SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW, MAN

by ADAM GORIGHTLY

"Rockin'" Rollen Stewart is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting mutants on the face of the planet. After garnering his first frenetic fifteen seconds of Warholian fame at a Portland Trailblazer Basketball game in 1977, Stewart wanted more, more, more! For years he was seen making a spectacle of himself at various sporting events in a huge rainbow colored wig, smiling from ear to ear with wide beaming eyes, hoisting high in his busy hands giant placards with biblical passages writ upon them, as he gleefully bounced around, clad in fake fur loincloths. Rollen, through years of practise(and spending every last cent he had to attend these sporting events) developed an innate talent of strategically positioning himself--much to the constant chagrin of network cameramen--in such a way as to steal the limelight from the televised proceedings while spreading The Word of the Lord.

"He's a pest, " an NBC executive once snorted. "We try to take him out of a shot whenever we can."

"He got to be a terrific distraction," seconded ABC sports producer Chet Forte. "He would station himself behind home plate and our camera would view over the pitcher's shoulder and it was very annoying seeing this guy waving the signs and all."

Occasionally, those annoyed by Rockin' Rollen did even more than that; forcibly ejecting him from events. "You know you're not wanted when they send security guards to walk you out of your seat," Rollen once commented. Rollen claimed he was hounded by authorities at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo who took him for a spy, thinking his JOHN 3:16 placard was some sort of coded message.

Rollen became known as "The Rainbow Man" due to the aforementioned rainbow-hued wig of which he adorned his anointed, holy-madman-head, buzzing as it did with the divine resonance of The Lord. It was sometime during the late 70's when I first spotted the ever present Rockin' Rollen on my home TV screen at a sporting event, prior to his born-again conversion when he was rescued by Jesus from a dark abyss of sexual promiscuity and wanton drug abuse.

Said Rollen of that period of his life: "I said I was going to sail around the world on my water bed."

At the height of his fame and popularity, Rollen once appeared in a commercial for Anheuser-Busch, as well as being paid to attend parties looking his outlandish self. His character was featured on "Saturday Night Live.", "St. Elsewhere" and "The Tonight Show." Cartoonist Charles Shultz drew The Rainbow Man into his cartoon "Peanuts" standing alongside good ol' Charlie Brown. But unfortunately, toward the end of the 80's, things started getting a little weird with The Rainbow Man.

In a 1982 interview with Golf Digest magazine, Stewart was quoted as saying: "I was living on my ranch...and my life revolved around sex and drugs. I wasn't happy, though, and one night I had a religious experience and was born again as a Christian." This historic conversion took place after the 1980 Super Bowl in Pasadena. As Stewart recalled, "I had gone in my fur loincloth and wig. The girls loved it. Everywhere I walked, they were patting my butt. I could have held a thousand women in my arms that day, and yet I walked out of there sad. It was the shallowness. I was being seen all over the world, but never as myself." That night, after returning to his hotel room he found Jesus, while watching a television show called Today In Bible Prophecy. "I fell to my knees there in that room and allowed Jesus to take control of my life..."

Subsisting on one meal a day, and smoking massive quantities of pot, Stewart began a blitzkrieg for the Lord, working twelve sporting events a month as he fervently flashed his JOHN 3:16 message on placards, signs and T-Shirts, spreading The Lord's Word in his own unique fashion. (The message of the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 3, verse 16, is, "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.")

In 1984, Rollen met Margaret Hockridge, a born-again grade school teacher, at a Church in Virginia. Margaret found herself, "in awe of him." Smitten, the two bought a Toyota van and hit the road for the Lord. Ten months later they were married in St. Louis. The bride dressed in mauve, and Stewart in a JESUS IS COMING T-shirt.

At one point Stewart was driving over 50,000 miles a year, and traveling to over a hundred sporting events.

