Biography of John Spacely

If you saw the movie Gringo and thought it was all real, you need to google critical thinking skills.

GRINGO was distributed by Troma Films, whose special genre is exploitation.

John Spacely was no Gringo. He was born in the USA. His grandfather was the Gringo. His last name was anglicized by his absentee father and Spacely retaliated by not using it. When people left Spacely he left them. The name was forgettable. As soon as I pried it out of him, I promptly forget it. Stinson?

John grew up in Venice, California. The Venice boardwalk.

He didn’t finish Venice High School. Busted for dealing his mother’s weed, or maybe he was just a delivery service? “Mama” was an obese pot dealer with thick black long hair. She had two other children that still lived at home when I met her. Guy, an agoraphobic, never left his bedroom. And Holiday, a sweet shy younger sister who just wanted to be normal.

I have pictures of his grandfather holding up an 8 x 10 of his naked girlfriend. He didn’t speak English. But we communicated was show and tell. We recorded each other. I took pictures of him, while he used his telephone recorder to tape our visit.

Mama’s rambling house was right off of Venice Blvd near Linclon. She had a designated game room with a pool table and the first giant TV I ever saw. Everything she did was Texas style, big. Like her kitchen, mammoth. I’ve never seen so many dirty dishes. Skyscrapers of them. She must have just kept buying new dishes or ordering take out. I remember taking speed and washing them. It was hugely satisfying changing the entire architecture of a city..

John before he was 10 years old was was the beloved mayor of the Venice Boardwalk. Distributing cigarettes, beer, weed, whatever. Skateboarding up and down the Venice boardwalk before it was a skateboard park, it was just little John. Everyday. For free, for tips. Servicing the artist and drunk and street performers.

His first girlfriend was an older woman, one of Mama’s friends. Years later, the actress Mae West.

After he got kicked out of high school, John moved to San Francisco. He heard about Haight Street. Met a young girl there and fell in love and got married. It was the first time in his life he had one person all to himself. A sweet blonde girl who got ill suddenly and died.

From the Venice boardwalk to Haight Street to the the Sunset strip.

He moved back to LA and started hanging out in Hollywood. The Starwood, the Whiskey, the Rainbow, the Sunset Strip. He worked the strip the way he worked the Venice Boardwalk. Making connections, finding out who people were, what they needed.

With his seductive velvety voice: “Hey can I bum a cigarette?” He ingratiated himself or didn’t. Walking with one arm straight out paddling by on his white scuffed Capezio’s. A blues harp in his vest. You might find him out of control drunk and belligerent ? Or circumspect and sentimental.

He had fans. Ron Ashton from the band “The New Order” would let him sit in on sets and play harmonica.

Paul Picasso-Hollywood told my friend Audrey about him, that Jessica should meet this Spacely. Insinuating that HE might be her mouthy match.

Audrey and I were seniors at Beverly Hills High School. We called Spacely at the Tropicana Hotel in West Hollywood. Saying we were reporters from Rolling Stone Magazine. That we were doing an article on the Sunset Strip and local color. Wondered if we could interview him, bring a photographer. He said sure bring a six pack,

I was taking a lot of pictures at the time trying to get into Cal-Arts but Spacely tossed Audrey in the pool and all the pictures were lost from our first meeting. When he wasn’t aggressively drunk, I thought he was a sweetheart and I fell in love.

I used to sneak him into my closet at night and then let him out when the parents went to bed. My mother and grandmother were appalled I was friends with him. Praying I was just going through a stage. He would tease them attempting to endear himself.

We lived for awhile at the Sunset Marquis on Sunset Blvd. Next door to Ron Ashton and Dennis Thompson. His best friend at the time was David Gilbert a singer. We lived with Dave and Ron and Dennis at the Sunset Marquis. Apt 404 –  was an installation of mannequin parts.

Ron would be wearing one of his military uniforms unplugged guitar scales while watching cartoons and across the street before it was the Mondrian, it was high-rise prostitution. Worth watching the traffic for hours. Passed out people were immediately collaged and photographed. Most photographs lost in the melee.
We found a studio, that used to be a cloisters, our own place. With wooden floors and tall windows in the shape of a single tall saint with a round head. One saint per wall. We slept upstairs, it had enough room for a bed, the kitchen was negligible.

Velvert Turner was our next door neighbor. He lived in the monestary’s main octagonal structure. Moroccan carpets and sequined tapestries, throw pillows and incense. A young protege of Hendrix.

I spent a lot of time pissing John off at Velvert’s getting high. The point being I was the bad influence on my first boyfriend. John smoked pot, was a drinker. I was the junk yard dog. I would smoke PCP with Velvert then play bongos with this Venice poet Steve Rose. I was the one running wild and chipping, doing heroin. I had to hide my drug use from Spacely who was very protective, he had already lost his first love.

To pay for our apartment, John surprised me with his knowledge of telephone sales. First he tried doing real office supply sales. Then realized, after getting fired, he could still be his own boss. Problematic because he didn’t actually have a cache of toner and envelopes.

For a few weeks, he would call businesses and ask if they needed a reorder on any of their office supplies. But he actually felt bad about it.

He came up with a promotion borrowing the worthy agenda of the Southern Christian Leadership Counsel. I would be leaving to drive to school…and he would be calling people mostly in southern states. Treating them to his agenda for black equality.
Impersonating a black male voice that sounded a lot like his regular voice but deeper with more dynamics. He was a Mr. Henderson or Washington and he would take out articles in the SCLC newspaper. Basically a little classified ad. But charge his new client 50 times more then he paid. Advertising a particular business in a particularly racist state claiming to be a black friendly business.
The exact mechanics were never entirely clear.

I wasn’t ready to settle down with Spacely. And when I broke his heart he moved to New York. He was mad at me after that. I was never his princess again. But I spoke to him and saw him a few times after that always caring about him. And loyal to the person he was.

“Gringo” the movie is not a TRUE story of John Spacely. (John always wanted to be an actor. He was an extra in “Sid and Nancy.”) (And I’m not saying he wasn’t an addict or alcoholic) BUT- Troma distributes exclusively exploitation films.

He was absolutely willing to shoot dope on film to be the star of a movie. But folks – those are not really drug dealers in the film dealing. The guy getting shot and dying is not really dying. The film was made with extras. Spacely wasn’t allowed the respect of being a paid actor. He went along with being a real junkie anything to be a star of this “documentary style” movie.

He was so proud of his friendship with Matt Dillon. Yes he did heroin, but he would only snort it. He would never pay for it, never shoot it. The bloody scenes are not accurate portrayals of slamming dope. A junkie wants to feel good, and booting blood back and forth does not feel good and is not good for fucked up veins. But cinematically well it has all of you watching.

His eye patch was it real? Yeah. Walking in Hollywood in boys town, a guy dressed in a dress asked for a cigarette. It turned into a fight. Spacely made a snarky comment and two guys jumped him, one with a chain. The patch kept away the shadows.

I have no doubt that Spacely got strung out during the movie. And kicked with pills. He wasn’t a hope to die junkie. He was an alcoholic, fastidiously hygienic about how he looked – and wanted money and a decent home life. Reinforcing my memory of him, I heard he got married again before he died of AIDS. Ironic because he hated needles. It was like he knew his destiny and tried to forestall it.

J. Pompei

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