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Diary of a Media Hoax: The Death of Adam Rich

Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Brandon Lee, Famous Amos -- pop icons "cut down in their prime," whose deaths are of course "tragic," and whose deaths beget fawning tributes, sordid accounts of their private lives, and, for those media outlets shrewd enough to milk the story, higher ratings and better sales at the newsstands. At Might magazine, a small San Francisco-based bimonthly of issues and satire, editors figured that the best way to make fun of the whole practice of celebrity death tributes was to create their own dead celebrity. With the OK of the actor himself, Might spoofed the death of Eight is Enough child star Adam Rich. With gems like, "It is said that to fly too close to the sun is to have your body turned into stone. In the weeks and months that follow, an industry and a generation will have to mine a new quarry," they didn't expect anyone to believe the story. But everyone from Hard Copy to Dick Van Patten did believe it. The surprising results are chronicled in this piece.
 
 
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Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Brandon Lee, Famous Amos -- they were all young, they were all reckless, and they were each kinda sexy in their own tragic sort of way. Of course, they're all dead, too. And in their deaths, each was subjected to a maelstrom of the customary media lionization, distortion and exploitation. Together they constitute the canon of pop icons "cut down in their prime," whose deaths are of course "tragic," and whose deaths beget fawning tributes, sordid accounts of their private lives, and, for those media outlets shrewd enough to milk the story, higher ratings and better sales at the newsstands.At Might magazine, a small San Francisco-based bimonthly of issues and satire, we figured that the best way to make fun of the whole practice was to create our own dead celebrity. By publishing a bogus dead-celebrity tribute issue -- complete with sordid details, rumors and exclusive interviews -- we could spoof the genre while maybe even putting one over on a few gullible and/or flat-out stupid people. But first we needed a star who would let us fake their death. The conditions were thus: he or she had to be famous enough to have wide name recognition, but not so famous that that readers would question why they hadn't heard about their demise. We chose Adam Rich, best known as Nicholas, the adorable youngest child in the late-70s TV dramedy Eight is Enough. One of our contributors had grown up with him in L.A., so we called and pitched the idea. He's a laid-back kind of guy and believed in what we wanted to do, so he said okay. He sent us a bunch of pictures from his child star years -- Adam with Bill Cosby, Adam with Brooke Shields (!) -- and we had a photographer take some new pictures. Adam provided some background, helped flesh out the story, and approved the final copy. But he had no idea what he was in for. In the issue, we recounted the events that led to his murder at the hands of a certain Tad Michael Earnhardt, a desperate out-of-work L.A. stagehand. We looked back fondly at his career, and talked about what he'd been doing in the intervening years, from his hobbies -- painting, motorcycles, tattoos -- to his obsessive work on something we called "The Squatter Project," rumored to be a brilliant, genre-busting film that was to feature a host of Hollywood's heavy hitters, including Nicholas Cage and Harrison Ford. On the cover we put a suitably soft-focused black and white photo of a glassy-eyed Rich, a photo that perfectly aped the Rolling Stone/Spin cover stories about Kurt Cobain. The cover lines read, "Adam Rich, 1968-1996; Fare Thee Well, Gentle Friend. His Final Days. His Last Interview. The Legacy He Leaves." Funny, right? At least we thought so. The cover, plus the 10-page spread within, was so overwrought, melodramatic and intermittently hilarious that we couldn't imagine that anyone could possibly believe it was real. So we decided to bolster its credibility by issuing a straight-laced press release, heralding our exclusive report on the under-reported murder of Adam Rich. The first place we faxed was Hard Copy. Time elapsed between faxing the release and their breathless call to Might: approximately 18 minutes. A Hard Copy producer wanted to know more details. Why hadn't they heard about it? Could we put them in touch with family and friends? Could they get an exclusive? We were thrilled. Getting Hard Copy, purveyors of just the kind of shameless pap we were satirizing, to report the story as fact would have iced our cake. We fibbed enough to keep them interested. They searched and searched, but they couldn't find confirmation anywhere -- no obituary, no police report, nothing. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, apparently they actually do reporting.) Still, they were eager. It was obvious they wanted more than anything for it to be true. But the jig was up about an hour later when the National Enquirer -- who we hadn't faxed, but who I guess shares tips with Hard Copy -- called Rich's publicist and demanded to talk to Adam. A National Enquirer -Adam Rich-Adam Rich's publicist conference call ensued: Adam Rich: "Hello?"Adam Rich's publicist: "Adam, are you alive?"Adam Rich: "Uh, yeah."The Hard Copy producer, tipped off by her National Enquirer cohorts, called back and chewed us out. It was then that we rethought our approach. It was obvious that any media outlet, by calling the L.A.P.D. or the county coroner -- or Rich's publicist -- was going to quickly find out that Adam was not indeed dead. It almost killed us, but we reluctantly resolved that from then on, we'd let callers in on the joke.But most of the damage had already been done. The magazine had been on the newsstand for about two days and Rich's poor publicist -- who didn't know what we and Adam were doing -- was getting at least fifty calls a day. Newspapers, radio stations, colleagues and old girlfriends were calling to offer condolences and to learn more. Why hadn't they heard? Why wasn't there a memorial service? One old girlfriend saw a copy of the issue and cried for two days before mustering the courage to call Adam's number. Expecting his last outgoing message, she was shocked when a real live Adam answered the phone. Other actor friends called and were pissed when they learned the truth. And just when Rich was starting to get nervous about the fallout from the story, it got worse. An AP reporter tracked down Eight is Enough costar Dick Van Patten in somewhere like rural Missouri, wanting a comment on Adam's death. Van Patten was beside himself, and called Rich's publicist, deeply distraught about the news. Van Patten was set straight, but Rich was shocked by the reach of our little magazine. He intimated that perhaps the whole thing had gone too far."No offense to Might," he said, "but I didn't really think anyone would see it." Whether or not they had seen the magazine, the rumor was soon everywhere, and posted to newsgroups all over the Net. Rich asked us to fax out another press release, and together we posted an official response on the Net. The statement, besides making it clear that he was indeed alive, ended with this conclusion from Adam: "Personally, I believe that if you can't laugh at yourself, you've missed the biggest goddamn joke in your life. Thanks for caring, and lighten the fuck up."The piece has taken some unfortunate turns. Tabloid schmaltz like The Star, The Globe and the National Enquirer have written snippy little things about this being Adam's "desperate" attempt at a comeback. A writer for the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat put forth the comeback theory, adding that Rich's career was "going nowhere fast." (In contrast, of course, to the career of someone who's writing the celebrity gossip roundup for a piddling little paper in a tiny California town.) What no one wants to do is to allow a former child actor to have a life, to move on from a troubled past. Still, there's been some good news. As I write this, I'm listening to Rich being interviewed on a popular morning radio show. It's his tenth media interview in two days, and the calls keep coming in. He's been accepting interview requests only from those who want to talk about the article, and its message. Back from the dead, Rich has turned into an eloquent commentator on media exploitation. Irony can be sweetly rewarding.Adam flew up from L.A. for our issue-release party a few weeks ago. At the event, dozens of presumably savvy Might readers approached Adam, almost uniform in having been duped by the story. At one point, a beaming Rich was surrounded by about a dozen fawning women. "I really thought you were dead," one said, extending a pen and a copy of the issue. "Can you sign my copy?"The Might Adam Rich Storyby Christopher Pelham-Fence; with Naomi Robbins in Venice, Kent Burden in Hollywood, Didi Gateaux in Brentwood and Cocoa Clarke in Beverly HillsThe mass of ice plant that grows along the California coast just up from Malibu is particularly plentiful, and Billy, Will and Jared's favorite spot at the water's edge is covered with it. Its dense, pulpy leaves cover the ground like a dank blanket, and seem to swallow the sounds around it. Today the usual sounds -- sea lions barking, waves crashing up against