Contrary to what one might think, Rockin' Rollen was never much of a sport's fan. In fact, as he admitted to People magazine back in '88: "I despise sports. People who go to sporting events are like the Romans who went to watch the lions eat the Christians. I know I'm a strange and unusual vessel. But we're sincere about this." On another occasion Rollen said,"I realize now television is a tool of Satan. I never watch TV unless it's to figure out my own strategy so that I can appear on it." This he did with a Sony Watchman at sporting events to figure out where the network cameras were located and how tight the camera angles were, placing himself in such a position that when the camera came on him Rollen was ready to bounce about and spread his tutti-frutti word o' the Lord.

Rockin' Rollen it seems was a stickler for details, especially when it came to his advertisements for God. According to his now ex-wife, Hockridge, at the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium, Stewart figuratively flipped his wig and tried to choke her when she stood in the wrong spot with her JOHN 3:16 placard, incurring the righteous wrath of Rollen. His mood, Margaret said later in a People Magazine interview, was "constantly up and down." By 1990, Margaret had had enough, and finally filed for divorce.

After their divorce, Stewart apparently became more unstable. In May of '91 an arrest warrant was issued accusing him of four stink bomb attacks in Orange County, California. The warrant charged Rockin' Rollen with setting off foul-smelling bombs at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove; a Christian bookstore also in Garden Grove; at the Trinity Broadcasting Studio in Tustin; and at the offices of the Orange County Register Newspaper in Santa Ana. According to authorities, Rockin' Rollen assembled these stink bombs using a timing device, a knife and an acid filled balloon.

At the '91 Masters Golf Tournament, Stewart was detained by authorities after he allegedly set off a remote controlled air horn, a loud buzzer and several colorful smoke bombs just as Jack Nicklaus was readying to put on the 16th green. At the golf course, authorities found newspaper articles in Rollen's possession detailing the Orange County stink bomb incidents. Stewart was released after tournament officials declined to press charges.

"The same type of device went off at the Foreman-Holyfield fight," Santa Ana Police investigator Ferris Buckles said. "But investigators there kicked it down a sewer storm drain and we don't have the evidence."

A year before, Rollen was arrested for disturbing the public at The American Music Awards in L.A. after he tried to toss skunk sacs into the audience. Of this attempt, Rollen said he wanted to show the public that "God thinks this stinks."

All of this strange behavior finally came to a head in late September of '92, when Rockin' Rollen was arrested after holding a maid hostage in the Hyatt Hotel next to Los Angeles International Airport. Rollen--according to the Sept 23rd LA Times article--held the police at bay with threats that he had a bomb. When the standoff continued well into the evening police officers used what they called "Flash-bang" grenades to stun a wigless Rainbow Man and storm the seventh room floor where he was holding siege. A 38 year old house keeper was found un-injured after having locked herself in the bathroom. The police officers apparently decided to make their move after Rollen threatened to fire a pistol at planes landing at the airport. A few hours after the incident, as the police were driving Rollen away, reporters asked him why he had done it.

"To get the word out ," he shouted back at them flashing his famous whacky smile.

The incident began at 9:15 AM on Sept. 22 when Rollen walked unnoticed into a vacant room at the Hyatt, taking the cleaning lady, Paula Madera, by surprise. Madera immediately ran into the bathroom and wisely locked herself in, figuring rightly that Rollen was some kind of crazy. It was at this point in the proceedings The Rainbow Man for some reason decided to light two small fires that attracted attention to himself.

In short order, LAPD had ordered up the SWAT Team, bomb squad and several fire trucks to deal with the situation. While all this commotion was going on outside, Rollen was posting biblical placards in his hotel room window, so they could be read from the ground below. One was an apocalyptic verse from the New Testament referring to the passage: "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat..."

At 5:45 PM--when Stewart threatened to harm his hostage and start taking pot shots at jetliners as they passed near the hotel--the police decided to act. Shortly after, the SWAT team stormed the room, using the aforementioned flash-bang grenades to disorient Rockin' Rollen. At the scene police found Rollen's infamous blue, red, yellow, green, purple and pink Afro wig, along with a high caliber pistol, various incendiary devices, three days of food and Bibles, religious tracts and poetry.

