David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes

• At a concert featuring hardcore group Black Flag, a bouncer unnecessarily roughed up a woman in the audience. Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski saw what was happening, did not like what he saw, and hit the bouncer’s head with the end of his bass, resulting in the bouncer going to a hospital to get stitches. After the show, Black Flag’s kick drum was missing, and a different bouncer said that to get the kick drum back they would have to go to the manager’s office. The kick drum was there, and so was the manager—who felt safe because his bouncers were also there. The manager criticized the Black Flag members, calling them “f*ckups,” but they got the kick drum. They also learned that the club’s owner had called other clubs that Black Flag was going to play at and told these clubs not to pay Black Flag because they were troublemakers. Unfortunately, at this club and at other clubs women are often not safe at music concerts. In 1984, during a Black Flag concert in Hamburg, Germany, three women in the audience had their tops torn off. Mr. Rollins gave his shirt to one of the women, but his shirt was also torn off her body. Mr. Rollins says, “So much for my good deed.” And at a club in Los Angeles, Mr. Rollins noticed that the security guys were frisking everybody who came in. He says that “[t]he girls got searched extra carefully” because “the security guys [were] getting in a good feel when they could.” One way in which Mr. Rollins is sensitive is that when he notices that he is walking behind a lone woman, he will slow down and let her put some distance between him and her. He knows that often women are afraid that they will get attacked on the street. He also knows that they can be scared by his presence. He says, “I’ve had girls run into stores and wait until I pass before they come out.” Unfortunately, women sometimes have good reason to be afraid of men.

• Cult filmmaker John Waters is a friend of Leslie Van Houten, who was a member of the Charles Manson Family, and in 2010 he thought that it was time she was paroled despite her participation in the murder of Rosemary LaBianca. In 2003, CBS remade the book Helter Skelter, which is about the Manson Family, as a TV movie, and Mr. Waters worried that its portrayal of Ms. Van Houten could have a negative effect on her parole hearings. Mr. Waters telephoned the director, John Gray, and told him about Ms. Van Houten and his belief that she deserved to be paroled. (The two men did not know each other.) When Mr. Waters saw the completed movie, he was relieved because the character of Ms. Van Houten played only a small part in it. Later, he was in a Los Angeles restaurant when his waitress asked him, “Can I ask you something personal?” He replied, “Sure,” but he was surprised by what she asked him: “Are you the head of that ‘Friends of Leslie’ organization?” He replied that the organization had no head and had officially disbanded, but that many people wanted Ms. Van Houten to be paroled. It turned out that the waitress—Catherine Wadkins—had played Ms. Van Houten in the new Helter Skeltermovie. Mr. Waters felt bad because he thought that he might have cut the size of her role by telephoning the director. Ms. Wadkins told him, “Yes, you did,” but she added, “That’s OK. I think Leslie shouldget out, and I tried to play the part in a way to show how brainwashed she was.”

• Cher and Meryl Streep co-starred in the movie Silkwood. In a 1987 interview, Cher called Meryl “incredibly brave” and told about a night in Manhattan when the two saw a huge man mugging a woman: “Meryl screamed and ran straight at the man—who let go of the woman and ran straight at us! I thought we were going to be killed, but he ran between us and disappeared. We were both a wreck, but that’s Meryl. She does what’s right, no matter what.” Meryl said, “I convince myself of my own courage. After I’ve played Isak Dinesen [in Out of Africa], I think I’m as brave as she is. I can fight lions—for a while. I stuff my straw in there, and I really believe I can scare the crows.”

• Helena Rubinstein left Poland and traveled to Australia with 12 pots of facial cream that had been made by a Hungarian doctor. The Australian women liked the facial cream’s effect on Helena’s complexion, and Helena recognized a business opportunity. She became very, very rich through selling her cosmetics and through her determination—a trait that served her well throughout her life. When she was 94, some armed robbers broke into her apartment in Manhattan. She told them, “Go ahead and kill me—I am not going to let you rob me.” The armed robbers ran away.

