Screaming Facts About Sam Kinison, Comedy’s “Wild Thing”

August 29, 2023 | Brendan Da Costa

Screaming Facts About Sam Kinison, Comedy’s “Wild Thing”

Between 1985 and 1992, Sam Kinison was the rock ‘n’ roll king of stand-up comedy. As the “wildest thing” to ever hit the Comedy Store, Kinison burned bright, then burnt out in a flash. Sadly Kinison’s life ended exactly the way it began—with a fiery crash in the fast lane. Read these rock ‘n’ roll facts about Sam Kinison, the preacher turned prankster who flipped the comedy world upside down.

1. He Was The Son Of A Preacher

In the beginning, there was nothing to suggest that Sam Kinison would grow up to be the wildest child in comedy. He was born in Yakima, Washington to Marie Florence and Samuel Earl Kinison, a Pentecostal preacher. The family then moved to East Peoria, Illinois. They would soon need all of the prayers a preacher could give.

sam kinison

2. He Kept Trucking

When he was just three years old, Kinison’s life would take an unexpected turn. One that he would barely survive. In an eerie foreshadowing of his ultimate doom more than three decades into the future, Kinison was struck by a truck. While he survived the dreadful accident, it’s fair to say that he was never the same afterward.American comic Sam Kinison (1953 - 1992) smiles as he poses on stage at the Emmy Awards wearing a bow tieFotos International, Getty Images

3. He Was Outrageous

Decades later, Kinison’s older brother Bill described him as being a “very docile, quiet child”. That is, before the accident. By the time the truck’s tires came to a screeching halt, Kinison was a very different little boy. Bill said that Kinison became “loud” and “outrageous” and stated that he was “always in trouble”.

The real question was how much longer he had to live.Comedian Sam Kinison at the Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, June 15, 1990Paul Natkin, Getty Images

4. He Had Barely Half A Brain

As a young child, Kinison got into so much trouble with the law that his family got on a “first-name basis” with the local authorities. But his parents were forgiving, seeing as though Kinison had suffered 40% brain damage from the accident. The doctors diagnosed him with “grand mal epilepsy” and said that he would start getting seizures by age 40.

What they didn't realize was, Kinison wouldn’t make it to 40.Sam Kinison in brown jacket sitting on a chair sadNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

5. He Started Young

Kinison’s antics started shortly after his run-in with a truck. You might say that it was the incident that gave him his superpowers. If the ability to leave audiences shocked and in awe is a superpower. His knack for drawing laughter (and gasps of disapproval) started when he was just a kid—and only got crazier after that.Sam Kinison yellingOrion Pictures, Back to School (1986)

6. He Played Pranks In Church

Preaching was Kinison’s family’s business. But, after his accident, he had more of an interest in pranks. While the rest of his family preached, the congregation looked on in disbelief as Kinison made his way to the back of the church and dropped his pants. He would then commandeer the piano, toss out the hymns and play Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer".

There wasn’t much to laugh about for long.Sam Kinison in leather jacket and a hat telling a monologueNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

7. He Was Angry And Cruel

Kinison’s parents divorced when he was just 11 and his good-natured sense of humor took on an angrier undertone. While Kinison’s brother, Bill, stayed with his father, Kinison lived with his mother and his other brothers and he wasn’t happy about it. He became obsessed with horror, dressed in all black, and developed a disturbing cruel streak.

He would never lose that sense of anger.

Sam Kinison in black clothes and a hat speaking on a micJeff Kravitz, Getty Images

8. He Was On The Straight And Narrow

His father’s decision to take off with his older brother left Kinison feeling abandoned. So, naturally, he ran away from home and dropped out of high school. Between his severe brain damage and academic failings, it looked like Kinison was headed down the wrong path. But then an unexpected tragedy put him back on the straight and narrow.

Kind of.Sam Kinison in Back to School seriousOrion Pictures, Back to School (1986)

9. He Followed In His Father’s Footsteps

In yet another blow, Kinison’s father passed on rather unexpectedly. Instead of acting out, however, Kinison surprisingly fell in line. He and all of his brothers decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and become preachers. Kinison attended the Pinecrest Bible Training Center and, at the tender age of 17, started preaching.

But he wasn’t exactly following scripture.Sam Kinison in SNL wearing brown jacketNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

10. He Was Unorthodox

At just 17, Kinison became a Pentecostal preacher. His style of preaching, however, was rather unorthodox. In the middle of his sermons, Kinison would break out into frightening “shouts” and a “fire and brimstone” style of preaching that instilled more fear than faith. His own brother, Bill, said he had no stage presence.