the shoreline -- are joined by the voices of these three teenagers. It is the song of mourning for slain actor Adam Rich."He was just so real, so honest with his emotions -- in every one of his roles," says Billy, 18, whose weathered blond hair blows softly in the coastal breeze, as he skips rocks into Santa Monica Bay. In a flannel shirt and Converse All-Stars, his bowl cut half-shadowing his eyes and his cheeks still pudgy, it's nearly impossible to miss the resemblance between Will, 19, and Nicholas Bradford, the character Adam played on the seminal '70s family dramedy, Eight Is Enough. Indeed, Will could be his hero's reincarnation. "I was real young when it was on, so I've only seen it in reruns," he confesses. "But I swear, even though I was an only child, it was like Nicholas could've been me.""I never actually saw the show," offers Billy, "but he still meant everything to me."I can't believe he's gone," adds Jared.But ask Will and his friends just why Rich is gone, and the reply comes almost in unison: "Short temper."Not since Kurt Cobain, Brandon Lee, River Phoenix, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Lord Byron and Shannon Moon has the sting of remembrance been so bittersweet. And yet, this time, the memories seem to be shared on a more personal basis, as thousands of fans gather in spontaneous outbursts of mutual feeling and shared recollections. Indeed, Adam Rich's untimely death was largely ignored by the national media. But when Betty Buckley takes the stage in "Cats" tonight to sing her signature rendition of "Memories," it will resonate with new meaning as she mourns her slain former Eight co-star. For she knows, as well as the thousands of others who've found out through word of mouth in the past weeks, that here in the City of Angels, on the city's most famous avenue, outside a club, in a parking lot, Rich was killed in a senseless act of violence that has become all too familiar in urban America. The details remain sketchy, but this much has been confirmed by the LAPD and unnamed sources close to Rich and the case. At 1:04 a.m. on March 22, Rich walked out of the swank Asp Club on Sunset Boulevard and headed for his car parked around the corner. The street light in front of the club was out. It had been raining. And 5/8 of the way to his 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo 20 feet away, Rich was confronted by a mysterious stranger -- who has since been identified as 29-year-old unemployed dinner theater stagehand Tad Michael Earnhardt. Earnhardt brandished a gun and demanded Rich's wallet, which the actor reluctantly handed over. Then, displaying hints of the short temper Billy and his friends speak of, Rich offered a sarcastic -- but according to Earnhardt, pointedly accurate -- remark. The short, rotund Earnhardt, whose beefy frame belied a hypersensitive and trigger-happy teddy bear within, responded by shooting him three times in the chest. Earnhardt was picked up by police minutes later in a movie theater.At the time of his death, Rich was hard at work producing an independent film whose plot, title and cast remain shrouded in mystery. Rumors say that it was a genre-bending blockbuster in the making, incorporating multimedia and interactive elements -- the type of film propelled by a raw personal vision that comes along perhaps once in a generation. The cast and crew of Rich's mystery film (known in Variety gossip columns as "The Squatter Project"), and nearly everyone in the small beach community of Venice where he made his home, were shocked by the tragic loss of one of America's finest young acting talents. Yet the Los Angeles police remain coolly -- some might say cruelly -- indifferent. "That kind of shit happens around here all the time, especially in parking lots," said LAPD Sgt. David Vigliano in a prepared statement. If you believe in destiny, that we are all just derelict Chinese spy satellites hurtling through the atmosphere on a plotted trajectory toward a final flame-out, then Adam Rich was destined to die in a senseless and completely unpredictable way. The ultimate irony is that Rich, infamous for his short temper, would be sent to meet his maker by one with an even shorter temper than his own. For while Adam Rich is uniformly remembered as a kind, giving and effusively charming soul, nary a single recollection is absent of his somewhat darker side. "I can remember the first time I met him," recalls Kentaro Tanizumi, an animator who brought Rich's voice to life as The Wizard in the cartoon TV series Dungeons & Dragons. "We were talking motocross, trading wipeout stories, you know, friendly as could be. Then all of a sudden he was flyin' off the handle because it was too humid." "It