Thursday, June 16, 2011

16 JUN 11: The King of Pops

There was a jaw-dropping report on the TV news Wednesday night, and we'll get to that later. But a blog can be all sorts of things - and today, this blog begins as a mix of obituary and tribute. A familiar name here has passed away. And since I'm writing this, it's clearly not I....

Thanks to The River City Report, we learned Wednesday Columbus business owner Stephen King has died. We think he's worthy of far more than a couple of lines in the Ledger-Enquirer website's obituary section. His story included entertaining, opinion-making -- and explosive behavior which was aimed in a positive way, as opposed to those al-Qaeda copycats.

Stephen King was a longtime Columbus resident, who became a regular voice calling the old TalkLine radio show. But even before that, he was a movie extra -- hob-nobbing with stars of the 1980 comedy "The Cannonball Run," such as Sammy Davis Junior [1 Jul 09]. If you've never seen that movie, picture J.R. Allen Parkway on a typical weekend....

Stephen King moved into the fireworks business in 1993, starting Sky-High Pyrotechnics International. I never asked him if the movie appearance inspired him to turn from cannonballs to fireballs.

We first profiled Stephen King on Independence Day 2007, which understandably was his busiest day of the year. His hired crews staged dozens of fireworks shows in Columbus and across the Southeast for years -- mostly done in recent years by computer. Clicking a mouse does seem much safer than lighting a match, after guzzling a few beers.

Stephen King once told me he came up with the phrase "Thunder on the Hooch." But WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley told me that was untrue [8 Jul 07] - and the two apparently never reconciled after King's "grand finale" for the 1999 fireworks show errantly went off at the beginning. King could have made up an excuse, about saluting the backwards episode of "Seinfeld."

Stephen King wrote this blog several times, and became a blog patron by donating to us. He even called me at home regularly to offer comments and occasional news tips. Some of those "tips" turned out to be nothing more than bold predictions. Otherwise I would have scooped the town years ago with the retirement of Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren.

Stephen King was into online poker long before I was - and he apparently lost some money when the federal government cracked down on poker websites in recent years. Yet King was undaunted, and called me on the night of the 2010 Super Bowl to report he made a small fortune betting in New Orleans to win. He supported Saints, even though some considered him a sinner.

But Stephen King's life took a dire turn on a Saturday night in November 2009. He was assaulted after staging a fireworks show in Richland. King was seriously injured, never seemed to regain full health -- and he sounded depressed in several calls after the attack. Even a "Sky-High" guy can be changed by a lowlife criminal.

Yet it was Stephen King who invited me to join him for Jimmy Buffett's big beach concert last year after the oil spill (I declined the offer). And it was King's fireworks connections which allowed me to get inside the exclusive Upatoi Independence Day party last summer. The biggest thing to happen in that area since last July was the opening of the new Chick-Fil-A.

My last direct contact with Stephen King came last October. Perhaps as an extension of his injury, he called me two days in a row to lambaste me for being a lifelong virgin [16 Oct 10]. King even offered to bring a woman to my home - which admittedly would have been several steps beyond most of the women I've dated.

(But curiously, to my knowledge King never married. He told me he came to trust the loyalty of dogs more than women -- even if dogs have to stay indoors while he's outside on the job.)

I'm told no funeral service was held for Stephen King, and his body was cremated after he died last Thursday. That's too bad - because while I never met him face-to-face, King said he felt like he personally knew me from reading this blog. I should take that as a compliment, I suppose. But I do NOT plan to pay tribute to King by looking for women on Second Avenue.

BLOG UPDATE: Jaws across Phenix City probably hit the floor Wednesday night, when WTVM reported there's NO record of Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. ever receiving a pardon in the 1980s. Maybe there's some confusion here -- and Sumbry received a general apology from George Wallace for opposing segregation in Alabama.

Several news outlets have reported Arthur Sumbry Sr. received a pardon for his two convictions 30 years ago. But the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has no record of it. The Russell County Probate Court doesn't have that paperwork, either. Did Orly Taitz come back to the Columbus area, when no one was looking?

Arthur Sumbry's defense attorney was asked about the pardon. But Raymond Jackson said he couldn't release that information, because of attorney-client privilege. Aw, c'mon - isn't this pardon a matter of public record? You'd think Sumbry would have it framed in an office, to show off to suspicious law officers.

The TV report noted many people presume Arthur Sumbry Sr. was pardoned by then-Governor George Wallace in 1982. But we noted Wednesday Fob James actually was Alabama Governor during that year. Do you think that sparked a closer look at the records? And for that matter, can someone find Fob James these days - other than the street named after him in Valley?

If it turns out Arthur Sumbry Sr. never received a pardon, it means he could have been living a lie for decades - serving in elected office illegally as he did. It also means Sumbry has done a better job covering up his record than Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed did years ago.

The late Stephen King supported this blog with a PayPal donation. To make a donation, advertise to our readers, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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