Sam Kinison was loud, foul, and angry. Boy, was he angry. But those who know his backstory will understand why. After all, the guy was hit by a truck at age three, partly brain-damaged, “abandoned” by his dad and brother at age 11, and suffered two disastrous marriages. And that’s not even half of it.
Kinison was a rockstar comic who lived life, unapologetically, on edge. The man who went from driving audiences out the door to earning standing ovations as he walked on the stage, Sam Kinison, was a comic you either loved or hated. Regardless of where you lie, the man has one heck of a story. This is the wild ride of the comic, who both lived and died in the fast lane.
Life and Death in the Fast Lane
For many comedians, tragedy and comedy tend to be part of the same package. And in more ways than one, Kinison’s life screamed sadness. His life was a mess… and it was funny. The sad/funny thing is, his life came full circle when he died.
You see, he was only three years old when he was hit by a truck – an accident that left him with permanent brain damage. Thirty-five years later, he was hit again, this time in a fatal car crash. The man lived for 38 years, and in between those fateful accidents, Sam Kinison lived in the fast lane.
After all, what’s comedy without a bit of tragedy, right?
Comedy, Coke, and Fearlessness
If there was a time to be loud and proud, it was the ‘80s. The decade was the perfect time for Kinison to scream his sermons on stage for the crowds (high on all kinds of stuff – from you-know-what to the comedy itself to hairspray) to go wild. The late comic lived life on the edge. Just ask another late comic…
“[He] was absolutely fearless… Most people go to the edge and then stop. Not Sam. He’d see the edge and then just keep going. And I think that scream he was famous for was just the sound he made on the way down,” Robin Williams said about Kinison.
The King of Hate Comedy Was a Preacher
Kinison took the “comedy of hate” to the masses, commanded the stage like a rock star, and people just ate it up. The “white Richard Pryor” who inspired Bill Hicks and was inspired by Lenny Bruce, Kinison was a true rock ’n’ roll comic. He lived and breathed rebellion, which makes it either obvious or surprising that he was raised on the Bible.
The high school dropout from East Peoria, Illinois, was raised by preachers. Heck, the hate-preaching comic was once a preacher himself. Born in 1953 to two Pentecostal preaching parents, Samuel Burl Kinison was one of four boys. All of them became preachers.
He Didn’t Realize How Poor They Were
Kinison grew up in Middle America, living on the upper floor of a large ramshackle church that his parents bought when they became preachers. “My folks spoke in tongues,” Kinison recalled. “They laid hands-on people. They really believed in healing.”
He also said that he never realized they were so poor until he grew up. “It was pretty humiliating for me as a kid,” he said. “I never had friends over because I was so ashamed of the way we lived.” But the kid made the best of it.
The Church Menace
While his older brothers would be delivering their sermons, the young Kinison would be hanging around in the back of the church, behind all the pews, pulling down his pants. At other times, he could be found hijacking the Church piano, playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
In the third grade, his parents threw him a surprise party. “I was f***ing crushed. I’d never let these kids see the way I lived… Then suddenly, they’re all over at the church, seeing all that stuff, how poor we were. I couldn’t stand it.”
Hit by a Truck at Age Three
Kinison wasn’t like his brothers, probably because of the accident he had when he was three. Kinison got hit by a truck when he was only three years old, and the result was that it left him with “40 percent brain damage.” His parents were told that their son had mal epilepsy, but he didn’t have any seizures.
According to Bill, “it totally changed his personality.” The kid went from docile to loud, outrageous, and the “always-in-trouble kind of kid.” The Kinisons got to know the police on a first-name basis, apparently. Interestingly, Kinison’s brain damage from the event was kept within the family.
The Abandoned Son
Bill said that not even his wives or girlfriends knew about it. In fact, the full story of Kinison’s brain damage and epilepsy only went public after he died. Still, the boy was forever changed by that accident.
By the time he was 11, his parents had divorced, and the family was split up. According to Bill Kinison, his brother felt that he was abandoned by Bill and their dad. “He wanted to go with my dad, too,” Bill said. Despite the fact that they lived about five minutes away from each other and even moved back a few years later, the damage was done.
When Sam Got Angry
It was around this time that “Sam got kinda angry.” And it was also around this time that he started listening to comedy albums, especially the ones by fellow Peorian Richard Pryor. Pryor’s outspoken nature appealed to the young, angsty Bible-raised pre-teen.