Or he was just on the wrong stage.Sam Kinison during Taping for 1988 MTV New Year's Eve Party in Los Angeles, California, United StatesJeff Kravitz, Getty Images

11. He Was A Bore

According to Kinison’s brother, Bill, Kinison failed utterly at being a preacher. He never made more than $5,000 a year and, apart from the occasional scream, practically bored his ministry into the afterlife. Apparently, Kinison was so focused on getting the good word across that he forgot to entertain his audience.

That was a mistake he would soon correct.Bill Kinison arrives at 11th Red Nation Film Festival/RNCI Red Nation Awards Celebrating The Authentic Voice Of American Indian & Indigenous Cinema at Laemmle Music Hall on November 4, 2014 in Beverly Hills, CaliforniaBeck Starr, Getty Images

12. He Was Not Welcome In The House Of God

If some parishes considered Kinison to be a total snooze fest, then others had come to the opposite conclusion. Throughout his years working as a preacher, Kinison’s inner-comedian made the occasional appearance. But the parishes weren’t laughing. Some churches had, in fact, banned Kinison for his lewd and lascivious jokes.Sam Kinison during  Shooting a Sinead O'Connor Satire Video, 1990Jeff Kravitz, Getty Images

13. He Was Losing Faith In Love

Part of the reason for Kinison’s poor performance on the pulpit was likely because he was losing faith—in love, that is. Back in 1975 at the age of 22, Kinison had married Patricia Adkins. We don’t know anything about the marriage really except that it was bad enough to drive Kinison crazy—or, crazier than he already was.Sam Kinison in Back to School in front of people at a classroomOrion Pictures, Back to School (1986)

13. He Made A Big Move

After five years, Kinison’s miserable marriage to Adkins fell apart. For a revivalist minister, that was a huge red flag. In addition to his erratic preaching, the divorce was a particularly hard sell with his parishioners. That was the moment that Kinison decided it was time to find a new audience. One with a sense of humor.Sam Kinison  on  Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986) yellingHBO. Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986)

14. He Was Living For Himself

After his divorce, Kinison had a divine revelation. After devoting himself to god—sort of—he decided it was finally time to focus on himself. So, he picked up what little he had and moved to Texas to start his career as a stand-up comedian. He soon arrived at Houston's Comedy Workshop, where audiences were a little more appreciative of his jokes.

Emphasis on “a little”.he Comedy Store group c. 1970s; left to right: Sam Kinison, ?, Mitzi Shore, Roseanne Barr, ?, ?The Comedy Store, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

15. He Was An Outlaw

At the Comedy Workshop, Kinison found kindred spirits in fellow comics Bill Hicks, Riley Barber, and others. This band of regulars became known as the Texas Outlaw Comics. And, given their on-stage antics, it was an appropriate name.

Kinison’s behavior, in particular, garnered almost as much laughter from audiences as they did screams of terror.Bill Hicks at the Laff Stop in Austin, Texas sitting on a chair in leather jacketAngela Davis , CC BY 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

16. He Drove Audiences Away

Fellow comedian Bill Hicks recalled the first time he saw Kinison on stage. Kinison had a pair of red panties stretched over his head as he shouted, “Call me Mr. Lonely!” But that was just the beginning. He then jumped down into the audience and began simulat­ing intercourse with a man in the front row.

“There were nights when he would drive the entire room out the door,” Hicks said. If anything, that was an understatement...Sam Kinison in Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986) going on stageHBO. Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986)

17. He Broke A Stool

Kinison was, perhaps, funniest when he wasn’t trying to be. After moving to Texas, he began gaining a ton of weight and became self-conscious about it. One night, while performing on stage, he sat on a stool that collapsed under him. The crowd found it hilarious and may even have presumed that it was part of the act.

Kinison, however, was not laughing.Houston, Texas, skylineCarol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons

18. He Was A Tough Act To Follow

After the stool collapsed, Kinison pulled himself back up and began shouting. “What is this cheap piece of ****?” he exclaimed. He then wandered into the crowd, picked up an empty chair and hurled it at the wall, leaving a massive hole.

As the audience roared with laughter, Kinison just stared at the wall in silence before saying, “Well, I can’t follow that,” before walking off stage.Sam Kinison  at The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in black suitNBC, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992)

19. He Was Crucified

The very next day, the Houston club owner dealt a severe blow to Kinison’s stand-up career by suspending him for two weeks. But no one, not even the club owner, could silence Sam Kinison. He showed up the following evening in a rented limo with the license plate “EX-REV” and staged a crucifixion, draped in nothing but a dirty towel and ketchup.

