Cresthill Days

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Anyone who worked LA’s Comedy Store in the late 80’s was witness to the continual rising and falling of the career and genius that was Sam Kinison. The fact that today (though it’s now April 11 in London) marks the 22nd anniversary of his death in a car crash on Highway 395 in Nevada reminds me again of possibly the most brilliant and sickest comic mind I ever got to witness from such close quarters. I had made closer allegiances among show biz people, but to know this man, and to know that what people saw onstage wasn’t that far removed from how he was the remaining 23 hours of the day (though he sometimes would be going for 72-hour stretches if his suppliers were doing their job), becomes reason number 5000 or so of why I love my career choice.

Where most of us really got to know Sam was at a house on Cresthill Drive, just around the corner and up the hill from Sunset Blvd. and the Comedy Store. The club’s owner Mitzi Shore had bought the multi-story house in the early 1980’s and primarily used it for lodging for some of the up and coming comics. In 1987, however, Sam more or less appropriated it as the party house where he’d hold court after the club closed with usually 10 or 15 cohorts, and of course a seemingly endless supply of snortables. He did have his own home in the Hollywood Hills where he could have had these parties, but it was obviously more convenient to meet at Cresthill.

The parties would completely disregard the fact that other people lived there and might actually want to go to sleep, but then quite often the tenants just made arrangements to be elsewhere if they saw an impending party. These parties not only involved getting massively high, but also music jamming at Spinal Tap volume. (One time Eric Clapton was there to jam, though I missed that one because at the time I was on Sam’s shit list, sort of a rite of passage for anyone who got close to him.) Usually, things would break up around sunrise, and Sam would just crash on a couch. I once went by there in mid-afternoon, and saw him crashed out on a chair next to the dining room table, mouth wide open with snoring that could be heard in the next ZIP code. I saw him perform at the club that night, where he went on for an hour and got a standing ovation, while likely repeating the drug and drink cycle from the day before.

It was a fun few months, and because the economy was up, most of us were working fairly steadily and making decent money, so we could afford to have drug habits. Thankfully, in my own experience, it never became a full-on habit, but it was certainly something I didn’t distance myself from either. Two things that kept me from getting too heavily into it were 1) being on the road a lot, and 2) having a girlfriend (later my second wife) who’d conquered her addictions years before, and though she could be with me when I got high, she preferred me when I wasn’t. After a while, so did I.

All good things had to come to an end, and I was witness to the beginning of that. On one particular night, Sam was so completely out of control, it seemed the only thing on his mind was vengeance. He was experiencing the paranoia that frequently enters the mind of the celebrity, and was convinced that everyone just wanted him for his fame and his drugs. He decided there were a few people he needed to settle some kind of score with, and they happened to be tenants at the Cresthill house. Since neither of them were there, Sam decided to go into their respective bedrooms and urinate on their beds, a despicable act no matter how you look at it. I went home as this was going on, and the next day I’d heard he’d also gotten in a fight with one of the other hangers-on that had done nothing especially wrong, but was just handily there. Had I stayed, I might have been the target, as I’d find out later he was mad at me for telling him in so many words that, yeah, a lot of these sycophants ARE hanging around him just for the drugs.

Cresthill became off limits after the golden shower incident, and Mitzi actually turned it briefly into a drug-rehab house. By the early 90’s it was occupied by her son Pauly, who was becoming successful enough in his own right to afford to buy the place for himself. However, Sam had decided that his real enemy was Mitzi and the Comedy Store, as he was banned from the club for several years. He got some revenge by getting billboard space right across from the club to promote his latest album. It meant that for about a month, Mitzi had to see Sam’s larger than life image screaming at her whenever she drove out of the club.

By 1992, Sam had experienced enough ups and downs to finally renounce cocaine, deciding to limit himself to just smoking cannabis, and also giving up alcohol. Though few really believed he was on the straight and narrow, he could at least get an A for effort. The last time I saw him was about a month before he was to get married for the third time. He was at the Store, where he’d patched up his differences with Mitzi, and it was really encouraging to see the changes. I also found it funny that he was drinking Diet Coke, certainly a different brand of Coke than I was used to seeing him endorse. Overall, he was a joy to hang out with. It was more than ironic, too, that his fatal car crash would involve a drunk driver.

I didn’t find out about his death until the morning after it happened, as it occurred late on a Friday, and I wasn’t working at the Store that night when the news came in close to midnight. I was told by an ex-girlfriend who called to tell me. I worked the Store that night, and there were TV crews asking comics their thoughts about him. They asked me, and I thought I gave a pretty succinct analysis on Sam’s brilliance and influence, but they chose to run some hack comic who happened to be fairly famous doing some trite “Sam, we’re gonna miss you buddy, God bless you,” nonsense, like they were best of pals. Sam probably would have ripped this guy a new one had he been able.

It’s amazing that it’s been 22 years since his death, yet so much of what he did and said remains poignant, funny, and timeless. Some of it is incredibly politically incorrect, but he was never afraid to go to there. His best material survives on YouTube, another reason to be glad such a thing was invented. I still use him as the yardstick, as in “You think that’s funny, well here’s what Sam Kinison did!” That he liked ME and my solo act, and was a bona fide fan of the Rick & Ruby act was an honor, to say the very least. To be his friend was even better.

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