. They only traded phone numbers, but after their “S.N.L.” gig, he invited her to meet us in southern Florida, where the next day we’d board a plane for a brief trip to the Bahamas. Once Seka accepted, Sam strutted around making jokes in a deep macho voice: “She’s been with Johnny Wadd Holmes, now she wants me.”

Before leaving Florida, however, Sam bought some acid. Beneath his boasting and kidding, he was worried about having sex with the queen of porn. Seka had been with Johnny Holmes. To even remotely impress her, Sam felt he had only one chance: Drop the acid and just go nuts.

From his one night with Seka in the Bahamas, Sam etched a routine. Without using her name, he warned his crowds of the perils of taking acid before making love. According to Sam, he and his partner were all alone on a pristine tropical beach. They kissed, they touched, they got all heated up. Just as Sam positioned himself to perform oral sex, the acid kicked in. And Sam started getting all spiritual.

“You’re down there, you’re staring right at it, and then you go… wait a minute…. Wait a minute! This is the center of all creation? This is the cradle of life? Man, it’s not even a pussy anymore. This is where life begins! This is where life begins! Oh! Oh! Aauggh!”

Even had Sam made it up, I thought it would have been funny. But he swore it was all true. Sam took such a strange trip, he said he never had sex with Seka. He also said she got furious.

They were still fighting back at the airport in Florida, as we were continuing on to another show and Seka was getting ready to step on a plane back home.

“Fuck you!” Seka shouted at Sam. “I don’t ever wanna see you again!”

Sam said, “Yeah? When I wanna see you, I’ll take a buncha quarters out to a peep show!”

One month after it started, the Seka era had ended.

One night that winter! I flew on a red-eye with Sam from L.A. to New York. The whole way across, Sam fretted about Howard Stern. About to debut on Howard’s show in the morning, Sam thought it could be vital to his career. Already strong out west, Sam wanted to build his East Coast following. Howard — on his way to becoming a national star — was already huge in the East.

Sam and Howard had never met. All Sam knew about him was what other comedians told him. Barring a few exceptions, mostly Richard Belzer and David Brenner, Howard disliked having comedians on his show. The few times he did, Howard said they just came on and did shtick. Also, if Howard considered his guest a jerk, he might go after him right over the airwaves.

Just before we landed at JFK, Sam finally made up his mind. “I’m gonna give it up to him,” he said. “I’m gonna let Stern be the guy.”

I was surprised. Around his comedy peers, Sam never shrank into the background. He was usually riffing the loudest.

He stuck with his plan, though. Sam schmoozed Howard that morning and let him maintain control. They connected immediately, turned into dear friends, and appearing on Howard’s show became one of the joys of Sam’s life. Sam considered Howard the “god of radio” — the best radio artist who ever lived. Sam also admired in Howard what he saw in himself: a quicksilver comic mind, a desire to walk the edge, a willingness to piss off both liberals and conservatives. Since Sam partied and Howard was straight, they didn’t socialize much; their relationship was mostly on the air. But a few times, Howard had Sam to his house on Long Island for dinner with his wife and daughters, and Sam really enjoyed that. In a business of phony friendships, Sam felt his and Howard’s was set in stone.

On his radio show, Howard loved Sam’s honesty and openness. At the slightest prodding, Sam would tell Howard stories about having three-way sex with two women. “What a life you’re having,” Howard the married man would always tell Sam. Or else Howard, knowing that Sam was already feuding with them, would mention another comic like Bob Goldthwait or Whoopi Goldberg. After Sam went off like a rocket, Howard would say, “Oh, Sam. Sam, hey! Don’t say that, man! You can’t say that on radio.” Sam always told Howard after the show, “Man, we have great radio.”

Sometimes, when Sam hadn’t seen him in a while, he would drop to his knees in front of Howard. “I bow before you!” he’d shout. “You’re the comedy god, you’re my hero, I wanna suck your dick!”

