Biography of John Spacely


If you saw the movie Gringo and thought it was all real, your critical thinking skills are suspect. It was distributed by Troma Films, their special genre: exploitation.

John Spacely was not a Gringo. USA born, english only. His grandfather was Mexican. His father took off early on the family. It was a retaliation not taking his name. Spacely never looked back when people left him.

John grew up in Venice, California ruling the boardwalk.


Kicked out of Venice High school in his senior year. John got caught dealing his mother's weed. "Mama" was an obese woman with thick black long hair. She had two younger children. Guy about 26 at the time, never left his room. Beyond agoraphobic. We communicated next to his door.


Spacely's younger sister was still in high school, sweet and normal. She just wanted to fit in at school. I have a picture of John's grandfather the real Gringo, holding up a picture of John's mother. I don't think he spoke much English. But you can see in the picture an old time tape recorder. It was on. We were recording each other. I was taking his picture and he was recording our visit.


Mama's house was right off of Venice Blvd near Linclon. She had a pool table and the first giant TV I ever saw. Everything she did was Texas style, big.  Like her kitchen. I had never seen so many dirty dishes. Skyscrapers. She must have just kept buying new dishes and ordering take out. I remember taking speed and the entire day to wash. It was hugely satisfying. Changing the entire architecture of a city..


When Hillary Clinton talked about it taking a village to raise a child. She was thinking of Spacely growing up on the Venice Boardwalk. When he was 10 years old he was looked after by the street performers and artists selling their creations. He was the mayor of the Venice Boardwalk. Knew everyone's business and took a cut. Starting with Mama's rag weed lids. He got a lot of love and tips running errands doing deliveries. Even the old bikers treated him soft.


His first lover was an older woman, one of Mama's friends. Years later, the actress Mae West.


After high school, he moved to San Francisco. Drawn to the music scene and everyone living on the street. He met a young girl and got married. I don't know much about her but that that she was a sweet blonde girl who got very ill. It wasn't an accident. Later he had a girlfriend die from a motorcycle accident. But this was a young girl in her 20's who suddenly got ill and died. It was the first time in his life he had one person, one partner. He was destroyed and morose and became the alcoholic he swore he never would be.


He moved back to LA and started hanging out in Hollywood. He looked for music when his heart was broken. The Starwood, the Whiskey, the Rainbow, he got to know everyone on the Sunset Strip. He played the blues harp. Working the strip the way he worked the Venice Boardwalk. If he had a hotel room he would let his friends stay.


His voice was velvety. He was a poet but didn't write. He had his own style, from the way he dressed with no money. To the way he walked with one arm straight out using the air to propel him. He was an original. Ron Ashton in the band "The New Order" at the time always treated him with respect. Let him sit in on sets and play harmonica. My friend Paul Picasso Hollywood told me I should meet this guy Spacely.  Insinuating that I might have met my mouthy rhetorical match.


My friend Audrey and I who were seniors at Beverly Hills High tracked him down at the Tropicana Hotel in West Hollywood. We called up said we were reporters from Rolling Stone Magazine. We were doing an article on the Sunset Strip and local color. He said to bring a six pack of beer.  He didn't mind if I brought a photographer.


I was taking a lot of pictures at the time trying to get into Cal-Arts. But Spacely tossed Audrey in the pool so I didn't get many pictures from that first meeting. When he wasn't aggressively drunk, he was the softest sweetest person. And I fell in love. He was my first boyfriend. I used to sneak him into my bedroom closet at night. My jewish mother and  grandmother were appalled.  But he was would tease and endear himself to them. They would laugh despite themselves, praying I was just going through a stage.


We lived for awhile at the Sunset Marquis on Sunset Blvd. Next door to Ron Ashton and Dennis Thompson. His best friend at the time was David Gilbert, another of the romantic rock star friends that Spacely attracted. We lived with Dave and too many other people at the Sunset Marquis. Room 404 was an installation of mannequin parts.


Ron would be wearing one of his military uniforms unplugged guitar scales while watching cartoons and across the street before it was the Mondrian, it was high-rise prostitution. Worth watching the traffic for hours. Passed out people were immediately collaged and photographed. Most photographs lost in the melee.


We found a studio, that used to be a cloiosters. Wooden floors and tall windows in the shape of a single tall saint with a round head. One saint per wall. We slept upstairs, it had enough room for a bed, the kitchen was negligible.
Velvert Turner was our next door neighbor. He lived in the monestary's main octagonal structure. Moroccan carpets and sequined tapestries throw pillows and incense. He was the a queen and a shaman. I adored him. A young protege of Hendrix. Why didn't someone tell him he didn't have to be exactly like Jimi?


I spent a lot of time pissing John off at Velvert's getting high. The point being I was the bad influence on boyfriend. John smoked pot, was a drinker. I was the junk yard dog. I would smoke PCP with Velvert then play bongos or this Venice poet Steve Rose. I was the one running wild and chipping, doing heroin. I had to hide my drug use from him. Spacely was very protective, he had already lost his first love.


To pay for our apartment, John surprised me with his knowledge of telephone sales. First he tried doing real office supply sales. Then realized, after getting fired, he could still be his own boss. Problematic because he didn't actually have a cache of toner and envelopes.


For a few weeks, he would call businesses and ask if they needed a reorder on any of their office supplies. But he actually felt bad about it. So his next endeavor included his altruistic proclivities.


He came up with a promotion borrowing the worthy agenda of the Southern Christian Leadership Counsel. I would be leaving to drive to school…and he would be calling people mostly in southern states. Treating them to his agenda for black equality.


Impersonating a black male voice that sounded a lot like his regular voice but deeper with more dynamics. He was a  Mr. Henderson or Washington and he would take out articles in the SCLC newspaper. Basically a little classified ad.  But charge his new client 50 times more then he paid. Advertising a particular business in a particularly racist state claiming to be a black friendly business.
The exact mechanics were never entirely clear.


I wasn't ready to settle down with Spacely. And when I broke his heart he moved to New York. He was mad at me after that. I was never his princess again. But I spoke to him and saw him a few times after that always caring about him. And loyal to person he was.


"Gringo" the movie is not a true story of John Spacely.  (John always wanted to be an actor. He was an extra in "Sid and Nancy.") Troma distributes exclusively exploitation films. He was willing to shoot dope on film to be the star of a movie. Those are not really drug dealers in the film dealing. The guy in the film getting shot and dying is not really dying. The film was made with extras.


Spacely wasn't given the respect of being a paid actor. He had to pretend to be a real junkie to be in this "documentary style" movie. He was so proud of his friendship with Matt Dillion. The few times he did heroin, he would only snort it. He would never pay for it, never shoot it. The bloody scenes are not accurate portrayals of slamming dope. A junkie wants to feel good, and booting blood back and forth does not feel good and is not good for fucked up veins. But cinematically well it has all of you watching.


His eye patch was it real? Yeah. Walking in Hollywood in boys town, a guy dressed in a dress asked for a cigarette. It turned into a fight. Spacely made a snarky comment and two guys jumped him, one with a chain. The patch kept away the shadows.


I have no doubt that Spacely got strung out doing the movie. And kicked with pills. He wasn't a junkie. He was an alcoholic, fastidiously hygienic about how he looked and wanted to have money and a decent home and life. Reinforcing my memory of him, I heard he got married again before he died of AIDS. Ironic because he hated needles. It was like he knew his destiny and tried to forestall it.


J. Pompei

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