The Tragic Death Of Sam Kinison

If there was one individual who epitomized the excesses of the late '80s/early '90s Hair Metal movement, it's none other than comedian Sam Kinison. A former revivalist preacher, Kinison gained notoriety as a comedian by screaming insults at fans during live performances and adopting the rock and roll lifestyle that had taken over pop culture in the late '80s: Glam Metal. Kinison's pattern of living fast and living hard would eventually catch up to him on the evening of April 10, 1992, when his Trans-Am collided with a pickup truck, injuring his newly married wife, Malika, and fatally injuring him (via The New York Times).

Born in December of 1953, Kinison was the son of a Pentecostal preacher. Raised in East Peoria, Illinois, with his two brothers, Kinison adopted his father's trade, preaching in open-air tents in backwater towns from the age of 17. Delivering fire-and-brimstone sermons to his temporary congregations, Kinison would unknowingly hone his notorious screaming style later used to such effect in his comedy routines. According to Biography, Kinison was big fan of Richard Pryor's comedy, and coincidentally, Pryor hailed from Peoria, Illinois just across the Illinois River from where Kinison grew up.

After six years of pacing stages under drafty tents (via Entertainment Weekly), Kinison would divorce his wife of five years and make the drastic change of taking up comedy. In 1980, Kinison moved to Los Angeles, eventually adopting the beret/overcoat ensemble that would later become his trademark.

Poster boy for success and excess

Over the next five years, Kinison shrieked through the big (and small) comedy clubs of LA, picking up a very costly cocaine habit along the way, as Entertainment Weekly reported. Fate smiled kindly on Kinison in August of 1985, when years of hard work paid off in the form of a once-in-a-lifetime spot on Rodney Dangerfield's "Young Comedians" TV special. The fuse was lit, ignition was set, there was nowhere for Kinison to go but the stratosphere.

The next seven years for Kinison would propel him to the heights of comedy mega-stardom, but also drag him into the depths of drug abuse and alcoholism. Even while he was performing shows that paid as much $50,000 apiece, Kinson sometimes found his career in jeopardy thanks to his drug dependency and erratic behavior. Sometimes his performances seemed off when he was under the influence. Additionally he found himself at odds with the studio producing what would have been his first starring film role, the lead in the film "Atuk." Reports differed, with the studio saying Kinison simply walked off set; however, the comedian maintained that the studio had halted production, per MamaMia.

Following the success from his role as an "on-the-edge" teacher in Rodney Dangerfield's film "Back to School," Kinison's trajectory took him from "Late Night with David Letterman" to his own HBO TV special, three comedy albums, a deep friendship with radio personality Howard Stern, and an appearance on "Saturday Night Live."

Kinison's tragic death

Kinison was big music fan. Kinison had even tried his hand at music and, according to Biography, he had taught himself how to play guitar while away at a religious boarding school. In 1988 he put out a cover of "Wild Thing" by the Troggs. He also released a music video for the song which received fairly heavy rotation on MTV. (It's posted on YouTube and about as raunchy as you'd expect.) Kinison included music on some of his comedy albums, with covers of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" making appearances on his 1990 album "Leader of the Banned."

By the early 1990s, his career had started to lag just a little, but a few shrewd decisions — including cutting back on wild behavior — meant that he was on the path to career rejuvenation. First was a guest starring spot on the hugely popular sitcom "Married ... With Children." Kinison appeared in the series' Christmas special and his performance was received well; he was reportedly in talks with networks to appear in his own sitcom.

It all ended the night of April 10, 1992. While driving his Trans Am to a gig in Nevada, Kinison was hit head-on by a 17-year-old driving a pickup truck (via Seattle Times). The pickup, traveling on US Highway 95 toward LA and filled with beer cans, swerved unexpectedly into oncoming traffic, smashing directly into Kinison (via The New York Times). Malika Souiri, Kinison's wife of only a week, walked away with only a concussion. Kinison, who managed to stumble from the wreck, died at the site of the crash. He was 38.