was like fire and ice with Adam," says Heather Locklear, who starred on Dynasty when it was shot next door to Eight on MGM's Culver City lot. "One minute he was charming the pants off you -- like, literally -- and the next minute he's totally berating you about your shoes. But I was just like, 'Adam, they're just shoes.'" "I've never seen anyone so totally embrace a role," says Lorne Greene, who worked with Rich on the short-lived ABC series, "Code Red." "But he'd be running lines with you on the set, and then, totally out of the blue, he'd be tearing his trailer apart. The tiniest little thing could set him off.""He'd be playing with G.I. Joe, happy as a clam, and then for no apparent reason, he'd order Joe to run commando mission on his sister's Barbie dolls," recalls Rich's mother, Francine. "He was like that since the day he was born." That day was October 12, 1968, and the place was Brooklyn, N.Y. Francine and her husband, Robert, moved Rich and brother Wayne out to California when Adam was five. Though nobody in Rich's family is an actor or even a producer, he demonstrated a precocious proclivity for the life of a thespian, and his future as an actor seemed predestined. "Oh, he used to put on little shows when family would come over," says Francine. "He'd write down whole scenes that he'd seen on TV and act them out. Then after about three months of him bugging me, I finally let him go to acting school." Rich's talents were the biggest sensation at Beverly Hills School of Performing Arts since its opening in 1971, and they were so taken by his gift that the instructors brought in the top child-actor agent at the time, Iris Burton. Those who knew Rich early in his career would attest to his unadulterated innocence. "Adam was like a baby seal," says Jules Wandermann, director of BHSPA. "He fucking shimmered in the sun."Rich's talents -- along with some fast talking from Burton -- got him cast opposite Hollywood patriarch Henry Fonda in a long-running commercial for GAF viewfinders. "Adam's youth and enthusiasm seemed to invigorate Henry," recalls Wandermann. "And if I'm not mistaken, it wasn't long after they started working together that he saw the script for On Golden Pond. " Of course, soon after the commercial stopped running, so did Fonda. He died at the apogee of his career, as did Rich.But one of the millions who saw the GAF viewfinder commercial was Lorimar Productions producer Tim Hamilton. After five callbacks and two screen tests, he instantly recognized Adam's innate talents and cast him in the role of Nicholas Bradford for Lorimar's one-hour pilot of "Eight Is Enough," based on the best-selling family saga by author Thomas Braden. Braden passed away soon after writing the screenplay. Now Hamilton is dead, too. On March 15, 1977, the newly formed cast of Eight is Enough assembled in director Kent Morris's Beachwood Canyon bungalow for the ABC debut of the hastily edited pilot of the show. When the clock struck eight (a coincidence?), a nervous energy emanating from the cast and principal crew crackled in the Hollywood living room like kindling. They gathered and stared at the television with increasing tenseness, brought together now by their shared doubts: Could a show about a family with eight kids make it on American television? A show about a family with eight kids that lived in Sacramento? A family with eight kids that lived in Sacramento whose father was Dick van Patten? The odds seemed stacked against them. But Rich would later tell friends that he could see his destiny laid out before him that night from his seat in a bean bag chair by the ficus. Just eight years old at the time, he was perhaps the only one present who could see that the show would be an instant success. The precocious youth stood up as the credits rolled and proclaimed, "It's a hit! A palpable hit!" The room stared at him in disbelief.Rich was right, of course. Eight Is Enough went into immediate production as a one-hour series, and for the next four years established itself as a Wednesday night institution for millions of American families. And from this cast of over seventeen regular players, it was Rich who leapt into the collective heart of America. Within months of the show's debut, Adam was featured on magazine covers and morning wake-up shows nationwide. But despite the show's wild success and Rich's universal popularity, problems developed between America's latest pre-pubescent darling and the rest of the cast of "Eight." Even at the age of ten, Rich was prone to bouts of self-imposed solitude and moments of unpredictable, gale-force rage. One time on the set, he threw a bowl of catering-truck macaroni salad at co-star Willie Aames, who played brother