• LSD guru Timothy Leary once escaped from prison. While he was being introduced into the prison system, he was given psychological tests, some of which he himself had designed. (He was once a professor at Harvard.) Therefore, he knew how to answer the tests to give the prison officials the impression of himself he wanted to give them: that he was a safe and conventional conformist who would not escape and who had an interest in gardening and in forestry. The plan worked. They sent him to a place from which it was easier for him to escape.

• In 1960, a burglar made the mistake of trying to burgle John Wayne’s home. Mr. Wayne was home, and he grabbed a shotgun and chased the burglar into the backyard where he made the burglar stop by yelling, “I got you covered!” Mr. Wayne’s wife telephoned the police, who quickly arrived. The burglar did have a request that he asked Mr. Wayne to fulfill: “I came here in a cab. The taxi driver is still outside. The meter’s running. He didn’t know I came to rob you. Could you take care of him, Mr. Wayne?” Mr. Wayne paid the taxi driver.

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David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes

In 1932, Nell Mitchell, an 88-year-old resident in Memphis, Tennessee, did not feel well. Her doctor, who had made a house call, worried about leaving her alone, but she reassured him that she would be OK. She wasn’t completely alone, as her cat, Shade McCorkle, was with her; besides, soon her husband would be home. Her doctor left then, but soon someone entered her house without permission. The intruder asked for food, but Nell replied that she was too sick to fix food for him. The intruder then demanded her wedding ring, which Nell gave to him. That did not satisfy the intruder, who started to beat Nell. Fortunately, Shade the cat jumped on the intruder and started biting and clawing his throat. The intruder ran away, but the police quickly found and arrested him. Because of his heroism, Shade the cat won the Latham Foundation Gold Medal.

As a very young man, actor Steve McQueen broke into homes and stole. According to Mr. McQueen, “I never made off with very much. I really took just what I needed to buy food.” Later, he felt guilty about what he had done, and twenty years later his adventures in theft, he visited the homes to try to make amends. He says, “I’d knock on doors. People looked very surprised to see me standing there and I’d ask if they remembered someone breaking into the house. Some said they couldn’t recall, or that they were broken into more than once, but some said they did remember. Then I’d say, ‘I have a friend who did it and he asked me if I’d come and pay you back,’ and I’d pay them and leave before they asked questions. That made me feel a little better.”

Jim Marshall was a great rock and roll photographer, but he could be a little crazy—sometimes from the cocaine he ingested into his body. In March of 1983, a woman tripped his apartment’s burglar alarm, and Mr. Marshall yelled at the woman and waved a gun in her face. Because of that, he was sentenced to work furlough, where he worked as an assistant to commercial photographer Dennis Gray, who admired his work and who picked him up and dropped him off at his barracks. Mr. Marshall had to follow the rules set by Mr. Gray, who said, “We struck a deal. He couldn’t talk to my clients [because Mr. Marshall could be abrasive]. He couldn’t show them his work. And once in a while I made him call me bwana.”

Early in their careers, British comedians Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders shared a house. Ms. Saunders was known for being disorganized and messy, although she later became much neater after having children. Unfortunately, their house was broken into. They called the police, who investigated and said, “Well, it is quite bad, but the worst is that room at the top.” Actually, the burglars hadn’t entered the room at the top. That room was Ms. Saunders’ room, and it was in its usual messy state. Ms. French says about Ms. Saunders, “She used to be up to her knees in old pants.”

In 2001, nine-year-old Pam was pushing her sleeping Siamese cat, Sybil, in a baby carriage near her home in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. A stranger got out of an automobile, covered Pam’s mouth with tape, and tried to force her into the car. She grabbed Sybil out of the baby carriage, and now awake, Sybil clawed the man’s arm and then jumped up on his chest and bit his throat. He managed to throw the cat on the ground, but by then he was surrounded with adults from the neighborhood, who were armed with bats, golf clubs, and even canes. The police came quickly and arrested the man.

