The True Story Of The Man Who Conned High Society

In the early 1980s, the New York City social scene was enamored with the son of Sidney Poitier. He was described as "dazzling" and "a charming companion" by Peter Bedevian and Ronald Kuby according to their book "Crafty Crooks and Conmen." He relaxed with the likes of actress Melanie Griffith, former Newsweek editor Osborn Elliot, and famous designer Calvin Klein. 

He frequented New York City's finest restaurants, claiming he was meeting his father — but when his father failed to show, often detained on business, the restaurant generously footed the bill. He offered actors roles in upcoming films produced by his father and recounted endless stories of Sidney Poitier's life. He was invited to parties hosted by the rich and famous, slept in their guest rooms, and even borrowed sums of money upon the unfortunate event that he'd just missed a plane back to Los Angeles. He was gifted with fine clothes and expensive dinners. 

According to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen," Sidney Poitier's son was the life of the party, captivating others with his charismatic showmanship everywhere he went. There was only one problem: Sidney Poitier didn't have a son.

A Fictitious Life of Stardom

David Hampton was born in Buffalo, New York in 1964 according to Black Then. The son of an attorney, Hampton moved to New York City in 1981, hoping to pursue a career in dancing and acting. 

At age 19, the young, gay Black man was refused entry to a New York City club — and he came up with an idea. According to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen," Hampton and his friend dashed back to the Plaza Hotel, "borrowed" a limousine and donned the demeanor of someone famous and extraordinarily rich. Playing the part, he announced himself as the son of actor Sidney Poitier — he was ushered into the club with enthusiasm. For the first time, he felt what it was like to be treated like a star.

For the next several years, Hampton conned New York high society with his tales regaling life as Sidney Poitier's son. He convinced over a dozen New York celebrities and prominent names to let him crash in their guest rooms (sometimes posing as a "friend" of his host's children who'd just missed his plane to LA). Charming and charismatic, Poitier became a fixture at celebrity parties, convincing some to loan him money or gift him designer clothes. 

Hampton tried several times to con his way into Andy Warhol's inner circle, but never quite succeeded. According to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen" Hampton once said, "Andy was a con artist himself. One salesman can always spot another."

'The Fruits of His Labor'

In October 1983, David Hampton was arrested for fraud. He was banned from New York City and ordered to pay $4,500 in restitution to his various victims. According to "Black Then," Hampton outright refused the terms of the deal — he spent 21 months in prison.

Despite his absence from the New York City social scene, David was still the talk of the town. When one of his victims recounted a story about Hampton to his dramatist friend John Guare (via "Crafty Crooks and Conmen"), Guare was enchanted: this had the makings of a play. Guare set to work on "Six Degrees of Separation." The play, based on David Hampton's life among the rich and famous while attesting to be Sidney Poitier's son, hit Broadway in 1990. It was commended by critics and a favorite of the press.

David Hampton was in Hawaii when he first learned he was the subject of a Broadway play. Hampton flew back out to New York City, crashed a premier uninvited, and fielded interviews from attendees and the press. He was, by all accounts, charming and good-natured. 

In a move much less good-natured, Hampton filed a $100 million lawsuit against the creators of the play, arguing he was entitled to compensation for "the fruits of his labor," according to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen." Hampton argued that his "personality" should be treated like a copyrighted work of art, rendering him entitled to royalties from "Six Degrees'" success. Justice Edward H. Lehner rejected the argument.

The Life and Lies of David Hampton

David Hampton swore he was done with the life of the con. But few confidence men ever are, and throughout the 1990s, David Hampton continued to con his way across the United States. According to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen," Hampton went by names including Patrick Owens and Antonio Jones. He continued to focus on celebrities.

Still hoping to make it as an actor, Hampton once told a theater manager he was the Broadway star from "Six Degrees of Separation." Suspicious, the theater manager called the police after Hampton left. Once the police tracked him down, David Hampton claimed the imposter must have been another man. Reportedly, he told the police, "You know, I had this trouble before."

In October 2001, Peter Bedevian was conned out of nearly $1,000 while on a date with David, who had promised to take him to a 9/11 celebrity benefit concert. According to "Crafty Crooks and Conmen," Bedevian held no bitterness. "He was a charming companion," he said, "able to pick out a little information ... and use it to make me feel even more comfortable." He described David's con as nonetheless "one of the best dates" he'd ever had.

As if sure of his ability to dazzle, David Hampton once told a crowd of onlookers, "I know how to waltz into a room, darling." However fictitious the music was, David Hampton could certainly waltz. According to Playbill and The New York Times, he died of AIDS-related complications in June 2003 at 39 years old.