Tommy. Another time, in a discussion with an unsuspecting gaffer, he pulled a knife. "Back then, people had this impression of Adam being this adorable little pip-squeak, and he wasÉ most of the time," says Susan Richardson, who played Susan. "But he had a dark side you just couldn't imagine unless you were quite imaginative.""He scared me. Scared me bad," confides Karate Kid Ralph Macchio, who had a small part on Eight as Nicholas's friend Jeremy. "I'm glad he's dead."Rich had an entirely different feeling about his next show, Code Red, an emergency drama that attempted to combine the formulas of hit shows Emergency and CHiPs with the family-oriented, tug-at-your-heartstrings allure of The Waltons. Code featured Rich as the adopted son in an extended family of fire fighters headed by Lorne Greene. Greene once said in an interview that Rich learned everything there was to know about fire fighting and was always lecturing the cast and crew about smoke detectors, fire-resistant pajamas and other safety devices. "It was something else," said Greene of Rich's fire-safety hyperawareness. "I mean, you'd light up a Marlboro or something, and he'd stop, drop and roll."But Greene also admitted that Rich eventually began to take the role too seriously. Legend has it that Rich had heard on late-night TV somewhere that eating vitamin C tablets could actually make your skin fire retardant, and took to chewing the tablets constantly. "He had orange, cherry, tangerine -- it was ridiculous," Greene told Esquire in 1988. "Couldn't get enough of that ascorbic acid. If the caterer ever ran out, he'd go bananas and start throwing those moist towelette packets all over the place."Despite Rich's safety lectures -- and short-tempered outbursts -- Code bombed anyway. Publicists said the ABC program -- which was produced by disaster maven Irwin The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno Allen -- was a victim of a noble but failed experiment to merge two successful formulas. But the truth is that Rich's star quality wasn't enough to carry the weight of the soon-to-be-dead Greene, a Canadian. Later that year, before the cancellation of Code, Rich co-starred alongside Bill Cosby in Disney's paranormal-family-comedy film, The Devil and Max Devlin. Unfortunately, the publicity it generated for Rich couldn't prevent Code from joining Eight on the beach of the isle of castaway television series. The film gave way to Dungeons & Dragons, an animated TV program that aired at the height of the adventure game's popularity with future engineers and computer programmers; Rich enthralled audiences as the voice of the Wizard. (Willie Aames also co-starred.) Along the way came guest appearances in such TV hits as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPs and The Six Million Dollar Man. After D&D came a role on Gun Shy, a CBS series that lasted just six episodes, and then Rich's star faded from the television firmament like a fizzled-out comet whose tail burned too long and bright. At age fifteen, he could only hope his star would come back, at least before Hyakutake. It was the years between 1984 -- when Gun Shy was prudently canceled -- and 1994, when he turned up in an interview centered around his shoes that appeared in this magazine, that remain the most enigmatic of Rich's short life. There were, of course, appearances on the two Eight reunion shows, but cast members recall it was as if Rich were coming out of hibernation. "He'd show up late, unshaven, shirt halfway unbuttoned, and immediately start slapping around some grip for no reason whatsoever," recalls Aames. "You could tell he really didn't want to be there; he'd just sit in his trailer, chewing that vitamin C."Fortunately, Adam soon found another outlet for his emotions: painting. While re-creation of family life in Sacramento wasn't enough to bring Rich out of his funk, art was. He developed into a skilled artist by the time of his early death. But no one will ever know just how talented he was because of what transpired in the early morning hours of a fateful Sunday in June, 1993.It was then that Rich went into his penultimate short-tempered spiral. A Brentwood gallery had opened the first exhibition of Rich's canvases earlier that night to great success. Shy about showing his work, Rich had previously rejected numerous offers of exhibitions at respected galleries in New York and Los Angeles. Only a select few of his closest friends ever saw his paintings. "It was really weird with Adam's paintings," says Rich's personal trainer, Andy McBain. "Because he was so proud and showy when it came to his work as an actor -- well, most of it, anyway -- and yet he'd never let anyone come near his art." The work was said