Maria Callas once appeared at the Chicago Lyric Theater in Madama Butterfly. Backstage, while she was still dressed in her kimono costume, a law official served her with a subpoena regarding a breach of contract. Aghast, she stormed at the law official, “How dare you! I am a goddess!” Of course, many members of the media were present, and of course, as anyone familiar with the work of theatrical guru Danny Newman would guess, it was Mr. Newman who had alerted the media to be present at the diva’s display of fireworks.

In 1962, drummer Pete Best was kicked out of the Beatles, who of course went on to become the most successful rock band ever. He remembers how financially impoverished they were back then: They would get paid one day and be broke the next day. Therefore, he and John Lennon decided to rob someone. They jumped a sailor, who fought back. Pete and John then ran away. Pete remembers, “I looked at John and said, ‘Have you got the wallet?’ And he said, ‘No, I thought you had it.’” And so ended their life of crime.

In 1928, gangster Titanic Thompson cheated fellow gangster Arnold Rothstein in a rigged card game in New York. After the game was over, Mr. Rothstein owed Mr. Thompson $300,000. Mr. Rothstein knew that he had been cheated, so he refused to pay up. The predictable result was that Mr. Rothstein got shot. The police talked to Mr. Rothstein while he was on his deathbed, but he refused to tell them who had shot him, telling them instead, “My Mudder did it.”

The creators behind the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto 4 have a sly sense of humor. In the game, the player can run around beating up and murdering police officers and prostitutes, but if the player chooses to drink and drive, a screen pops up advising the player not to do that and to take a taxi instead. If the player chooses to drive drunk anyway, immediately they are pulled over by the police.

In September of 2007, Keifer Sutherland spent a couple of months in jail because of DUI (driving under the influence) charges. Afterward, he went on David Letterman’s late-night show and talked about the time that he dropped his soap in the jail showers and decided not to pick it up, explaining, “It was at that point I decided that soap was overrated.”


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David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes

In February 2008, Julio Diaz, then age 31, got off the subway one stop early, as usual, so he could eat at his favorite diner. This time, a teenage boy with a knife mugged him. Mr. Diaz said, “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go.’” The teenager started to walk away, but Mr. Diaz said to him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The teenager asked him, “Why are you doing this?” Mr. Diaz replied, “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.” In an interview later for NPR’s Morning Edition, Mr. Diaz said, “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help.” Mr. Diaz and the teenager went into the diner. Mr. Diaz said, “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi. The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?’” Mr. Diaz told the teenager, “No, I just eat here a lot. He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’” Mr. Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?” The teenager said, “Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way.” The bill arrived, and Mr. Diaz said, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.” The teenager returned Mr. Diaz’ wallet. Mr. Diaz said, “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.” Mr. Diaz asked for the boy’s knife — and the boy gave it to him. Later, Mr. Diaz told his mother what had happened, and she said to him, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.” Mr. Diaz said, “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

Benny Washam, a former resident of Possum Foot Bridge, Arkansas, told cartoon director Chuck Jones that a certain story of the Johnson Brothers — both oversized and under-brained — who lived in nearby Cotton Mouth Farm was true. The Johnson brothers had a profession: pig-rustling. They rustled a pig, loading her into the back of their pickup, but soon they heard on the radio that the police were on the lookout for anyone who was hauling a pig. To avoid unnecessary trouble, they dressed the pig in a shirt and pants that belonged to a Johnson grandmother who weighed approximately the same as the pig: about 500 pounds. They then put the pig in the seat between them. Sure enough, two state troopers stopped them and asked them who they were. They identified themselves as Johnsons, and then gave their first names: Frobe, Newt, and Oink. The state troopers let them go, and one state trooper said to the other, “Have you ever in your born life seen anybody as ugly as that Oink Johnson?”

In 2003, Juan Catalan, a 24-year-old machinist, was accused of murder. He protested that he had been attending a Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium at the time of the murder. He had the ticket stubs, but he needed more evidence to show that he was at the game. As it happened, the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm had filmed an episode in Dodger Stadium on the day that Mr. Catalan had attended the game. The show was contacted, and a viewing of the footage shot that day showed Mr. Catalan and his daughter eating hot dogs in the stands. Mr. Catalan escaped the death penalty, although he had spent five months in prison. Larry David, the main man behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, says now, “I tell people that I’ve done one decent thing in my life, albeit inadvertently.”

