The Jehovahs Witnesses knocked at the door today. And while the erstwhile young man was trying to sell me a magazine which promised the key to eternal happiness I suddenly thought about a rainbow afro wig that we used to see on TV all the time at American golf tournaments when I was young, What had happened to Rollen Stewart? After I had shooed the JW team politely away, I decided to find out. And what a sorry tale it was.
Rollen Stewart is still alive aged 74. He once owned a ranch where he farmed marujana but bored with it he set off to Hollywood to become an actor. He starred in a few Budweiser commercials but then had the bright idea of raising his profile by getting his face on TV at sporting events. In order to get the camera’s attention he just wore a fur loin cloth and a rainbow wig and danced badly.
His act changed in 1979 when he saw a tele evangelist who convinced him that the end of the world was nigh and he decided to use his rainbow man persona to preach the gospel visually. He wore a T shirt saying either Repent or John 3:16. He said he had just a few seconds to reach the TV audience and give them a brief visual soundbite. He had a portable TV which he would watch where the TV cameras were and would position himself to get into their shot.
He became more and more obsessed with this mission, selling the ranch and living in his car. He lived off repeat fees from the commercial and from donations from evangelical organisations. He was at the PGA Tour stops nearly every week causing a nuisance to broadcasters who didn’t want him distracting the viewers eyes from the golf tournament. He even came over to London and got on TV outside Buckingham Palace during the 1981 Royal Wedding.
His behaviour became more desparate setting off stink bombs to give off the message “the Lord thinks this stinks” and he let off an air horn during Jack Nicklaus’ backswing during The Masters, Getting into Augusta National was an accomplishment itself as the tournament at that time was completely closed to spectators except for patrons who had their passes passed down through family generations.
His desperation about the end of the world came to a head in 1992 when he locked himself into a hotel room and took a maid hostage. When police eventially stormed the building he had a loaded .45 revolver and had been threatening to shoot down planes at nearby Los Angeles airport.
He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for hostage taking. He is still an inmate at California State prison having turned down a plea bargain which would have had him out on parole after 12 years. He speaks regretfully of his actions and says of his outings on the PGA Tour “I despised sports really”.
But his message has been taken up by other commercial sponsors. The fashion chain Forever 21 have the John 3:16 message on their shopping bags and burger chain In n Out Burger disposable coffee cups have it printed on them. And a Canadian fan , Bill King, is doing what Rollen Stewart used to do, raising the John 3:16 sign, though hopefully he’s a bit more restrained than Rollen Stewart was when he had the eyes of the world on him.