Sam was clever that way. Even while paying homage to Howard, Sam was the one on his knees, shouting “I wanna suck your dick!” and getting the laugh.

In October, feeling burnt out after 17 years in the ministry, I finally accepted Sam’s offer to be his manager. Though my wife Sherry was pleased about leaving the midwestern winters, she had mixed feelings about my working for Sam. Sherry met Sam and me when we were all teenagers. She knew how devoted we were to each other, even when we were fighting. But she also understood how starkly our roles had reversed. In sports, in school, in the evangelical field, Sam was always known as “Bill Kinison’s brother.” I was walking in his shadow now. By the time I joined him that winter, Sam’s popularity had soared. He was now playing to crowds of up to 2,000. He’d just rented his first customized tour bus. He’d assembled a small entourage.

That’s where we clashed. Rather than sticking to our agreement and making me his manager, Sam informed me that I would be his “adviser.” That meant I ranked fourth in his chain of command — beneath his manager, Elliot Abbott; his booking agent, Liz Rush; and his thuggish head of security, Bob Suszynski. It also meant I got the task of unloading the tour bus.

“I want you to learn the ropes,” Sam told me when I confronted him. “Elliot says this stuff is complicated.”

“The guy has you totally snowed,” I replied. “You think there’s some magic to this business? You’re on top, man. People will do whatever you want.”

“Just give me some time,” Sam said. “Then it’ll be you and me. I promise, we’ll be the guys. We’re gonna run the fuckin’ industry.”

That usually pacified me until Sam would start feeling entitled to boss me around. Though his entourage would keep swelling and swelling, he’d already surrounded himself with sycophants and toadies. Sam expected me, like Elliot, Liz, and Bob, to jump at his every command. But I didn’t give a shit if I got fired, and when I was told to fulfill what I thought was a menial errand, I told Sam, “Get off your ass and do it yourself. That wasn’t part of our deal.”

As his ego grew, as people who once ignored him now lined up to kiss his ass, Sam wasn’t used to being told no. When he heard it from me, he sometimes retaliated by embarrassing me during his show.

“My brother went to college,” he’d tell his crowd from up on the stage, where Sam always had bigger balls. “I don’t even have a high school education. Now my brother works for me.”

In April 1992, Sam was killed suddenly in a terrible car accident, driving from California to Nevada. I was in another car, and I rushed to where Sam’s vehicle lay smashed on the side of the desert. Still conscious, he was lying between the two bucket seats with his head almost in the back. He hadn’t been wearing his seat belt.

The only blood I could see, at the corner of his lips, made it appear as if he had bitten his tongue. On his forehead he also had three fingernail-like scratches. My first thought was, He’s hurt, but he’ll be okay.

Then I heard Sam speak. “Why?” he asked. “Why now?”

As I tried to call for help from the phone in my van, two friends rushed up, and they carefully helped him out of the car and laid him on the ground. Sam said again, “Why now?”

Then he said, “I don’t want to die.”

I said, “Sam, you’ll be okay.”

He said more softly, “Why?”

I ran back to my van and tried my mobile phone again. And then I knew Sam had stopped breathing.

For many weeks afterward, I couldn’t stop replaying the accident in my mind. I am still haunted by witnessing my brother’s death. I always will be.

Some days I miss Sam so badly I weep. Some days I find comfort in pictures of him. In one of my favorites, our parents aren’t divorced yet. Bending down to pat his skinny dog, Sam is grinning shyly at the camera. It is 1958 or 1959, and nobody dreams that he will be famous one day. No one has called him the Screamer… a brave man… a loser… generous… a prick… the most controversial comic of his generation… an American original.

Sam is still a little boy petting his dog. Sam is home.

As one might imagine, many, many tales and tributes exist on the web for a character as colorful as Sam Kinison. Whether or not in our current social climate people can even allow themselves to appreciate Sam, you can definitely appreciate the courage to take the road less traveled. Of course one could easily see that road as idiotic and dangerous too. So there’s that. One person’s prophet…

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