In 1958, country musician Johnny Cash performed a concert at San Quentin Prison. Years later, fellow country musician Merle Haggard told Mr. Cash that he had been at that concert. Mr. Cash said that he did not remember Mr. Haggard performing, and Mr. Haggard replied, “I was in the audience, Johnny.” He had been serving three years for armed robbery and for escaping from jail. Mr. Haggard said about Mr. Cash’s music, “This was somebody singing a song about your personal life. Even the people who weren’t fans of Johnny Cash — it was a mixture of people, all races — were fans by the end of the show.” After hearing Mr. Cash’s concert, Mr. Haggard began playing with the prison’s country band and eventually became a country music superstar.

Vinnie Bell wanted to buy a music magazine titled Cash Box, so he went to a newsstand, looked around, and asked, “Where’s your Cash Box?” The sales clerk, who was unfamiliar with that magazine, thought he was being robbed so he raised his hands and pleaded, “Don’t shoot!” It took a while, but eventually Mr. Bell was able to buy a copy of Cash Box.

In Paris, Sophia Loren’s jewelry was stolen. Shortly afterward, she and Elizabeth Taylor had lunch. Elizabeth, who loved jewelry and was wearing emeralds, said, “I’m sorry, Sophia, about the robbery. I see you’re wearing no jewelry.” Sophia replied, “No, dear.” She then opened her arms wide and displayed her low-cut dress: “I’m wearing my skin.”

A young student brought his teacher a rose for several days. One day, he showed up without a rose, and he told her, “I’m sorry about your rose, but the lady was looking and I couldn’t swipe one.”

Boxer Oscar De La Hoya was once robbed in his own neighborhood; however, when the robbers realized whom they had robbed, they returned his wallet and his money to him.


David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes


George Catlin: A Sioux Chief, His Daughter, and a Warrior 

George Catlin sought to paint Native Americans and Native American culture before the West was tamed and their way of life was lost. In this pursuit, he learned much about Native Americans and about the people who encroached on their lands. One night, while in St. Louis, he left the steamboat he had been traveling on and slept in a hotel, leaving on board the steamboat a canoe, several paintings, and some Indian artifacts he had collected. The next morning, he discovered that they had all been stolen. He commented, “This explained the losses I had met with before, losing boxes and parcels I sent back to St. Louis by steamer. What a comment this is upon the glorious advantages of civilization.”

In 1831, the land of Israel was ruled by Egypt and the governor Ibrahim Pasha. One day, the governor met a Jewish goldsmith who complained about a robbery, insisting that before Egypt ruled the land, he had never been robbed, but as soon as Egypt had gained control of the land, he had been robbed. The governor did not want the Jewish goldsmith to think that Egyptian justice was nonexistent, so he announced that the next day in front of the goldsmith’s shop a miracle would occur. The next day, a crowd gathered to see the miracle. The governor then sentenced the door of the goldsmith’s shop to 100 lashes for failing to protect the shop against robbery. After he had given the door 100 lashes, he leaned toward the door in a listening attitude, then said angrily, “What you are saying is nonsense. I sentence you to another 100 lashes.” Again, after giving the door 100 lashes, he leaned toward the door in a listening attitude, then said loudly, “You say that the thief is present in this gathering, and that he still has a cobweb from the store sticking to his fez!” A man in the crowd took off his fez to examine it for cobwebs, the governor had that man arrested, the man confessed, and the Jewish goldsmith was satisfied with Egyptian justice.

A scoundrel named Jack Skifton once wrote King Charles II: “One of your subjects, the other night, robbed me of 40 pounds, for which I robbed another of the same sum, who has inhumanly sent me to Newgate, and he swears I shall be hanged; therefore, for your own sake, save my life, or you will lose one of the best seamen in your navy.” Charles II wrote back: “For this time I’ll save thee from the gallows; but if hereafter thou art guilty of the like, by—I’ll have thee hanged, though the best seaman in the navy.”

