The Tragic Death Of Sam Kinison

If there was one individual who epitomized the excesses of the late ’80s/early ’90s Hair Metal movement, it’s none other than comedian Sam Kinison. A former revivalist preacher, Kinison gained notoriety as a comedian by screaming insults at fans during live performances and adopting the rock and roll lifestyle that had taken over pop culture in the late ’80s: Glam Metal. Kinison’s pattern of living fast and living hard would eventually catch up to him on the evening of April 10, 1992, when his Trans-Am collided with a pickup truck, injuring his newly married wife, Malika, and fatally injuring him (via The New York Times).

Born in December of 1953, Kinison was the son of a Pentecostal preacher. Raised in East Peoria, Illinois, with his two brothers, Kinison adopted his father’s trade, preaching in open-air tents in backwater towns from the age of 17. Delivering fire-and-brimstone sermons to his temporary congregations, Kinison would unknowingly hone his notorious screaming style later used to such effect in his comedy routines.

After six years of pacing stages under drafty tents (via Entertainment Weekly), Kinison would divorce his wife of five years and make the drastic change of taking up comedy. In 1980, Kinison moved to Los Angeles, eventually adopting the beret/overcoat ensemble that would later become his trademark.

Poster boy for success and excess

Over the next five years, Kinison shrieked through the big (and small) comedy clubs of LA, picking up a very costly cocaine habit along the way, as Entertainment Weekly reported. Fate smiled kindly on Kinison in August of 1985, when years of hard work paid off in the form of a once-in-a-lifetime spot on Rodney Dangerfield’s Young Comedians TV special. The fuse was lit, ignition was set, there was nowhere for Kinison to go but the stratosphere.

The next seven years for Kinison would propel him to the heights of comedy mega-stardom, but also drag him into the depths of drug abuse and alcoholism. Following the success from his role as an “on-the-edge” teacher in Rodney Dangerfield’s film Back to School, Kinison’s trajectory took him from Late Night with David Letterman to his own HBO TV special, three comedy albums, a deep friendship with radio personality Howard Stern, and an appearance on Saturday Night Live.

It all ended the night of April 10, 1992. While driving his Trans Am to a gig in Nevada, Kinison was hit head-on by a 17-year-old driving a pickup truck (via Seattle Times). The pickup, traveling on US Highway 95 toward LA and filled with beer cans, swerved unexpectedly into oncoming traffic, smashing directly into Kinison (via New York Times). Malika Souiri, Kinison’s wife of only a week, walked away with only a concussion. Kinison, who managed to stumble from the wreck, died at the site of the crash. He was 38.

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