to exhibit "an innate compulsion of solipsistic agony," in the words of the exhibition catalog. At the show's opening, Rich's self-taught virtuosity was lavishly praised. But praise wasn't enough for Rich; he overheard an ambivalent comment uttered by an artistic neophyte and stormed out of the gallery, his short temper ablaze.According to court documents obtained by Might, Rich returned to the gallery sometime after three a.m. with a pilfered key, a matchbook, five gallons of kerosene and some tin foil. After drenching each painting in the flammable liquid, he set fire to them all. The gallery burned to the ground, but owner Claudia von Claudia, moved by what she saw as "the ultimate act of artistic license," declined to press charges. "The place was way overinsured anyway," she told Buzz magazine.If the world is a less beautiful place without Rich's paintings, perhaps we can take solace in the fact that this manifestation of his ill disposition seemed to pre-empt all future ones -- until the one that would result in his death. For in the flames of destruction, Rich found redemption. After the gallery fire, Rich continued to paint, but would burn each canvas almost as soon as he finished it. "Just having the work around long enough for the paint to dry was agonizing for Adam," says Rich's chauffeur, Ron Russell. "And if you're a painter, you know that acrylic dries in seconds." Russell pauses, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. "He'd just sit there chewing his vitamin C and blowing on the painting," he says. Rich would regularly close the blinds in his apartment and go into what he called "lockdown," according to Russell and other sources, doing nothing but smoke cigars and paint, smoke and paint, smoke and paint. Then, when satisfied with what he saw through the pale, hazy light that crept through the blinds' slats, Rich would start a fire. "Sometimes he'd actually use the cigar to burn the painting," says Russell. "But that was real slow, so usually he'd just throw it in the fireplace."Ironically, the habit may have pacified Rich in his final years. After about a year of frequent "lockdowns," Rich began work on the highly secretive "Squatter Project." Rich's tattoo artist, Mark Mahoney, says that Adam had never seemed happier than when he was talking, albeit obliquely, about "Squatter." "Adam was, like, a tattoo artist's wet dream," says Mahoney. "All his tats, which were inspired by 'Squatter,' had such depth."In an act typical of his more generous side, Rich introduced his communications specialist, Ken Gold, to Harrison Ford and Nicolas Cage, who are rumored to have been just two of the many Hollywood heavyweights involved with "Squatter." "He was finally so happy, and not eating so much vitamin C," says Gold. "That's the real tragedy here." Since Rich's death, Gold confides, business has been slow.The only other thing that seemed to effectively calm Rich's soul during these last years was motocross. A hobby of his since before his Eight days, Rich owned two bikes. And though both were in need of some minor repairs, friends say he was constantly talking about getting them running again."Sometimes we'd ride bikes together out in the desert," remembers fellow motocross enthusiast Jon Palumbo between bites of an In & Out Burger. "It was nice. Too bad he's dead."On the day of Adam Rich's funeral, a soft breeze whispers through the rain-flattened grass of Holland Hill Cemetery. When the service is over, and the white enamel casket has been lowered into the ground, about 23 people gather in a circle to share their memories and their grief. Gloria Hazen, Rich's first girlfriend, reminisces about how, after his family moved from Brooklyn, he used to walk down to the beach at sunset to throw large rocks at seagulls. "He was so pissed to be living away from his friends," she says. In the harsh morning light, she looks frail and timid, a mere shadow of her former self when Rich was alive."That's totally bullshit," yells Kathy Williams, a former girlfriend of Rich, "he hated Brooklyn!""Whatever, Kathy. How would you know anything? He only took you to the Golden Globes," says Cindy Hansen, another former girlfriend. "But he totally loved L.A., even from the start.""No, he never really found himself here," corrects Sapphire Hermann, Rich's junior-year prom date. "And he never really knew his mom.""He was a goddamn angel, that's what he was," sobs Mary Barnes, another girlfriend. As the grief session advances into the afternoon, it is clear that the enigmatic Rich was too complex to be understood by any one of those around him. But it also becomes clear that he not only touched the hearts of those who knew him well, he actually touched many of those