Soon enough, Kinison was acting out in the typical wayward teenager kind of way. At 15, Kinison ran away from home. His proper parents were worried, so they sent him to Pinecrest Bible Training Center in upstate New York.
A Need to Please “Dear Old Dad”
He ran away again, though. He only came back at 18 because his father died. “I felt lost. I no longer believed in God at all,” Kinison admitted quietly in one interview. “I’d felt my father totally wasted his life. He’d died completely broke. We didn’t even have any money for a gravestone.”
Kinison used to say he had a “Julian Lennon thing,” and in his case, he started preaching to please “Dear old Dad.” But he wasn’t a good preacher by any means. I mean, come on…
A Boring Preacher for Seven Years
The thing is, Kinison kept up the preacher act for seven years, from age 17 to 24, but he wasn’t close to being famous. As Bill explained, he was always focused on making his sermons informative rather than entertaining. Ironically, Kinison had no stage presence when he was preaching.
Aside from being boring on stage, he was also making pennies of a salary. In an entire year, the starving minister made no more than $5,000. And it’s not because he was a minister. Bill said there were nights when he and his brother Richard made more than Kinison did in an entire year.
Starting Comedy in Cowboy Country
It was only after Kinison and his first wife divorced that he left preaching and took up comedy. He tried stand-up after having been banned from a few churches for his jokes. “One day, I woke up and decided it was time to start living for myself.”
The good thing was that he had enough material to last a lifetime. He started his second career in Texas, honing his chops in the comedy circuit in cowboy country. In Houston, he would go to the Comedy Workshop, which was then a recently converted strip club.
A Texas Outlaw Comic
He told Rolling Stone that after years of trying to “sell God,” he found it pretty easy to sell his jokes. He thought that as he’d made people laugh in church, he could in a club. He may have left religion, but he was still a believer.
Kinison would say that Jesus wasn’t coming back – that he was already inside you. “You can deliver yourself,” he told his audiences. In those early days, Kinison joined a comedy group called the Texas Outlaw Comics. The guys in the group included Bill Hicks, Riley Barber, Ron Shock, Steve Epstein, Jimmy Pineapple, and Kinison.
He Would Drive People Out the Door
It was 1979 when Bill Hicks first saw Kinison on stage, stretching a pair of red panties over his head and screaming, “Call me Mr. Lonely!” He was raunchy and outrageous, and there were nights “when he would drive the entire room out the door,” Hicks recalled.
Meanwhile, other comics would be rolling on the floor laughing as the last person out would yell, “This is horrible!” Kinison’s greatest asset, according to Hicks, was that he “just didn’t give a sh**.” After all, he got into comedy after already failing at being a minister and a husband.
Two Disastrous Marriages
Most of his comedy material stemmed from his disastrous first two marriages. He was married to Patricia Adkins for five years, from 1975 to 1980. He was then married to Terry Marze for eight years, from 1981 to 1989.
These two relationships provided so much material he used it to fill an entire set. “I don’t worry about terrorism,” he’d say on stage during this time. “I was married for two years.” While it may seem like he was just annoyed by his wives – you know, the typical husband complaining about wife bit –there was more to the story.
While He Was Sleeping
Kinison began a relationship with a dancer named Malika Souiri toward the end of his marriage with Terry. Malika became his third wife, and on one particular night, the dancer said she was raped, but not by Kinison. At the time, the comic was passed out on the couch.
In 1990, Malika claimed that she was raped by a man that Kinison hired as a bodyguard while he was asleep in the house. That night, seeing him passed out in the guest room, Malika started “crying and yelling at him.”
Kinison Hired Him on the Spot
When she went to her room, 22-year-old Unway Carter entered after her. Malika reportedly didn’t know him, and Kinison never checked the bodyguard’s credentials before hiring him on the spot at a club. If he had, he would have learned that Carter had been previously accused of rape.
The bodyguard said the sex was consensual, but Malika said he groped her under the “pretext of comforting her.” She tried to resist, but he was simply too strong. She managed to get to the bathroom, find a gun, and fire shots through the bathroom door, hoping one would hit Carter.
