HOLLYWOOD—Kevin had found the Jesus thing by happy accident. This robe got a rise out of people and he gladly embraced his resemblance to the popular notion of Jesus. The qualities were in him, as his friend and neighbor Brian Hamilton observed, “He put on the robe and somehow grew into it.” It changed him subtly, but changed him nonetheless. You could see it in his eyes, they a deep mellow glow. As his forays into this 200-square mile city increased, Kevin had seen so much of humanity, simply wandering the streets from Boyle Heights to Compton and Brentwood. He saw the reverence; he saw the belligerence. Rarely but scarily. “Jesus was not white!” someone shouted. Others bowed with devotion and the tears sprang to their eyes.
Kevin was an example of giving greatly, though he himself did not have a lot. He often chose stand-up comedians and creatives for whom his acts of kindness made a big difference. And those he had helped and who had moved up in the world, he’d say “Take it, and if you don’t need it, give it to someone else.” He was giving the good feeling of giving to others.
People got the wrong idea from the vintage Mercedes he had that had been parked in his apartment building garage for 15 years. It contributed to the image he was loaded. Not so. He was looking for an agent and the next big earthly thing. His apartment was very austere. I got to visit it when we used it to record a video of one of my comic essays. I remember spare art of black and silver surfaces.
His last year Kevin was working to get the old parked car re-registered and re-insured, and he was planning to re-do the damaged upholstery with sarapes full of the intense colors like those of the rainbow Jesus, that so represented Kevin’s inclusiveness. The astounding cost of operating a car was painfully clear of him.
When he first went to the Chinese Theater in the robe, someone gave him money for a photo. He said it felt terrible. Never did he do it again. He received something now and then for the music videos and sketches, sometimes raunchy for his taste, sometimes witty, And there was talk of films. His legacy is in the many photographs that preserve moments of goofiness and serenity and stitch together the myriad life in the megalopolis. The images are poignant, touching—so delicate only the camera had time to witness and preserve them
One night Kevin invited me to a concert by Tony Clifton at the Comedy Store. Kevin’s dad came. He seemed kind of disbelieving and wondering what kind of world he was in with his be-robed son, treated here like royalty, and seeing fictional lounge lizard singer created by Andy Kaufman and continued by Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s partner. It started around 10 p.m. and went on until 2 a.m. The musicians were tremendous. The horns were burning it up and schlocky brocade tuxedoed Zmuda/Tony was belting it out. Over the course of that long concert, Tony edged Zmuda from the realm of put-on to being the real deal. The sentiment, Doing “Rhinestone Cowboy “ like 20 times reached Nirvana. Tony Clifton became the greatest entertainer.
Afterward, Kevin’s dad was pretty anxious to get back home to Pasadena. We said good night and he gunned his car down Fountain and turned onto Fairfax. At the tribute in West Hollywood Park Kevin’s dad was there. He told me how everything had felt like a knot, in the days after his son died during the few weeks they withheld news of Kevin’s death, so they could have a quiet Christmas. And then after he came out January 4th, he started reading the messages from people and seeing how much his son had meant to them. Telling me this, his whole posture relaxed, the uptightness I remember from the Comedy Store had melted.
Gosh, it’s something I wish I could tell Kevin about.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (on Amazon).