IF: safety

you can free the world, you can free my mind, just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight

“She’s livin’ in sin with a safety pin.”

Nancy Spungen came into this world with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and her life only got worse. As a child, she constantly cried and threw tantrums until she was out of control. She was prescribed a liquid barbiturate, but it did nothing to suppress her behavior. Despite her regular outbursts, Nancy showed “superior intelligence” in IQ testing and was enrolled in the third grade at five years old. Although she shined academically, Nancy was a troubled child, acting violently and shunning friendships.

At home, she tormented her siblings and threatened to kill a babysitter. At 11, Nancy was expelled from public school. She was enrolled in a private school far from her suburban Philadelphia home, but she ran away from the campus and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with a scissors. At 15, Nancy was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She eventually graduated from high school and attended the University of Colorado. She was expelled, however, after eight months, for purchasing marijuana and hiding stolen property in her dorm room. After getting fired from her first job on her first day, she began to steal and deal drugs to get money.

At 17, Nancy fled to New York City, where she dealt drugs and worked as a stripper and a prostitute. Soon she left for London to join in on the blossoming punk rock scene. She tried to hook up with Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten, but he showed little interest in Nancy. Instead, she pursued bass player Sid Vicious.

During their whirlwind, 19-month relationship, Nancy and Sid became addicted to heroin. The couple exhibited violent public behavior, earning Nancy the nickname “Nauseating Nancy,” as she was often referred in the London press. In 1976, after the Sex Pistols disbanded, the pair moved in to New York City’s notorious Chelsea Hotel. Over the next few months, Sid and Nancy abused drugs and were involved in regular bouts of domestic violence, including a number of physical attacks by Vicious. On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found dead under the bathroom sink in Room 100 at the Chelsea. She had a single knife wound in her abdomen. Sid Vicious was charged with her murder. He was arrested, but released on bail. Vicious died of a heroin overdose before he could be brought to trial. Over the years, the identity of Nancy’s killer has been the subject of speculation. In addition to Vicious, suspects included two unknown drug dealers who had visited the couple’s hotel room earlier in the evening, one of whom may have been actor/comedian Rockets Redglare.

Nancy was just 20 years old. She was interred at King David Memorial Park, just outside of Philadelphia. Rumor has it that Sid Vicious’ cremated remains were scattered over Nancy’s grave.



DCS: leona gage

young love

With her mother working two jobs and her father tending to the home, Leona Gage was on her own. At 13, Leona met 24-year old US Air Force airman Gene Ennis. The two were married and Leona gave birth to their first child at 14. Ennis shipped out for duty and never responded to Leona’s frequent letters. At the insistence of a friend, Leona married another airman, but Leona’s mother had the marriage annulled soon after.

Gene Ennis returned to Leona and the couple moved to suburban Baltimore from their native Longview, Texas. Leona gave birth to their second child, despite the marriage falling apart. Now, 16 years old, Leona was introduced to the world of modeling by a co-worker at the dress shop that employed her. The Walters Modeling Agency groomed and prepared Leona for entry into the Miss Maryland USA pageant — which she won. She told the head of the modeling agency that she was married and could not go to the Miss USA pageant. She claimed one of the pageant officials told her to lie to the public. Pageant officials, however, deny her claims.

In 1957, Leona Gage entered and won the  Miss USA pageant, the first representative from Maryland to do so.  Rumors surfaced regarding Leona’s age, marital status and the fact that she had children. A quick investigation was launched and, after questioning, lying and finally confessing, Leona was stripped of her title.

Her (infamous) notoriety brought on numerous television offers, including an appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. She became sort of a novelty, but also received a fair share of hate mail.

After the scandal, Leona and her sons moved to Las Vegas, where she divorced Ennis and found work as a showgirl at the Tropicana. She married a fellow dancer, but divorced after she was brought up on charges of child abuse. She moved to Los Angeles where she met and married aspiring screenwriter, Gunther Collatz. She landed a small role in Roger Corman’s film Tales of Terror. She followed that with a few more small film roles. She divorced Collatz. She experimented with LSD and was romantically linked with John Drew Barrymore (actress Drew’s father) and Mickey Hargitay (ex-husband of actress Jayne Mansfield and father of actress Mariska). In 1965, 26-year-old Leona overdosed on barbiturates in a suicide attempt. She recovered and spent three weeks in Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

After her release from the hospital, she published a ghost-written book called My Name Is Leona Gage, Will Somebody Please Help Me? She released another film that bombed at the box office. She became a hairdresser, while singing in burlesque clubs on the side. She married for the fifth and sixth times and gave birth to another son, although she eventually lost custody of all of her children. In the 70s, she mounted an unsuccessful comeback, trying to break into commercials.

After six failed marriages, losing custody of her children (two of whom predeceased her), disqualification from a beauty pageant, a suicide attempt and a show business career that never took off, Leona passed away in 2010 at the age of 71.



DCS: charles bradley

the screaming eagle of soul

In 1962, Charles Bradley was taken to the venerable Apollo Theater by his sister to see a performance by energetic soul singer James Brown. Charles was inspired. He soon left home to escape poor living conditions and found himself on the streets, homeless and sleeping on subway cars at night. He found salvation with the federally-funded Job Corps who placed him in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he trained as a cook. A co-worker, noting Charles’ resemblance to James Brown, asked if he could sing. A shy Charles first said no, then relented, explaining that he had been mimicking Brown’s vocal style and stage maneuvers for years. He began performing locally, until his band mates were all drafted into military service during the Vietnam War. That band never reformed.

In the early 90s, he saw his share of life difficulties. Charles almost died in a hospital after an allergic reaction to penicillin. Another time, Charles was awakened to a commotion as police and ambulances were arriving to the scene of his brother’s murder just down the street.

Charles made his way across the United States, performing under the stage name “Black Velvet,” doing a James Brown tribute show.  During one of his shows, Charles caught the attention of Gabriel Roth,  co-founder of Daptone Records. Roth introduced Charles to his future producer Tom Brenneck, then the songwriter and guitarist for The Bullets, who invited Charles to his band’s rehearsal. At the rehearsal, the humbled singer asked that the band simply perform while he made up lyrics on the spot.

In 2011, Daptone released Charles Bradley’s debut, No Time for Dreaming. Charles was 63 years old. He released two more albums to critical acclaim and toured extensively. His performances became legendary, noted for the concluding ritual of Charles offering hugs to anyone who asked.

In August 2016, Charles fell ill and canceled a tour of Canada. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October. Despite his illness, Charles soldiered on when he could, including a stellar performance at the WXPN Exponential Music Festival in July 2017.

Charles succumbed to cancer in late September 2017. He was 68.



inktober 2017: week 1

inktober 2017: week 1

Well, whadaya know! It’s Inktober again. While other online artists are attempting the “one drawing per day” challenge, I, in my infinite and self-proclaimed laziness, will be doing one drawing per week. After all, I still participate in Illustration Friday (non-stop since 2007, I might add) and I do my weekly Dead Celebrity Spotlight, posted every Friday. So, you’ll just have to be satisfied with a weekly (or “weakly”) offering.

Keeping with the October/Hallowe’en theme, here is my entry for Week Number 1. It’s the “Queen of Horror” Barbara Steele from her 1960 film Black Sunday directed by Mario Bava, Italian master of the giallo genre.