They Married Anyways
Malika escaped through the balcony and ran to a neighbor’s house. All the while, Kinison was asleep in a pill-and-alcohol-induced stupor. Carter was ultimately charged with rape but pleaded not guilty. The trial resulted in a hung jury, and the charges were later dropped.
Despite the drama – of not just this incident but the fact that none of his friends liked the dancer – Kinison married Malika on April 4, 1992, only six days before his death. She was even with him on his last night (but we’ll get to that soon).
He Didn’t Look Like Other Comics
Kinison didn’t look like the typical stand-up comic of the time. He looked like the kind of guy who drives a white van and asks kids if they want candy. He was pudgy and wore baggy T-shirts, a coat that exhibitionists wear, and a beret. He looked more like a beggar than a comic.
The potty mouth comic with a megaphone for a voice wasn’t in the mainstream of comedy in the early ‘80s. He would sing straightforward versions of songs, go off on delirious tangents, rant, and rave, terrifying the audience in the process.
The Birth of the Scream
That scream that Kinison became known for – his “thing”? Well, that stemmed from his marriage with his second wife, Terry. They had been arguing for three days, and by the third day, when he was set to appear at the Comedy Store, he came onto the stage in a complete rage.
In the front of the audience was a cuddling, kissing couple, who, unfortunately for them, was at the right place but at the wrong time. Kinison snapped at them, interrogating them from the stage. “Do you love her?” he asked the guy. “I don’t know – we’re just dating,” the poor guy replied.
The Screams Became His Niche
Kinison went on: “Look at her. This is the best it’s ever going to be. Look at her. If you ever decide you want to marry her, and you want to have a little house with the white picket fence, I want you to remember this face.”
Bill Kinison was in the audience that night and recalled the crowd being both shocked and amused by the comic’s anger at the couple. The thing is, Kinison wasn’t joking. “It’s not a joke to him. He is so pissed off this couple is sitting there like they’re going to live blissfully ever after, and he was living in sh*t,” Bill recalled.
Rage, Rage, Rage
It was clear to everyone that Kinison was not in a happy place. He had an outlet (thankfully) but simply too much anger that his act was all rage, rage, rage. He would rant about his latest trials and tribulations – the women who took his money, his apartment, his stuff, his time, his heart.
He was angry – but relatable. He made a name for himself, getting standing ovations as he walked on the stage. The audiences loved his in-your-face style, the wife-hating rants, and the overall “f*** everything” attitude.
One Night in Houston…
There was one night in Houston when Kinison burst out after a stool he sat on collapsed. He was already self-conscious about his weight, so when the stool broke, he shouted, “What is this cheap piece of sh**?” and threw the stool to the floor.
He then picked up a heavy wooden chair from the audience and threw it at the wall. After staring at the wall for a few moments, he simply said, “Well, I can’t follow that. Good night,” and walked off the stage. A riot ensued.
A Mock Crucifixion and Ketchup
The club owner suspended him the next day for two weeks. But Kinison didn’t give a sh**, remember? He showed up the next night in a rented limo. He was a rock ’n’ roll comic, remember? He then held a mock crucifixion across the street from the club, wearing only a dirty towel and covered in ketchup.
True story. And if you saw the license plate – EX-REV – you wouldn’t have been surprised. That was at the brink of a new wild and crazy decade – the 1980s. Things were about to get even wilder.
Comedy, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll
Kinison moved to LA in 1980 with the hopes of finding work at the one and only Comedy Store. Like many comics starting out, Kinison was a doorman at the Comedy Store for five years. He explained that he came out to LA, thinking, “I’ve got a couple of years that I can afford to do this; let’s see what we can do.”
It was in LA that Kinison started living like a wannabe rock star. And what comes with the rock star package? Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. It was the ‘80s, remember? Cocaine was pretty much everywhere.
Sleeping on Bar Tables
With his new hobby, his material started to change. “Folks, I’ve been straight for 17 days… Not all in a row.” He was not doing well. His reverend brother Bill would send him $500 every month. Finally, Bill came to visit him.
He found his younger brother sleeping on bar tables and snorting simply too much blow. But Sam Kinison and LA were pretty much made for each other. As Bill recalls, “Sam never had a drink until he was 25 years old and got into comedy,” said Bill.