who knew him well. This was his nature and the facet of his personality that gave his acting an electric spark: to love, to share, to touch -- but to keep a little something inside, a little something held back.Mary Barnes sits quietly in a corner of the circle, meticulously pulling apart a dandelion. "I thought he liked seagulls."Today and every day since Rich's death, small charred stick-figure drawings, some of them small as cocktail napkins and paper plates, along with a motley collection of cigars, vitamin C tablets and motocross patches line the alley outside the Asp Club. Go there at sunset and inevitably a crowd will have formed, a mishmash of motocross enthusiasts, struggling painters and actors, small children and older, inconsolable Eight is Enough fans. They usually mingle for a while, lighting candles and laying flowers around a makeshift memorial of trash aligned to spell "Adam." It's a group similar in makeup to the dozens that attended Rich's memorial/rally/barbeque on Venice beach the Saturday after his death. There, a tape recorded by Allison Hughes, Rich's girlfriend of the last three weeks of his life, was played to the assembled mourners. She urged the fans to be strong, and quoted one of the ten moving tips Rich gave this magazine's readers in 1995. "Just turn on some Superchunk, throw your stuff in a box and move it!"To show up in person would have been the most difficult of moments for Allison Hughes, a dancer. "I just couldn't face standing up in front of all those people, you know. It's not like I have a lot of black in my wardrobe, so I'm not entirely confident about how I look. But hearing about it later, it just hit me -- they really loved him. Wow." Hughes suggests that Rich was largely a misunderstood figure. "He never stormed out of any restaurants, or got mad at his dentist, or cursed. All that shit about his so-called short temper came from you faggot Nazi journalists." She makes little quote marks with her fingers when she says the words "short temper" and "journalists."Looking out at the waves that extend endlessly into the horizon from this ice plant-covered coastal chaparral in Ventura County, the life of a talented young actor may for a moment seem small compared to the Pacific Ocean. That is, until the silence is broken by one whom that actor touched so deeply with his life and art -- Ron Russell. I've brought Ron to share some of his remembrances of Rich with these three fans, Billy, Will and Jared. He points to a single episode just after pre-development meetings began on the "Squatter Project" that may have signaled what was to come. "We were going to get some more vitamin C from the 24-hour GNC one night after working late," Ron relates to the young fans, who hang on his every word. "A guy came over to Adam and asked for the time. Adam just lost it. He snapped at him, 'Do I look like a fucking clock? Do I? Am I Big fucking Ben to you?' I was like, whoa, Adam, settle down. I had to hold this guy back from taking a swing at him. I remember Adam just glared at me," he says. Ron's eyes glimmer like the ocean before him as he continues. "He glared, and glared, and glared, and glared, and glared, and -- glared. Then he glared for a few more minutes. Of course, by now the guy was long gone. But it was really weird."Billy, Will and Jared sit silently for a moment. Finally, Will speaks. Still cherubic at 22, he embodies the type of kid who related to Rich, and his pain now is somehow beyond all the glowing eulogies at the funeral the day before, or the somewhat less flattering anecdote Ron has just told. "That doesn't sound like him at all," says Will, incredulous. "I mean, remember when Nicholas ran away from home and made friends with the bum in San Diego? Does that sound like the type of guy who'd throw a temper-tantrum?" When one who has shone so brightly to so many is snuffed out with terrifying finality, the pain comes in waves that seem to lap at the toes of individuals, even as it crashes onto the beachhead of society. No, there will never be another quite like Adam Rich, and while his memory, to both his fans and those who knew him, is immortal, what really are we left with? Questions. What was Tad Michael Earnhardt, a well-off, albeit unemployed, dinner theater stagehand, doing in that parking lot that night? What made Rich race to meet his destiny outside the Asp Club's doors? How do you finish a movie when the producer and principal actor has been killed during pre-production? And, finally, what will Ron and company do for a job now? It is said that to fly too close to the sun is to have your body turned into stone. In the weeks and months that follow, an industry and a generation will have to mine a new quarry.