sam kinison photo

Sam Kinison: The Last Laugh

By Laurel Fishman
Originally printed in Rip
October 1992

One evening soon after Sam Kinison’s tragic death in a senseless auto accident, the marquees of every nightclub on the Sunset Strip blazed with farewell messages in memory of the fun loving evangelist-turned comedian. It was only right, as Sam lived to rock as mush as shock. His friends and confidantes, the rockers who performed, hung out and starred with him in his videos, will always remember Sam as a one-of-a-kind, truly individual and irreplaceable presence. The public Sam was outrageous, controversial, outspoken, loud and always larger than life. In private, the man who became an ordained minister at 18 revealed a more thoughtful, kind and playful side. He was gracious with his time and hospitality; a compassionate soul who was as ready to lend a sympathetic ear as he was to party with the heartiest.

Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo, one of Sam’s closest musical buds, recently took some time to look on his adventures with the funnyman. It was Randy who shared Sam’s final days, his idyllic honeymoon in Kona, Hawaii. During that trip, the two became closer than ever, sipping tropical drinks and talking, says Randy, “about life and death. We has the time of our lives. I got the last photo of Sam ever, and it’s a really eerie picture. We had a villa overlooking the ocean, and he’s standing there as the sun’s going down. It’s a silhouette of him looking at his watch, almost as if to say, ‘There’s not a lot of time left.’” As the two watched the sun set, Sam told Randy, “This is heaven. This is where all your friends go when they die.”

“Those last days were like a gift, really magical,” Randy reflects. “We laughed and laid on the beach. I woke up one day when we were there, and he wasn’t around. He came back an hour later with the weirdest stuff – Addams Family cereal, a bunch of kids toys – just dumb things. He was like a little Santa Claus. Robin Williams described him perfectly at the services. He said, ‘Sam Kinison was the antichrist you wanted to cuddle.’ Everybody laughed. That’s the way Sam would have wanted it.”

Playing shows with Sam was a blast, Randy says. “He was such a magnet for people. You could have any rock star around him, and he’s be the center of attention. The guy knew how to work a room.”

Randy describes the off-stage Sam Kinison as a “gentle, beautiful, sharing, caring kind of guy.” He was so generous, Randy says, that “he would never let me pick up tabs. Never. Sometimes I’d have to sneak off and pay the waiter! He was big because he has a big heart, and his body had to contain all of it. I’m gonna miss him as long as I live. There’s a big, empty space only he could fill. Right now I think Sam’s in Hawaii, his favorite place, his version of heaven. Sam’s still on the stage, and he’s everybody up there!”

“Sam became a very dear friend to me while we were doing ‘Wild Thing,’” says ex-Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille, another of Sam’s friends. “I’ve always believed in God, but I was always confused about religion. Sam made sense when he’d talk about spirituality. He was such a sweet and gentle man.”

One of C.C.’s favorite Sam stories happened when Sam took him out to dinner once. “We went to Spago,” C.C. says. “In a restaurant like that there are, like, five forks and knives and a little spoon and a big spoon. I was very embarrassed because I didn’t know the order in which you pick up the cutlery to eat your meal. I was thinking, If I pick up the wrong one, people will think I’m an idiot. So I quietly go, ‘Sam, what fork do I use?’ He goes, ‘With the prices they charge here, you and use your hands! But,’ he continues, ‘You normally go from the outside in.’ Not only did he zap it to me, but he zapped it to the restaurant in true Kinison style!”

C.C.’s most treasured memory is the time Sam told him, “My father’s dead, and I have no choice. I can’t go see him. Your mother and father are still alive, and you have the opportunity to see them. Nothing lasts forever. While you have the time, grab it.”

“Sam was a mentor to me,” C.C. says. “There is no handbook on how to handle becoming famous, how to behave when suddenly people are treating you differently. Sam taught me to have a little class. When you’re in the public eye, people only get to see a certain side of you. With Sam, being a comic was the thinnest slice of a big pizza. He was intelligent. He’s make you think; he’d scare the shit out of you. It seems like someone put 500 years of wisdom in this man’s body. With us, it was like a senior/junior thing. I knew he loved me, but he knew I was learning from him.”

C.C. recalls how Sam could walk into a restaurant, and “everyone just became Sam and would yell ‘Hey, Sam!!’ The decibel level would be like the Los Angeles airport! Sam had that thing. He had an aura that got there 20 minutes before he did! We would jam at Spice [a nightclub in Hollywood] all the time, and Sam would intentionally go on out of tune, just to frustrate the other musicians! Sam was a great piano player too. He loved Paul McCartney, and no one could do Paul like Sam could. He’s sing and play and, I swear, something came over him.”

C.C. calls Sam a “genius comedian who raised issues. How he made humor of those issues was his genius. There was always a message. He would attack things other people wouldn’t, things other people were scared to talk about.”

“He’s with me now, I know it,” C. C. concludes. “I know Sam’s out there trying to guide me and make sure I do good. I love him. I will miss him dearly. I was just a kid, and he was the guy who taught me what fork to use!”

