Hollywood Hunks Disavow a Serial Killer
|John Freiler||Apr 8, 2020||3||2|
John Stamos was just a 17 year old aspiring actor when he first met Doreen Lioy. It was 1980, and he was putting off college applications while flipping burgers at his father's southern California restaurant. A mutual friend introduced him to Lioy, who was then one of the editors of Tiger Beat magazine. Doreen saw something in Stamos, and included a photo of them together in the editor's section of an issue of the teen magazine. "She groomed me," he recalled in a recent Entertainment Tonight article. Tiger Beat cover features soon followed.
In 1982, Stamos landed his breakout role on General Hospital, for which he'd later earn a daytime Emmy nomination. In 1984 he moved on to prime time, starring in two different short-lived but high-profile network shows over the next few years. In 1987 he accepted a role on Full House, a sitcom whose massive popularity would cement his celebrity status and keep him busy for the next eight years. I imagine by that point he had very little time to hang out with Doreen, but that's okay because she was keeping busy, too. In 1988 she accepted a marriage proposal from then-incarcerated Satanic serial killer Richard Ramirez.
Years later, Stamos found an article that his mother kept about the serial killer that mentioned Lioy. “Here [Lioy’s] talking about Richard Ramirez,” he says, freaked out that she’s saying the same things about Ramirez that she once said about Stamos. “What did she see in me that she saw in him?”
I mean, the obvious answer is “cheekbones,” but yeah I get what you mean, Stamos. I’m not sure what to make of it, either.
Australian hard rock band AC/DC has a more legitimate claim to a Ramirez connection than any other celebrity, though they probably aren’t super interested in actually defending that claim. The fact that Ramirez left behind an AC/DC baseball cap at the scene of one of his murders is one of those Things You Don’t Bring Up Around AC/DC, sort of like how the whole schoolboy look is uncomfortably close to the adult baby roleplay fetish, or could you please write one goddamn song in a different time signature just one I am begging you.
The band faced harsh criticism in 1985 following Ramirez’s arrest, with some cities attempting to prevent them from playing scheduled shows on their US tour. Here’s founding guitarist Angus Young defending the group in an LA Times article from that year:
Young pointed out how people constantly misinterpret their material. In defense of “Highway to Hell,” he pointed out: “It has nothing to do with devil worship. We toured for four years at a stretch with no break. A guy asked how would you best describe our tours. We said: ‘A highway to hell.’ The phrase stuck with us.”
Another song, “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be"--from the “Let There Be Rock” album--also supposedly indicates the band’s satanic leanings.
“That song is a joke,” Young countered. “We’re saying if you’ve got your choice between heaven and hell, you might pick hell. In heaven you have harp music and in hell there’s a good rocking band and rocking songs. That’s what we’d chose. So hell ain’t a bad place to be. It’s all in fun.
“What happened to people’s sense of humor? We’re kidding. We’re more of a tease than anything. We’re more like naughty little boys, not out-and-out villains.”
I mostly agree with him, but I also think this answer is kind of a cop-out. It’s hard to accept “haha just kidding” as the overall artistic intent when you read the lyrics to “Night Prowler,” the specific song in their catalog that reportedly spoke to Ramirez:
Somewhere a clock strikes midnight
And there's a full moon in the sky
You hear a dog bark in the distance
You hear someone's baby cry
A rat runs down the alley
And a chill runs down your spine
And someone walks across your grave
And you wish the sun would shine
'Cause no one's gonna warn you
And no one's gonna yell attack
And you don't feel the steel
Till it's hangin' out your back
I'm your night prowler, asleep in the day
Night prowler, get outta my way
Yeah I'm the prowler, watch out tonight
Yes I'm the night prowler, when you turn out the light
Too scared to turn your light out
'Cause there's somethin' on your mind
Was that a noise outside the window
What's that shadow on the blind
As you lie there naked
Like a body in a tomb
Suspended animation as I slip into your room
I'm your night prowler, asleep in the day
Yeah I'm the night prowler, get outta my way
Look out for the night prowler, watch out tonight
Yes I'm the night prowler, when you turn out the light
To be clear, it’s not that I have objections to the content of the lyrics so much as Young’s blanket dismissal of their sincerity. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to embrace a real life murderer’s appreciation for his art, but it feels disingenuous for him to pretend that the band wasn’t intentionally using the imagery of a savage killer to establish a morbid, violent mystique for themselves that was already pretty common within the heavy metal genre. Ramirez’s endorsement probably did just as much to solidify that mystique for the band as any of the songs on Highway To Hell, and while that’s obviously not something any musician should want, it’s an outcome you risk when you try to present dark subject matter with authenticity. It is simultaneously the worst and also the most meaningful compliment the band could have received for their song about murder, so I get why they don’t want the credit, but it feels phony to say it was all just a joke.
Then again I held back the final line of that song to better support my argument here, and that line is, “Shazbot. Nanu nanu.” So maybe it is all a joke? Maybe the song is actually about Mork from Ork being a Satanic rapist? Don’t listen to me, what the hell do I know.
