Saturday, February 15, 2003

Skeleton Warrior Found Dead in Malibu Home

Sometime between February 14th and 15th, the entertainment world lost one of its brightest stars. Police were summoned to the Malibu Beach home of Skeleton Warrior, only to find him floating in the pool, dead.

Police are baffled by the scene, which included a cryptic note on a bathroom mirror in lipstick reading "I hate you Skeleton Warrior! Die! Die! Die!"

Foul play has not been ruled out.

But this is not the time to linger on the tragic end of this superstar. Let us instead look back at the good times.

Skeleton Warrior was discovered in a small production of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", playing the role of Yorick. He brought a real depth and sensitivity to the part, so lacking in many productions.

After that, he really hit the big time, turning in stellar performances in Citizen Kane and Dark Passage, where he played Humphrey Bogart's part, before the bandages are removed. Many felt the film would have been much improved had it been Skeleton Warrior who was there under the bandages. Director Delmer Daves, though, felt that the image of Skeleton Warrior's "fleshless visage" might prove too much for the general public, and would, in fact, not make any sense.

This sort of insensitivity to the heritage of Skeleton Warrior led to many dark, soul-searching nights. Friends reported they feared for his sanity and perhaps his very life.

He fell out with director David Lean on the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and is uncredited even to this day for his role in the film. He would later admit that "all that sand was playing hell with me. Sandstorms are no good for guy who doesn't even have tendons, you know."

Skeleton Warrior was perhaps best known for the role that brought him back from the brink and saved him from himself: his groundbreaking work in "Jason and the Argonauts". He played the part of "Skeleton Warrior #4" with "panache and wit", said critic Rex Reed. "Skeleton Warrior really just acted the pants off those other skeletons. But that was his gift."

And perhaps his downfall.

Skeleton Warrior was too good. Jealousy marked his later career. He had trouble landing roles, and was forced to make guest appearances on game shows and even one disastrous choice, starring opposite Jamie Farr in an episode of The Love Boat. Skeleton Warrior would later remember "Farr was always stepping on my lines. He knew he was just a hairy guy in a dress, and that's all he ever would be. So I stabbed him. Arrrr!"

He was, of course, charged only with community service, but fans felt that such an outburst of violence marred his career. In court, Skeleton Warrior said only "I'm a Skeleton Warrior. Of course I stabbed him."

He got big into the early 80s whirlwind of booze, drugs and fast women. He would recount his exploits with pal Erik Estrada in his autobiography "Boner": "Me and Erik, we were best friends. I told him 'Erik, you're too good for that Wilcox guy.' I even went in for an audition, but I had trouble with the bike. My tibia kept snapping. I'm so pleased for Erik and all his success. You know, the Mexican soap operas and telethons. What a jerk."

What happened to Skeleton Warrior? Was it an angry Jamie Farr fan pushed to the brink? A lover spurned? Estrada himself? These questions may never be fully answered.

But for now, perhaps it is best to remember him as he was: full of life and love. All over the country, vigils are being held for this great actor that moved so many with his graceful and sometimes frightening flights of fancy. Please, stop by The Skeleton Warrior Tribute Site and just leave your thoughts on the passing of a Hollywood legend.

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