Immediately after his arrest Rollen was taken to another room where he was interrogated. "He's very talkative," said an LAPD spokesman, Officer Bill Frio.

According to another LA Times article, Rollen's motive for the 10-hour hostage drama at the Hyatt was staged to lure the national media into an impromptu news conference so Rollen could alert the world that Armageddon was nigh at hand.

"He thinks the second coming of Christ is on the way, and he wants to spread the word," said LA Police Detective Tom King. "I don't consider him to be a nut. I consider him to be a religious zealot."

Charles R. Taylor, the baptist minister whose Television show "Today in Bible Prophecy" inspired Rollen's religious conversion, echoed Officer King's sentiments. Saith Minister Taylor: "He's not dangerous, he won't hurt anyone." Taylor, who went to the hotel during the hostage drama in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Rollen to surrender, described him as " a little on the fanatical side. He meant well, but he took the wrong approach."

Although it would appear Rev. Taylor believed that Rollen was doing the work of the Lord--albeit in a most maniacal fashion--others disagree. In an interview with police investigator Ferrel Buckles, Buckles speculated that Stewart had come to believe himself to be the "anti-Christ" and had "gone the other way." By the "other way" I guess Buckles meant that Rockin' Rollen had adopted the left-handed path of Satan. Exactly how Buckles arrived at this conclusion, the L.A. Times article failed to further elaborate upon. Others, though, agreed--unlike Officer King and Rev. Taylor--that Rockin' Rollen was indeed a menace to society.

"He represents the most unusual investigations I've ever been on because we don't generally end up investigating people who are so well known as this guy," Buckles said. "Although many people didn't know his name, they knew who he was simply by the fact that he was on television."

"This is not Bozo the Clown," said L.A. District Attorney David P. Conn. "He is a very sick and dangerous man."

In the Nov. 30th, '92 issue of People Magazine, Stewart seemed unfazed that some considered him a dangerous nut case. "I was asked by the psychiatrists here if I hear voices," said Rollen during a prison interview. "I answered, 'No, I'm not hearing voices. But I've been hearing the voice of God for years."

If that's truly the case, then maybe Rollen could plug an amplifier into his head, so we all could hear the good word.

On July 13, 1993, Rockin' Rollen Stewart was found guilty for the Sept '92 "hostage drama" and sentenced to three life prison terms. This might seem extreme when one takes into account that Rollen Stewart never hurt a flea, though many saw him as "a David Koresh waiting to happen. He has the same beliefs and he stands by them so strongly he's willing to die or kill for them," said deputy district attorney Sally Lipscomb.

Others disagreed. An LA Times letter to the editor--written shortly after Rockin' Rollen's conviction--called rightly into question the inequality of the American justice system in regards to The Rainbow Man. The text read: "Tell me how this adds up right? A drunk driver in Ventura, after four years in the courts, gets less than two years for killing three young men, while Rollen Stewart, the Rainbow Man, gets three life sentences for holding someone hostage and displaying religious placards. Does more money for more lawyers equal more justice? Seems so, but I never got past quantum mechanics." -Paul Garson

During sentencing in the L.A. Superior Courtroom, pandemonium erupted, as Rockin' Rollen began a rambling end o' the world rant, screaming at the top of his immensely quotable lungs. Upon being wrestled to the floor by deputies, he shouted: "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they're doing!" While all this commotion was going on, the maid who had been trapped in the hotel room by Rockin' Rollen, wept in the rear of the courtroom.

Later in Feb of '94 Rollen was sentenced an additional five years for his Orange County stink bomb escapades.

"...This man would not let any crime get in the way of getting his message out," said Deputy District Attorney M. Marc Kelly. "...We felt he deserved to be punished and the public of Orange County deserved to have him put away for as long as possible." Municipal Court Judge Elva Soper described Rollen as a "danger to the community."