He was, in some way, a savior.Comic Sam Kinison attends the Birthday Party for Milton Berle on July 13, 1990 at the Improvisation in West Hollywood, California in yellow jacketRon Galella, Ltd., Getty Images

20. He Was The Funniest Man In Texas

It didn’t take long for Kinison’s rock ‘n’ roll style of humor to gain a following in Texas. In fact, the Dallas Morning News named Kinison the funniest man in Texas—twice. Pretty soon, it became clear to Kinison that even the Lone Star State wasn’t big enough for his rising star, so he packed up and moved to Los Angeles.

Where there was, in fact, an angel waiting for him.The Griffith Observatory At Night, Mt. Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.sIIP Photo Archive, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

21. He Married For All The Wrong Reasons

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Kinison met his second wife, Terry Marze. Once again, we don’t know much about the details of their marriage except what Kinison later turned into material for his acts. Specifically, the fact that he never actually loved her.

Kinison later confessed on stage that he'd only married her to upset another woman he was after.Comic Sam Kinison and wife Malika Souiri attend the taping of 'Horror Hall of Fame' on October 5, 1991 at the Universal Studios in Universal City, CaliforniaRon Galella, Ltd., Getty Images

22. He Checked His Comedy Dreams At The Door

Kinison’s big move to Los Angeles didn’t exactly play out the way he had intended. Instead of headlining at the infamous Comedy Store, he got a job at the door as a bouncer. Soon, he fell in with the wrong crowd. He started using narcotics, drinking heavily and, worst of all, freebasing nose candy. He needed divine intervention.

Or just some brotherly love.Mitzi Shore and Sam Kinison in blackThe World Famous Comedy Store, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

23. He Preferred Coke To A Joke

In LA, Kinison spent more time sniffing coke than he did cracking jokes, and his comedy career stalled. Even though he met tons of rockstars and comedians working as a bouncer at The Comedy Store, he never got the chance to step on stage himself.

That is, until his brother, Bill, showed up. And not a moment too soon, either.Comic Sam Kinison sighted on November 9, 1987 at the Los Angeles Forum in Los Angeles, California.Ron Galella, Ltd, Getty Images

24. He Had A Guardian Angel

Bill was more than just a brother to Kinison; he was his guardian angel. When he arrived in LA, he took over as Kinison’s manager and brought some stability to his chaotic life. Bill shouldered the burden of Kinison’s recklessness and unpredictable behavior. Countless times, he stepped in to mend the aftermath of Sam's destructive escapades.

Of which he had many.(L-R) Sherry Kinison, Bill Kinison and Ginger Kinison attend Back From Hell: A Tribute To Sam KinisonNoel Vasquez, Getty Images

25. His Brother Saved Him

Even with his brother around, Kinison couldn't stop making messes. Fortunately, his brother had a way of cleaning them up. As Kinison’s career slowly began to take off, Bill covered his brother’s tracks. He paid for Kinison’s ever-expanding entourage, smoothed things over with entertainment executives when Kinison ruffled their feathers, and pacified angry promoters when Kinison bailed on shows because he was on a bender.

But it all came at a terrible cost.Sam Kinison in black coat on Late Night with David LettermanNBC, Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)

26. He Ruined His Brother’s Marriage

Kinison had his brother to thank for putting his career back on the right track. But his brother had nothing to thank him for. Bill gave up his career as a successful and respectable preacher to join Kinison on the road. And some of Kinison’s back luck in love rubbed off on his brother when Bill’s wife divorced him.Comic Sam Kinison attends the taping of 'Horror Hall of Fame'Ron Galella, Ltd., Getty Images

27. He Had A Distinctive Look

In the early 1980s, Kinison’s act really started to take off. Audiences began to appreciate his distinctive style of comedy. And his distinctive style. Short and weighing more than 200lbs, one of his friends described him as a “chubby Che Guevara”. He would appear on stage always in a baggy t-shirt, beret and a signature trench coat.

The look, however, was not original. Sam Kinison on Late Night with David Letterman in trench coatNBC, Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)

28. He Wasn’t 100% Original

Kinison’s comedic material was 100% original (because no one dared make the kind of jokes that he did). But his signature gray coat wasn’t his own. In fact, he had pilfered the coat from a famous Hollywood actor. The trademark piece of apparel actually belonged to the legendary actor and producer Richard Widmark.

