Los Angeles Times News Service
Originally printed in The Palm Beach Post
April 11, 1992
The former preacher had just started living a ‘clean life’ when he collided with teens who were drinking and driving.
NEEDLES, Calif. — They were the kind of kids to whom comedian Sam Kinison’s bellowing stage persona often was said to appeal — two young men, in their late teens, drinking and driving fast on a Friday night.
The cab of their Chevrolet pickup was littered with beer cans as they tore down U.S. highway 95, swerving into oncoming traffic near the California-Nevada border. Moments after hitting Kinison’s Pontiac Trans-Am head-on, fatally injuring the comedian and knocking his new wife unconscious, one of the teenagers said: “God! Look at my truck!”
On Saturday, Kinison’s friends said they could not believe how he had died. The 38-year-old comedian, who made his reputation as a hard-drinking, loud-mouthed wild man, had just returned from his Hawaii honeymoon with Malika, 26, the Las Vegas dancer he had married a week ago Sunday. He was settling down, friends said, sobering up and trying to “come into the mainstream.”When he died, he was on his way to a sold-out show in Laughlin, Nev.
“I can’t accept it,” comedian Richard Belzer, an old friend said of Kinison’s death. “Especially the fact that he was not doing anything wrong. He was going to a job. His wife was in the car. It wasn’t a drug overdose. I wasn’t self-indulgence. He was living a clean life.”
Immediately after the crash about 7:30 p.m. Friday, Kinison at first appeared fine, said friends who watched the crash from a second car. With only minor cuts on his lips and forehead, he wrenched himself free of his mangled vehicle and lay down only after friends begged him to do so.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die,’” recounted his best friend, Carl LaBove, who held Kinison’s bleeding head in his hands.
Kinison paused, as if listening to a voice that couldn’t be heard, LaBove said.
“But why?” asked Kinison, a former Pentecostal preacher. It sounded, LaBove said, as if “he was having a conversation, talking to somebody else. He was talking upstairs. Then I heard him go, ‘OK, OK, OK.”The last “OK” was so soft and at peace… whatever voice was talking to him gave him the right answer, and he just relaxed with it. He said it so sweet, like he was talking to someone he loved.”
Kinison, who police say was not wearing a seat belt, died at the scene, apparently of massive head injuries sustained when he hit the windshield. An autopsy is planned.
Authorities did not release the name of the Las Vegas teenager who was driving the pickup, but California Highway Patrol dispatcher Tine Schmitt said he was being charged with felony manslaughter.
Schmitt said the driver sustained moderate injuries while his passenger, also a juvenile, was more seriously hurt. Malika Kinison was in stable condition Saturday at the Needles Desert Community Hospital.
Friends described Kinison as a warm man, generous to a fault — a description that seemed at odds with his brazen brand of humor.