The L.A. Times from Sept 25 '92 stated that Rockin' Rollen had contemplated killing President Bush and took steps toward assassinating then Presidential candidate Bill Clinton. According to District Attorney David Conn, Rollen purchased a .45 caliber handgun at the same time of Clinton's campaign visit to L.A. Rollen went to the Boneventure where Clinton was staying with plans to shoot him, but did not carry them out because of the heavy security surrounding Slick WIllie. At around the same time he was also spotted at a speech given by the Arkansas governer.

The scary part of it is that Rollen's ministry is not a one man crazy person campaign, but has attracted over the years a small group of fickle faithful who have followed his Koreshian-like footsteps to sporting events across the country, waving biblical placards, and finagling their way in front of TV cameras. In fact, during his investigation of Rockin' Rollen--when the Rainbow wigged one was still at large for the Orange County stink bomb incidents--Officer Ferrel Buckles said that he had obtained, "...information that he(Rockin' Rollen)is currently supported by an underground network and may have a new ministry." If this is the case, then in essence this new ministry--whose exact location was never determined--was, in part, responsible in some way for the hostage siege as well as the alleged assassinations plots on the lives of Bush and Clinton, in that they provided the funding which enabled Rollen to travel about the country stalking his adversaries.

Though many saw Stewart as a lone-nut evangelist, the truth of the matter was that he was the leader of a small and close knit group of three "televangelists"--a holy trinity, have you--that included Douglas Hill from Marysville, Ohio and Bill King, who at one time had a post office box address in Atlanta, but for the most part, it seems--like Rockin' Rollen Stewart--lived out of his car. Apparently their "television ministries" were funded by a vast network of Christians sympathetic to their message of the imminent second coming of Christ. PGA golfer Larry Gene Nelson, a "born-again" Christian, and other pious professional golfers also bankrolled Rockin' Rollen's hijinks. This "Holy Trinity" of Stewart, Hill and King made a territorial pact, where they split the U.S. into three parts; Hill covering Ohio, Illinois and other northern states; King covering the southeast, and Rockin' Rollen covering pretty much everything else. Though questioned about Rockin' Rollen's activities, neither man was implicated in the Rainbow Man's extracurricular activities.

Though the L.A. Times reported that this televangelist circle consisted strictly of Rockin' Rollen, Hill and King, an article in the Jan. 25th, 1992 edition of the Arizona Republic quoted Doug Hill as saying, "To the best of my knowledge, there are only seven of us. With as many games as we're on, most people think it's a hundred people." The article went on to mention that Hill had a half dozen banners that he used at different events displaying John 3:3, John 3:7, Mark 8:36, Romans 10:10 and Revelations 14:11--passages that urge people to become reborn, and to refuse the "mark of the beast."

Apparently Doug HIll first saw the master of the medium--the ubiquitous Rockin' Rollen--at a football game in the mid-80's, and thought to himself, "Wow, I could do that, too!" So Hill made himself up a John 3:3 placard, bought a rainbow-fro, and then followed faithfully the footsteps of his inspiration--Rockin' Rollen--across the TV screens of America, waving his religious signs much to the dismay of TV sport producers.

Whether the number of copycat followers of Rockin' Rollen is actually two, seven, or a hundred, it gives one cause to ponder the effect of charismatic characters such as "The Rainbow Man", and their ability to attract followers together in a common cause; a cause that at it's root is suffering perhaps from a deep psychosis, fueled by an intense belief that Armageddon is on the horizon, and that drastic action must be taken to spread word of The End Times.

In the final analysis, I believe Rollen Stewart became disillusioned with not only his fading fame in the late eighties, as more and more TV directors became wise to his ploys and were able to limit his on-screen antics; but also with the growing realization that his message was not being taken very seriously. Perhaps this is why he decided to up the ante and secure his rightful place in martyrdom with the likes Jim Jones and Dave Koresh, albeit on a much smaller and less grander, less bloodier scale, than his two charismatic counterparts.

© 1999, Adam Gorightly