Mama Kinison Needed Some Time
While Bill was in shock, he was just glad to see his brother finally doing something he was good at. It’s usually easier for siblings to warm up about some major change in a family. The parents, on the other hand…
In the Kinison household, it was Mama Kinison who took a lot longer to face the music. Or the comedy, rather. Kinison didn’t play in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his mother lived, until 1990. Out of respect to her and the church, Kinison and Bill kept Tulsa out of the tour roster.
We’re Not in Church Anymore
Eventually, though, she got used to her son’s wild career. Of course, it helped that he bought her a Mercedes and a $30,000 ring. There was an understanding in the Kinison family; their father had always said, “Sam will get in trouble, and Bill will get him out.”
Kinison had been in LA for five years before Bill came to “rescue” him. That’s when Bill became his manager. Even then, Kinison would always remind him: “We’re not in church now.” At the time, Bill grew tired of preaching and wanted to help his brother.
The Wise Words of Brother Sam
He was officially his younger brother’s manager, but to Kinison, Bill was a mentor and guardian. Bill eventually wrote a book called Brother Sam: The Short, Spectacular Life of Sam Kinison, about a brother who was his “polar opposite.”
Bill, who basically raised his younger brothers, had a father-son relationship with Kinison. He recalled the time Kinison told him he was getting divorced. Bill told his brother: “I want you to forget about your family, your friends, and look down in your heart and see what you always wanted to do.”
Hey, Reverend Kinison!
When Kinison said his dream was to be a stand-up comic, Bill told him to “set a date” and that “No matter what happens, you’re never going to go back to preaching.” Bill was not well-versed in managing artists, but he learned as he went along.
It’s funny because everyone knew Bill Kinison as a reverend. When Kinison started performing in civic centers and city arenas, Bill already knew the stage venues. “I would come in, and they would go, ‘Hey, Reverend Kinison!’ and I’d go, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a different message this time.’”
“Please Welcome, Sam Kinison”
Kinison got his break in 1984 on an HBO Rodney Dangerfield special. But it was really his performance on Late Night With David Letterman the year after that that really put him in the public eye.
It was mostly thanks to Letterman’s introduction: “Brace yourselves. I’m not kidding. Please welcome Sam Kinison.” His film debut was in 1986, in Dangerfield’s movie, Back to School, playing a hot-headed professor. It was a fitting part, but acting wasn’t the right career for Kinison. He was a bit too weird-looking and a little too unpredictable.
Ignoring the Censors on SNL
He was living from paycheck to paycheck and disaster to disaster. Eventually, his agency, CAA, dropped him. That same year, he was welcomed on Saturday Night Live, and of course, he ignored the censors. He did one of his go-to routines – imitating Jesus screaming as he was being nailed to the cross.
At the end of the day, any excuse to scream was as good as any for Kinison. And people loved it. He wasn’t some fringe comic, either – the guy was performing with some of the biggest rock music acts in the world.
He Performed With the Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne
The bigger he became in the comedy world, the more he was welcomed into the rock music industry. He was such a rock ’n’ roll comedian that he would perform with bands like Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne and sometimes have a touring band of his own.
He appeared in the music video for Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine in 1988. The same year Kinison recorded a novelty version of Wild Thing by the Troggs. The video became a huge MTV hit, with cameos by Billy Idol, Steven Tyler, and Slash, to name a few.
“Opinions Expressed in This Recording…”
Women weren’t the only demographic Kinison attacked in his act. He also picked on homosexuals. He would make cracks about AIDS and then apologize for it. But then he would include the jokes in his comedy album.
The material was so offensive that the record company, Warner Bros., put a sticker on the cover: “Opinions expressed in this recording do not reflect the views of Warner Bros. Records.” As a result, the gay community went to war with Kinison.
At War With Elton John
At the 2nd Annual International Rock Awards in 1990, hosted by Kinison himself, Elton John leaned into the microphone to say, “I’m doing this show under protest. I’d like to congratulate Sam Kinison on being the first pig ever to introduce a rock ’n’ roll show.”
Apparently, it was that moment that succeeded in humiliating the normally unfazed Kinison. After this incident, Kinison started to evaluate what he was actually screaming about in his AIDS rants.