Kinison was friends with Widmark's daughter, and one day he swiped it from their house. Richard Widmark in Panic in the StreetsElia Kazan, Wikimedia Commons

29. He Had A Trademark Scream

Kinison’s trademark “flasher jacket” may not actually have been his. But his trademark scream—the one he’d simply belt out in the middle of an act—was all Kinison, all day. In fact, the story behind it has become as much of a legend as Kinison himself.

It all started before one of his shows, while in a heated argument with his second wife, Terry.American singer Steven Tyler, frontman with rock band Aerosmith, and American comedian Sam Kinison (1953-1992) yelling at the cameraMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

30. He Loathed Love

After a (typically) heated argument with his wife, Kinison arrived at The Comedy Store in an unusually sour mood. A mood that only got worse during his act when the angry comedian noticed a blissfully happy couple sitting in the front row. Instead of laughing at his jokes, the couple was “cuddling” and “kissing”, flaunting their love.

This set Kinison off. Sam Kinison on Late Night with David Letterman in black suitNBC, Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)

31. He Interrogated His Audience

Looking at the happy couple, advertising their love in the middle of his show in light of his own failing marriage, set Kinison on edge (I'm sure a few lines didn't help, either). Irate, Kinison dropped his act and confronted the couple from the stage.

“Do you love her?” he badgered the man. Suffice to say, the answer did not calm Kinison down.Sam Kinison during Taping for 1988 MTV New Year's Eve Party speaking on mic between two girlsJeff Kravitz, Getty Images

32. He Was A Marriage Counselor

The man gave Kinison a non-committal answer. “I don’t know—we’re just dating,” he said. Kinison then told the man, “Look at her. This is the best it’s ever going to be,” before warning the man about marrying her and settling down.

His frank reply about marriage had the audience in stitches—but Kinison wasn’t done with the couple quite yet.Sam Kinison on Rodney Dangerfield's Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special (1985)HBO, The 9th Annual Young Comedians Special (1985)

33. He Screamed At His Fans

In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Kinison then jumped down from the stage and walked up to the couple in the front row. With mic in hand, he let loose a wild scream right in the couple’s faces to express the madness of marriage. Even though the audience took it as a joke, Bill later revealed that Kinison had not been joking and that he was actually furious.

Nevertheless, the scream became his signature and he rolled with it.Sam Kinison on Late Night with David Letterman in blue suitNBC, Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)

34. He Was Animalistic

Kinison—and his infamous howl—finally got his big break in 1985 on Rodney Dangerfield's Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special. As the standout performer, The New York Times praised Kinison for his “savagely misogynistic” jokes that made fun of marriage. Of course, they also made special mention of his “grotesque animalist howl” and dubbed it the “primal scream of the married man”.Sam Kinison on Rodney Dangerfield's Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special (1985)HBO, The 9th Annual Young Comedians Special (1985)

35. His Act Made Executives Nervous

Kinison’s next big performance came in October 1986, when he appeared on Saturday Night Live. But it was almost the beginning and end of his superstardom. After the dress rehearsal for the show, SNL executives, including heavy-weight producer Lorne Michaels, called a meeting with Kinison.

Apparently, they had some concerns about his act.

Sam Kinison in SNL wearing brown jacketNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

36. He Did What He Wanted Anyway

Michaels and the other SNL executives expressed to Kinison that some of his material was not appropriate for television audiences. Specifically, they told Kinison that he could not perform his club bits about Jesus and narcotics on their show. Surprisingly, Kinison agreed to cut the crazier parts of his act for the show.

But that was just an act.Sam Kinison in gray coat in SNLNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

37. He Could Not Be Canceled

Once the cameras started rolling, Kinison held nothing back. He performed the bits that the SNL executives had expressly told him not to. After the show, they banned him from the entire NBC network. But the people wanted more of Kinison’s uncensored humor so, just four short weeks later, Kinison was back on SNL as a guest host.Sam Kinison in leather jacket and a hat telling a monologueNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

38. He Came With A Disclaimer

The SNL executives weren’t the only suits in show business who had a hard time stomaching Kinison’s material. In fact, when he released a comedy album, the record company was so afraid of backlash that they had to put a disclaimer on it that read: “Opinions expressed in this recording do not reflect the views of Warner Bros Records”.

