Here's to ol' Spuds: With sudden fame, trouble was brewing

MIKE LITTWIN

October 11, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Spuds MacKenzie is dead. And now, inevitably, things will start to get ugly.

You'll learn "the truth" about Spuds.

The tabloids -- print and television, both -- will be all over this one, like fleas on a hound. People magazine will tell you that Spuds spent a few wonderful months with the late Raymond Burr and try to make it sound like something dirty.

The sleazemeisters wait until the great ones are dead, and then they feed off them.

It makes me ashamed when we're talking about what I think we can all agree was a great American dog. Tell me whose life wasn't made better by having known this pooch?

And so, I will try to set the record straight.

Yes, Spuds was female. That much is true. A pedigreed bull terrier, her real name was Honey Tree Evil Eye, Evie for short. One day, her agent, in a reverse Tootsie deal, told her that only guy dogs make it in this business.

The agent didn't stop there. You know that famous brown mark surrounding Spuds' left eye? The look is a cross between Gorbachev and the guy with the patch in the Hathaway ads. That was a paint job, apparently designed to make her look more like a him. And so, Spuds MacKenzie, cross dresser, was born.

We think of Spuds as an overnight sensation. Of course, it's never that way. Before Bud Light, Spuds did a little of this and HTC little of that, anything to put kibble on the floor. I know she did some dinner theater. She used to talk about having played Rosalind in an all-dog version of "As You Like It." Once, when work wasn't coming in, she actually had to pose for one of those dog-playing-poker pictures.

Finally, she got her break, at the '87 Super Bowl, and life would never be the same. But there was a cost. Isn't there always?

Spuds once told me how degrading it was, as a female, to always be surrounded by Anita Ekberg look-alikes dressed in bikinis while she had to pretend to drool. It made little Evie nuts. Her exact words -- I'll never forget them as long as I live -- were "woof, woof, woof." It breaks your heart.

Once she got the job, though, she played it to the hilt. She was a pro, little Evie. A real trouper, she tirelessly toured the country, making friends wherever she went. Many people thought there must have been more than one Spuds. It was just her. She also did her own stunts. She took great pride in that.

Soon, she was up there in the dog pantheon, alongside Rin Tin Tin and Lassie and Toto.

Of course, when you get that big, the rumors start. There was the ridiculous one about her and Woody Allen. Yes, she was not quite 10 when she died, but that's nearly 60 in people years -- way too old for the Woodman.

For the record, Spuds had nothing to do with Heidi Fleiss. Never even met her. I don't even want to get into what I've heard about Burt and Loni and Spuds, except to say it was all lies. Of course, it's hard to know what to believe anymore, now that Joey Buttafuoco admits he and Amy actually were involved. Was I the only one who believed Joey?

I'm sure you heard the reports about Spuds as a party animal, an Ed McMahon on a leash. The commercials weren't real, folks. Spuds hated light beer, as most of us do. She would drink a little wine over dinner. And on nights when she got really crazy, she might have a single Scotch with a bowl-of-water chaser. Sure, that changed later, but with her life, you can understand why.

There were only about two good years, and then the account was finished. Spuds was typecast, and the work got slow. Most of the calls for beer commercials seemed to be for people.

And there were other, younger, hotter dogs. You know how it goes, like in the song: They'll never forget you 'til somebody new comes along. Soon it was all Benji this and Beethoven that and nobody was talking Spuds.

The beginning of the end came when she auditioned for a touring company of "Cats" and was turned down. That's when she started drinking. It got so bad she'd even drink out of the toilet bowl. And you began hearing rumors that Spuds had died, usually something involving a hot tub and flea powder. Or was that Elvis?

Anyway, the rumors were true. She died last May of kidney failure at her suburban Chicago home. The family was able to keep it quiet until the news broke late last week. She lived a full life. Her only regret, she once told me, was that she never got the chance to direct.

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