They’re 99.8% Sure He Was a Father
Around the time he filmed the Wild Thing video, Kinison’s behavior grew increasingly erratic. During this time, he allegedly fathered a daughter with the wife of his ex-best friend, comedian Carl LaBove, who was also his opening act.
In 2011, The Toronto Sun published a story about Kinison having fathered a child with Christy LaBove. Carl had been paying child support for the girl for 13 years. LaBove went to court, claiming the girl was Kinison’s. Yes, paternity tests were conducted and showed a 99.8% likelihood that Kinison was indeed the father of the unnamed woman.
Rehab at the Log Cabin
Bill, who was on the road with his brother 280 days of the year, had to make sure Kinison caught every plane, train, and automobile. Along the way, Bill would have countless dealers arrested. It was a relentless five years of madness.
Finally, he forced his brother to get clean, or at least to try to. Kinison started rehab in Malibu at a place called the Log Cabin (it was “Like going to church, except Ozzy Osbourne was there”). The rehab actually worked, and the comic was relatively clean for the last year and a half of his life.
His Breaking Point
But every couple of months, he’d fall off the wagon. Bill described his brother’s “breaking point,” which was about a year and a half before he got killed. After returning from a “disaster” in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve, where they refunded $42,000 of the show, Kinison got drunk and out of control.
People walked out and demanded their money back. In the month of January, he had three drunk-driving wrecks. By the end of the month, Bill, Kinison’s money manager and business manager told him, “You’re broke.”
How Did Sam Kinison Die?
At that moment, Bill told him, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.” Not long before Kinison died, Bill thought his brother was about to return to the preaching life, alongside his comedy career. But Kinison got lost.
On April 10, 1992, five days after marrying his 27-year-old girlfriend, Malika Souiri (in a typical “Yeah, I’m going to do it like a tattoo, man” way), Kinison died in a car accident. His white 1989 Pontiac Trans Am was crashed into by a pickup truck near Needles, California, on Route 95.
Two Drunk Drivers on a Dark Highway
Kinison and Malika were on the way to Laughlin, Nevada, for a sold-out concert. The driver of the truck that killed Kinison was a 17-year-old boy who had been drinking. But he wasn’t as drunk as Kinison had been.
The autopsy found booze, cocaine, painkillers, and tranquilizers in Kinison’s bloodstream. To make the situation worse – and deadly – Kinison wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Upon collision, he hit the windshield head-on. But he didn’t die upon impact. In fact, he got out of the car and asked God why he had to die.
A Conversation With God?
Kinison and his wife were rushed to the Needles Desert Community Hospital, and it was believed that he had a good chance of surviving. While Malika suffered only a concussion (she must have been wearing a seatbelt), Kinison’s status was deceiving.
“None of us knew he was dying,” Bill said. He remembers his brother speaking clearly – even his eyes were clear. Near the end, though, it was like he was talking to somebody (God). He said, as if he was negotiating with no one in particular, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.”
His Last Words
Those with him that night can vouch that Kinison then paused as though he were listening to someone. He asked, “But why?” and then another pause. He finally said, “Okay, Okay, Okay.” A friend who was there with him attested: “Whatever voice was talking to him gave him the right answer, and he just relaxed with it.”
He wasn’t fearful. He died with a fractured skull, a broken neck, a torn stomach, and a heart. He was buried in Tulsa. Inscribed on his grave are the words: “In another time and place, he would have been called a prophet.”
Malika ended up suing Bill Kinison in 1995 for “defaming” her in his book Brother Sam. She then took him to court again in 2009 for allegedly forging Kinison’s will. The truth is, Malika wasn’t liked by many of Kinison’s friends and family.
Christy LaBove, the former personal assistant of Kinison’s and mother of his only child, didn’t get along with Malika at all. LaBove described her as “a light-headed, fluffy girl whose last job was like, dancing topless.” Malika went on to work in movies, including Searching for Bobby D, The Arrogant, and The Dangerous.
He Needed to Talk About Kevin
Kinison was always on the verge of death, it seemed. And he knew it well. His younger brother Kevin had gone to rehab for his own drinking problem, but “they never cured him,” Kinison said. “He just must’ve lost it,” he said about his younger brother.
The 28-year-old, the family’s baby, shot himself in his parents’ house in Tulsa after having a nervous breakdown. Until the day he died, Kinison was moved to tears when he talked about Kevin.