Frederick the Great once visited a prison where prisoner after prisoner insisted that he was innocent and that a great miscarriage of justice had occurred at his trial. However, one prisoner kept quiet. Noticing this, Frederick the Great asked, “I suppose you’re innocent, too?” “No, Your Majesty,” replied the prisoner. “I’m guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Hearing this, Frederick the Great shouted for the jailor, then ordered, “Release this man before he corrupts all these fine innocent people in here.”

Opera singer Mary Garden was in the audience when a crazed man rushed on stage and tried to shoot Jean de Reszke, who was singing the part of Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo and Juliet. Mr. de Reszke kept on singing as two stagehands grabbed the crazed gunman, disarmed him, and carried him off the stage. Later, Ms. Garden asked him, “Weren’t you frightened at all, Jean? He might easily have fired that shot.” He replied, “There was nothing I could do but hope that he would not fire. I hadn’t a moment’s fear.”

In 1924, Pep, a black Labrador retriever, killed a cat that belonged to the governor of Pennsylvania. The governor was not pleased. Because he was a judge, he decided to hold a trial for Pep. He found Pep guilty, and Pep was sent to prison for life. However, Pep was happy in prison. He was allowed to run free as he pleased, and he accompanied the prisoners on their work details. Pep liked the prisoners, and the prisoners liked Pep. When Pep finally died, prisoners wept.

Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Boogie Nights, and actor John C. Reilly made a parody of the Fox reality TV show C.O.P.S., early in their careers. After filming for a while, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Reilly stopped at Eat a Pita for a meal. While they were eating, a fight broke out. The other customers were angry that Mr. Reilly—who was wearing a L.A.D.P. uniform—did not stop the fight, until he explained that he was an actor, not a police officer.

A thief once burglarized an office belonging to a lawyer in Kiryat Shemona, stealing a notebook and a 50-shekel note. The next day, the thief read the notebook and discovered that the 50-shekel note had been set aside as a donation to a synagogue charity fund. That night, the thief broke into the lawyer’s office again—to return the notebook and the 50-shekel note.

The car that belonged to TV’s Mister Rogers was stolen. Fortunately, he had left some personal belongings, including a script of his TV show, in the car. A day later, the car was found in the exact spot from which it was stolen, with an apology note on the seat: “Sorry. We didn’t know it was your car.” (Is this an urban legend? Possibly, but it sounds plausible.)

Ballet dancers have extremely strong legs. In 1840, Fanny Elssler crossed the Atlantic on the very first steamship for passengers. One day, she discovered a jewel thief in her cabin. She was alone, and she was unarmed, so she used her ballet muscles and kicked the jewel thief—the ballet kick killed him.

Early in his career, landscape artist Thomas Cole sailed to the West Indies. During the trip, his ship was boarded by pirates, who looked around to see if anything was worth stealing. Nothing was, so the pirates shook hands with the crew and passengers of the waylaid ship, then left.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: Crime Anecdotes



By Unidentified. Publisher: Childs & Lehman. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47376386

Pioneer preacher Lorenzo Dow was staying at an inn when a man announced that his wallet had been taken from his room. The thief had to be present at the inn since no one had left the inn since the robbed man had arrived. How to catch the thief? Mr. Dow brought a rooster into the inn and set a large black kettle over the rooster, trapping it. He then announced that he would extinguish the lamps and each person present should come forward one at a time and touch the bottom of the kettle—the rooster would crow when the thief touched the kettle. After enough time had passed for each person to touch the kettle, Mr. Dow lit the lamps, then he examined each person’s hands. All but one person had black on their hands from where they had touched the kettle’s bottom—the only person who had been afraid to touch the kettle was the thief.