Sean Penn had a connection to Richard Ramirez too, and I don’t just mean that they both beat up women. Penn served a brief jail sentence in 1987 for assaulting a photographer, and when prison officials decided that he was too famous for gen pop, the actor ended up doing his time in a secluded wing of the facility, just a few heavily-reinforced doors over from you-know-who. Here’s Penn’s story, from The Hollywood Reporter:
"He wrote me [a letter]," said Penn. "I was down here on Bauchet Street, in L.A County Jail, in the cell kind of across from him. And after about a month of seeing each other around, he wanted my autograph. So he sent one of the deputies over, [and the] deputy came to my cell and told me: 'Hey, Richard Ramirez wants your autograph.' And I didn't trust the deputy because I'd gotten in some trouble inside there and just passing a piece of paper is contraband, so you can get extra days for that, and I already had extra days and I didn't want more. So I said, 'Bring the sergeant down here, and I'll talk to him and if he approves it. Then I want him to write something first and I'll write him something back.' So the sergeant came down and approved it, and they went over to Ramirez — this guard basically wanted to play Cupid, in some way. So, I get this thing from him and it says, 'Hey, Sean, stay tough and hit them again — Richard Ramirez, 666,' with a pentagram and a rendition of the devil."
Penn wrote back: "I said, 'You know, Richard, it's impossible to be incarcerated and not feel a certain kinship with your fellow inmates. Well, Richard, I've done the impossible, I feel absolutely no kinship with you. And I hope gas descends upon you before sanity does, you know? It would be a kinder way out.'”
OK Sean, just a quick “fuck you” and let’s move it along, huh? You’re disavowing a serial killer, not writing another Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff novel. Presumably Penn left the letter anonymous, as signing it would technically have counted as an autograph.
The funniest thing about this is that in 1987 Sean Penn hadn’t yet cemented his “tough guy/deep thinker” public persona, so when Ramirez asked for an autograph he was definitely expecting to interact with fun party animal Spicoli, and ended up receiving a tiresome and overwritten lecture from a Serious Artist instead. Or maybe the funniest thing is that literally three paragraphs later in that article, Penn goes off on an angry rant about tabloid photographers invading his privacy, demonstrating that his post-release recidivism potential is basically the same as Ramirez’s would have been. I honestly can’t decide.
Of course, the gold standard of “celebrities responding to Richard Ramirez” is, without question, actor Ted Levine. Levine played Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs, which you will probably not be surprised to learn was one of Ramirez’s favorite movies. From a New York Post article:
The “Night Stalker’’ serial killer was obsessed with the actor who played the mass murderer in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” the dying con told The Post in his final interview.
“That guy on the show ‘Monk,’ I really liked him in ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ ” said Richard Ramirez in a phone chat from San Quentin Prison last month, referring to actor Ted Levine.
Levine, who went on to portray a detective in TV’s “Monk,” yesterday told The Post, “F–k him. I hope he’s in hell. That’s all I have to say about Richard Ramirez.”
Levine’s brevity here is the only appropriate response. No one actually needs to spend any time analyzing Richard Ramirez’s opinion on anything, because Ramirez was a sick and hateful moron. Fuck him. That’s really all that needs to be said.
Buuuuuut…Ramirez identifying Levine as “that guy on the show Monk” is just the funniest detail, and I can’t let it go. I keep picturing Ramirez leaning forward on his shitty prison mattress, watching Tony Shalhoub perform his OCD Mr. Bean routine on a 10” TV, murmuring “Adrian, how are you ever gonna solve this one?” to absolutely no one as he slowly and painfully died alone, literally turning green while his liver failed as a complication from lymphoma. The image of one of history’s most brutal and sadistic serial killers finally receiving his just punishment for his litany of evil deeds - and that punishment being the Wednesday night primetime lead-in to an all-new Burn Notice - is so fucking funny to me that I want to cherish it forever, returning to it periodically to soothe myself whenever things get too stressful or difficult.
I hope he’s in hell too, but I couldn’t stop talking about him if I tried. We can’t all be Ted Levine.
In 1988, the same year Doreen Lioy made a phone call to her parents to tell them about their new son-in-law, John Stamos appeared in the music video for the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.” He plays additional percussion with the band as they perform the hit at some sort of oceanside concert hall or cult mass suicide pavilion, it’s hard to tell which. And while I’ve always cringed at the song’s nihilistic celebration of all-consuming leisure, I’m now coming to appreciate its specific philosophy of escapism.
It isn’t hard to imagine Stamos asking his new friend Mike Love for advice on how to navigate Hollywood as a celebrity with a noted connection to an infamous criminal. Love, along with “Kokomo” co-writer Terry Melcher, definitely could have provided his own insight on the topic, having once utilized the services of a disgruntled freelance songwriter on the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album before eventually coming to regret it. Mike, perhaps with a tropical drink melting in his hand, could have offered some sympathy, maybe to the rhythm of a...well, you get it.
The song used to bug me because I couldn’t imagine what stress or problems a bunch of millionaire rock stars (and one moonlighting sitcom star) could possibly need to escape from. “Kokomo” still sucks, but I can see now that it’s not just about physically running away to a tropical island to escape from anyone who wants to ask you uncomfortable questions about the murderer you sort of know through a friend of a friend. It’s also about artistic escapism, stripping your art of any eccentricities, any complications, any potential meaning that might be attractive to or misinterpreted by some psycho who’s then connected to you and your legacy forever. If your art means absolutely nothing, it can never hurt anyone. Kokomo isn’t just an imaginary island off the Florida Keys; it’s a soothing balm, a lyrical coping mechanism. It’s hopeful and sad and kind of beautiful in its utter emptiness.
Then again, one of the other co-writers of this song was John Phillips, who may or may not have been engaging in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Mackenzie around the time the songwriters were hastily scrawling tropical island lyrics on a legal pad in between snorting lines in a sweaty wood-paneled recording studio. There’s really nowhere you can go to get away from it all. We’re all in hell together already.
Shazbot. Nanu nanu.