Why you should care
Because Hollywood only tells half the story.
“Rudy, if you’re there, please pick up. I hope you’re OK and that everything is all right. We’re all really excited to see you and looking forward to working with you on the 6th.”
I was referring to June 6, 2006, and my celebrity-packed show at the Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I had conceived of the idea to do a show on June 6, 2006 — “666: A Tribute to Evil” — in late 2004 and mentioned it to a couple of friends. Some of those friends happened to be Matt Skiba, currently of Blink-182 (formerly Alkaline Trio) and Shelton “Hank III” Williams, grandson of Hank Williams and son of Hank Jr.
But with all these slicked-down and rough-and-tumble White boys, I thought we ought to add a splash of color to the show. Rudy Ray Moore was the very first person that came to mind.
Why Rudy Ray Moore?
Well, Prince came out of the sky while I was on acid and sang to me: “Dooo iiiit.” So there was that. And also the fact that, for many, Rudy represents a defiance we yearn to express, but rarely do. I grew up in the Bay Area around a lot of rap music and certain things you had to know, one of them being that Moore’s character/creation Dolemite — soon to be refictionalized in an Eddie Murphy movie in which he plays the man himself — was arguably the first rapper. Like, ever.
This weird oddball, off-beat, niche, genre B-movie actor invented rap? On the basis of a discography that goes back to 1959 and records that mixed comedy and R&B, hell yes. I had grown up watching Rudy, in particular, his mondo bizarro role starring in Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law, another Dolemite classic.
But it was 2005 and I was in traffic one afternoon, somewhere like Beverly Hills, and at a red light, Archbishop Don “ Magic” Juan, founder of the notorious Players Ball, pulled up next to me in his bright green trademark low-rider. I was like, “Hey, he knows Rudy Ray Moore. I saw them together in a Snoop Dogg video!”
So I beeped and waved. He thought I was a fan.
“No, man. Roll down your window!” His window was stuck, so he opened the door.
“What’s up?” he asked me.
“I’m trying to get in touch with your friend Rudy Ray Moore, I want him to perform at my show!”
Now, Don “Magic” Juan, who I learned later was named as such by Rudy Ray Moore, had no part that I’m aware of in connecting me with Rudy. But it was a sign, even if it was Rudy’s manager, Mark Murray, who finally got me in touch with him, emailing me the phone number of the legendary blaxploitation comedian.
Moore was not the super-hetero pimp he played on stage and screen.
I prepped myself for that first call as I did with many other calls like this one: by sniffing lines of coke. It made sense to me at the time. The phone rang and Rudy finally answered, gruff and weak, and then snapped, “[Insert unprintable disgusting opening line] … I’ll give her pressure on the stretcher / I’m gonna turn her around / bend her over / and stand up in her!”
He then repeated the verse another way when he knew he had my attention.
He paused. Asked me what I thought.
“I love it,” I exclaimed quickly, like all good yes-men do. Even though I’m not really sure if that’s exactly what he said. You see, he said it so fast, with so much phlegm in his throat, that I couldn’t really make it out. Then there was the coughing. He would cough for a long time; it sounded like he might cough his lungs up. I wondered whether he would live to make it to the show.
But he did. Showing up that night, he insisted I pay him “in cash upon my arrival to the venue BEFORE I perform,” he warned. So we paid him. He then taunted my event coordinator, an attractive young woman in a skintight country-western affair, from onstage, demanding, “Bitch, where’s my motherfucking money? I want all my money in my motherfucking hand! Motherfucka, get yo’ ass out on this stage and pay me!” Of course, by now, he knew, the cameras were rolling.
After being paid, Rudy stayed on stage for a half-hour performance.
This means he rambled on about dirty pussy and ways to disinfect it or something to that effect, nasty as fuck. Fans of horror-punk outfit the Misfits — a band that sings about chopping the heads off little girls and hanging them on their walls — were appalled. I was overjoyed. The collective look on their faces was worth the 2,000 clams I paid Moore.
Moore, you see, was not the super-hetero pimp he played on stage and screen. He was, in fact, very much bisexual, if not gay, which made this, well … camp. In some ways, that worked in his favor, I guess, because it betrayed a self-conscious awareness of what he was doing. And explained the diva ways he was doing it while letting him operate in plain sight in more restrictive social-sexual climes.
So, backhanding and karate kicking his way out of close calls with pimps and pushers, inventing the rap game with his lyrical lashings, constantly on the prowl in his movies for fresh pussy for constant orgies between blowing things up, it was a perfect place for a closeted gay man to hide. Rudy Ray Moore was like no other.
In the run-up to the show, our late-night, coke-fueled chats had become less frequent. About two weeks before the 666 show, Moore’s calls stopped altogether. Panicked, I left brief, hopeful messages on his answering machine. While he made it through the show, the day after he suffered a stroke and nearly died. While he was unconscious, the cash that I paid him was stolen. By “friends,” possibly.
As far as I know, Moore never performed another show filmed professionally in front of a live concert audience. I’d like to say that it was his final performance, but it was really much more like his last great show.
Paul Mooney, who wrote skits and characters for legends like Richard Pryor and had been on Chappelle’s Show, was there that night. Snoop Dogg showed up with a cavalcade of cars and low-riders, but he had missed the performance and so didn’t come in.
I never heard from Moore again. By phone, or in any manner, really, after the show. A true hustler, he got me hooked on his telephone candor, something he was well-experienced in, and then took me along for his final ride before he left his mortal shell in 2008, at the age of 81.
He died broke, as many trailblazers do. He was here and then he was gone, and we’re all the better for it.