An innkeeper joined a band of robbers and set up guests to be robbed by telling them at night that a caravan had passed and that they should join it so they would not be robbed. When the guests left the inn in hopes of catching up with the caravan, the robbers fell upon them and took their money and goods. Rabbi Meir was a guest at that inn one night, and the innkeeper woke him up to tell him to catch up with the caravan. However, Rabbi Meir explained that it was night and the night was populated with robbers. The innkeeper insisted that Rabbi Meir would be safe in the caravan, so Rabbi Meir then explained that he could not leave without his brother Ki Tov, adding, “When you find Ki Tov, who is now in the synagogue, I will leave.” The innkeeper went to the synagogue, searching for Ki Tov, while Rabbi Meir stayed in bed and slept. In the morning, when it was light, Rabbi Meir left the inn but met the innkeeper, who complained, “I called all night for your brother, but no one answered.” Rabbi Meir replied, “In the Torah, God calls the light Ki Tov, which means “it is good.” One always finds light in the synagogue, for the Torah is there, and it guides our way. And now that it is morning—and safe—one finds light everywhere.”

In the presence of several dignitaries of the town, a stranger gave Rabbi Michaela Spitzkopf of Roshostadt a large sum of money to keep safe for him because the town had no banks. However, when the stranger wanted his money back, the rabbi said that the stranger had entrusted no money to him. Enraged and shocked, the stranger appealed to the town’s dignitaries, but each of the dignitaries backed up the rabbi and said that the stranger had entrusted no money to the rabbi. Eventually, the stranger despaired and gave up, and then the town dignitaries left. At this time, the rabbi gave the stranger back all his money. Surprised but happy, the stranger asked the rabbi why he had earlier said that the stranger had entrusted no money to him. Rabbi Michaela replied, “I wanted you to see what kind of dignitaries this town has, so that you can be on your guard against them.”

In Concord, New Hampshire, the family of Sandy Halotte became the victims of a crime when their jack-o’-lantern was stolen from their front porch the week before Halloween. Her daughters—ages 5 and 8—took the theft hard, and they cried. However, the thief did not remain a thief long. Apparently, the theft stirred up a long-forgotten memory in him because the next day the Halotte family found the jack-o’-lantern back on their porch, along with this note: “Sorry, I forgot. It happened to me when I was 3, and I cried my brains out. I’m really sorry.” (We cannot applaud the thief for taking the jack-o’-lantern, but we can applaud the thief for returning it,)

Fashion maven Janet Charlton opened a clothing store—where she gleefully tormented shoplifters. Whenever she caught a shoplifter, she would handcuff the guilty person to the desk in her office, then ask the guilty person for twice what the shoplifted item was worth. If the guilty person did not have the money, she would allow the guilty person one telephone call to contact someone who would bring over the money. If the guilty person was not able to call someone who would bring over the money, she would call the police, and when the police took the guilty person away, she would yell at the guilty person in the street: “CRIME DOESN’T PAY!”

The theft of office and other supplies is a major problem for many companies. In the early days of Walt Disney Studios, Bob Beemiller was visited in his studio office at the end of the day by fellow employees John Sibley and Jack Kinney. As Mr. Beemiller prepared to leave, he stuffed his pockets with art and office supplies: animation paper, erasers, pushpins, and pencils. Mr. Sibley asked what he was doing, and Mr. Beemiller explained that he was getting ready to do another job later that day for a friend—a religious film.

Muhammad Ali signed autographs for a long time one day, and later he discovered that someone had picked his pocket—someone had taken $5,000 from his coat pocket. His manager lamented the loss, but Mr. Ali was philosophical about it, saying, “I don’t care about that money. The person who stole it probably needed it for their rent or to feed their children. That money will help someone, and that makes me feel good.”

New York Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez once played with a first baseman who seemed about to be thrown in jail for income-tax evasion. When Lefty was asked how he felt playing with someone who might in jail by the time the next game started, he replied, “Well, it’ll be an awfully long throw for the shortstop.”

When Valerie Solanis shot Andy Warhol, he collapsed onto the floor, bleeding profusely. Factory regular Billy Name got to him first, and Mr. Warhol told him, “Don’t … don’t … don’t make me laugh. It hurts too much.”