Sam Kinison's road to self-destruction

June 27, 1994|By Kasey Jones | Kasey Jones,Sun Staff Writer

You've read this stuff before. Young man has a talent, struggles to get fame and recognition, hits the big time, uses the obscene amount of money he's making to indulge his insatiable appetite for drugs and women, and, to no one's surprise, self-destructs.

Sam Kinison was the son of a minister who turned from preaching religion to preaching (actually screaming) comedy. His signature "Oh! OHHHHHHHHH!" became the battle cry for many.

When I first saw Sam Kinison on an HBO special, I found him to be funny, in a manic kind of way. I still have his first album, "Louder Than Hell."

But his routine degenerated into misogynistic, gay-bashing rantings, and he ceased to be amusing to most grown-ups.

Mr. Kinison's career careened along in a sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll-fueled madness. He had a brilliant cameo in "Back to School," yet never appeared in another movie. He was indulged by David Letterman on his talk show, yet nearly destroyed that relationship by performing on one show smashed out of his mind, mumbling about a sexual stimulant. He made mind-boggling amounts of money, yet died $1 million in debt.

His older brother Bill worked as his manager, and this biography, while showing Sam's warts and all, is a little too forgiving. Bill was a preacher, too, so perhaps that can be expected.

Sam Kinison came up through comedy's school of hard knocks. He started performing during open-mike nights at comedy clubs and gained a great deal of notice in Texas. Then he moved to Los Angeles.

There, predictably, Sam Kinison's ascension to stardom was matched by his descent into drug and alcohol abuse. According to Bill Kinison, his younger brother spent virtually every moment of nearly a decade high, getting high, or hung over.

Bill Kinison, for his part, portrays himself as a poster boy for co-dependency. As Sam's manager, he bailed him out of numerous scrapes and even told a police officer that some marijuana found in Sam's luggage was his. For his trouble, Bill nearly want to jail and spent months in rehab, even though he had been clean for years. Bill Kinison also said that he did phone interviews with journalists, pretending to be Sam, whenever Sam was wasted or just couldn't be bothered.

Sam Kinison's self-destructiveness was also evident in his relationships with women. He was married three times and always had strippers and other women with him on tour. He had an affair with his fiancee's younger sister while both were on the road with him. He had a truly bizarre relationship with Jessica Hahn, which involved almost no sex, but a lot of anger.

Sam Kinison was killed in April 1992 when a car he was driving was struck head-on by a truck, driven by a teen-ager who had been drinking, that crossed the center line on a highway near Needles, Calif. While the accident certainly was not Kinison's fault, an autopsy showed traces of marijuana, cocaine, codeine, Xanax and Valium in his body.

Bill Kinison misses a couple of points in this biography. Sam Kinison was far from the comedic genius Bill portrays him to be. He was, at best, a flavor of the month who stayed around a little longer than the "use by" date. He was never in the same class as Robin Williams, Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy, although Bill contends he was their equal.

Bill Kinison is also too quick to blame the media and Hollywood for Sam's many missed career opportunities. Any and all failures in Sam Kinison's career were caused by his drug abuse and nothing else.

While Bill Kinison doesn't glorify Sam's addictions, he excuses them too easily, saying that Sam never got over their brother Kevin's suicide and other painful events in his life. Bill Kinison, truly his brother's keeper, also enabled much of Sam's abuse to take place and gave it his tacit approval by continuing to work for him. It apparently never occurred to Bill that, he, too, needed help.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Brother Sam"

Author: Bill Kinison with Steve Delsohn

Publisher: Morrow

Length, price: 315 pages, $22

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