“Sam offended a lot of people,” says Ozzy Osbourne, the judge in Sam’s “Under My Thumb” video. “With entertainment, you’ll make people happy, and you’ll also make people pissed off. Sam Kinison was kinda like the Ozzy Osbourne of the comic world. He was nothing but a gentleman though. We had many good times. Sam was a man with a big heart. He was a teddy bear, a big naughty kid. I’d say, ‘Sam, c’mon, I’m not on welfare, let me buy a drink.’ But he’d say ‘No, no, no, I’ll get this.’ He’d never let me buy a drink. He was great, one of the guys, you know. But, boy, when he partied, he partied! I still can’t believe that he’s gone. It’s, ‘I’m gonna wake up in a minute. I’m dreaming this. ‘ But I have great memories.”

“Apparently when Sam had the accident, I heard he got out of the car and look up to the heavens and said, ‘I don’t want to die,’ and then just said, ‘Oh, okay,’ and laid down and died. It sounds crazy and will probably offend a lot of my fans, but I believe there’s a higher power. Some people may think Sam Kinison’s in one place, but I know where he is: He’s upstairs; he’s next to God.”

Fred Coury (ex-Cinderella drummer) and Stephen Pearcy (ex-Ratt singer), now playing together in a band called Taboo, worked with Sam live and on video. “Sam was the kind of guy you met and felt like you had known for a long time,” says Fred. “So much with Sam was so funny. It’s easier to say what wasn’t funny about the guy! One time we were playing at the Universal Amphitheater [in L.A.]. Joe Walsh was there, and all these people. We were doing this jam, everyone was getting into it, and Sam yells into the mic, ‘Everybody solo!’ There were, like, 12 guitar players, and they all started soloing at once. It was just the most ridiculous thing you ever heard in your life! It was terrible, but so funny that I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t play!”

“You could talk to Sam about anything, really, and even if his answer was a funny one, it would get the point across and make you feel better. He cared about people. No matter who it was, he’s take the time to say hello. I never, ever had a bad time with Sam. It’s an amazingly great loss; but to me, it seems like a friend who moved away that I won’t see. I just can’t think of him any other way. It really just wouldn’t be right if I did.”

Remembering Sam’s star-studded “Wild Thing” video shoot, Stephen says, “The guy was cracking jokes and rolling all over the floor with Jessica Hahn and making fun of the whole situation. Everybody was laughing. To have that many people under one roof – Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Warren DeMartini, Slash, Billy Idol, Dweezil – that was memorable. Sam’s the only person who could bring that many rock ‘n’ roll people together to have a party at a video!”

Dweezil Zappa shared a mutually supportive relationship with Sam. “I remember we were in Vancouver one time for a charity softball game,” he says. “Sam was the umpire. It was the celebrity team versus the charity supporters of the event, and we were winning the game by a bunch of points. Sam made continuous bogus calls so the other team could not only catch up to us, but beat us! You’d go up to bat, and he’s look at you and say, ‘You’re out!’ You couldn’t argue with him, ’cause he had the loudest mouth!”

“I got invited to do a show with him not long before his accident. I wasn’t able to do it, and it never occurred to me that I’d never see him again. You never know when you could lose a friend in your life. Sam was a sweetheart. At times, he had material that made people uncomfortable, but everyone has a choice to listen or not. Sam would be having a helluva time with the next couple of years in America, with the decline of civilization! He had a hysterical perspective on things, especially human nature.”

Lita Ford played last year’s New Year’s Eve show with Sam at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. “When Sam wasn’t cracking jokes, he was so incredibly nice,” she remembers. “That’s one thing that really surprised me when I met him. Some of his jokes were so rude, but he was warm, down-to-earth, caring, full of compliments. He did things that most people would never do. His brother told me he gave some poor people money once when he didn’t have the money himself.”

Lita was also impressed with how family-oriented Sam was. “That shows what kind of person he was,” she says. “He always traveled with his brother Bill. At the Aladdin, his mom was there too. His family was there the whole time.”

Lita was nervous about attending Sam’s memorial service, because she didn’t know what to expect. “There were cameras all over the place, and loads of people,” she says. “Everyone was trying to hold back their tears. Robin Williams gets up and says, ‘I know you’re all just waitin’ for that coffin to pop open and Sam to jump out ad go, “A-A-AOW!” ‘ Everyone started laughin’ and cryin’. It was a really funny, happy, warm, friendly sort of service, full of tears and laughter. Everybody joked and told personal experiences they’s had with Sam. When his sister sang some gospel music, it was really neat. Sam had a whole other side to him. He was a preacher from Oklahoma, and he was that rock ‘n’ roll bad boy.”

Rock ‘n’ roll bad boy, genius comedian, gentleman, mentor. A magnet, a sweetheart, a teddy bear, a big naughty kid. The antichrist that you wanted to cuddle. Take your pick. Sam Kinison was all of these , and so much, much more.