Some people got angry anyway.Sam Kinison in leather jacket and white shirt telling a monologueNBC, Saturday Night Live (1975-)

39. He Made “Happy” Jokes

Apart from his own failed marriages, some of his Kinison’s favorite jokes made fun of gay people. And, when Kinison hosted the 2nd Annual International Rock Awards, not everyone took Kinison’s gay jokes as light-hearted humor. Specifically, pop rock legend Elton John had some choice words of his own for the raunchy comedian.Singer Elton John performing in black suit and red shirtA.RICARDO, Shutterstock

40. He Didn’t Like Being The Butt Of The Joke

After Kinison introduced Elton John, the British singer let the world know what he really thought about the comedian. “I'm doing this show under protest,” he said into his mic, “I'd like to congratulate Sam Kinison on being the first pig ever to introduce a rock 'n' roll show”. Kinison clearly didn’t appreciate being the butt of the joke, because he tempered his gay jokes after that.

And Elton John wasn’t the only rockstar that Kinison feuded with.Host Sam Kinison attends the 2nd Annual International Rock Awards circa 1990 in New York CityImages Press, Getty Images

41. He Lived Rock ‘n’ Roll

Kinison wasn’t just a rock ‘n’ roll comedian—he was a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast. Some of his closest friends were the biggest rock stars of the 1980s, including the band members of Guns N’ Roses. In 1991, Kinison wanted the band to make an appearance at one of his comedy shows. However, for reasons that we don’t know, the band skipped the performance.

And Kinison never forgave them.Live concert of Guns N' RosesPhotography Stock Ruiz, Shutterstock

42. He Slashed Slash

After the show, Kinison saw Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, in a hotel lobby. His reaction was deranged. He lunged at Slash and grabbed him by the throat, nearly choking the famous guitarist out. It took Guns N’ Roses bandmate Duff McKagan to break Kinison’s vice grip on Slash and save his life.

But Kinison’s hard-living lifestyle was catching up with him.Slash during performance playing the guitaryakub88, Shutterstock

43. He Fell Off The Wagon

With his brother’s help, Kinison managed to get clean—mostly. Every couple of months, Kinison would “fall spectacularly” back into his bad habits. He would amble on stage and utterly botch a performance, to the point that audiences would walk out. Eventually, even his brother walked out on him. “Dude, I can't do this any more. I'm done,” he said.

Something had to change.Eric Clapton, Sam Kinison, and Phil Collins at The Comedy StoreThe World Famous Comedy Store, CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

44. His Bodyguard Betrayed Him

Perhaps the lowest point in Kinison’s life came in 1990. He had only recently divorced his second wife, Marze, and was dating a woman named Malika Marie Souiri. During one of his infamous benders, however, he slept through a horrific ordeal.

Souiri claimed that, while Kinison was sleeping, one of his bodyguards took advantage of her.Comic Sam Kinison and wife Malika Souiri attend 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on August 25, 1991 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, CaliforniaRon Galella, Ltd., Getty Images

45. He Was Scared Straight

Sources vary on what exactly happened next. Some claim that Souiri fired at the bodyguard with Kinison pistol while he slept. Other sources state that the bodyguard claimed the encounter was consensual. Either way, the incident appears to have been enough to put Kinison back on the straight and narrow.Comic Sam Kinison attends MTV Taping on December 4, 1988 in Los Angeles, California in gray coat yellingRon Galella, Ltd., Getty Images

46. He Was About To Make It Really Big

Kinison managed to sober up long enough to marry Souiri. He also started attending AA meetings and his brother, once again acting as his manager, secured some film deals with major studios. At long last, it looked like Kinison was going to put his rock ‘n’ roll days behind him. However, it would all come crashing down.Comic Sam Kinison, sister Sabrina Kinson and wife Malika Souiri (right) attend 17th Annual American Music Awards on January 22, 1990Ron Galella, Ltd, Getty Images

47. His Honeymoon Didn’t Last Long

Kinison and Souiri returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii on April 10, 1992 because Kinison had to prepare for a show at the Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. Kinison and Souiri were driving in his Pontiac Turbo Trans Am with his entourage following behind. They had no way of knowing that Kinison would never make it to the show.Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, NVCathixx, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

48. His Career Came Crashing Down

In a cruel repeat of the childhood accident that left him brain damaged, an inebriated 17-year old driver in a pick-up truck smashed headlong into Kinison’s sports car. The wreckage was terrible, but Kinison somehow survived the initial impact. This time, however, he would not walk away with only brain damage. In fact, he wouldn’t walk away at all.Sam Kinison in blue suit and hat giving a monologueHBO. Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986)

49. He Spoke To God

According to eyewitnesses—including Kinison’s brother, Bill—Kinison stumbled out of the wreckage of his vehicle and began talking. He kept repeating the words, “I don’t want to die,” to no one in particular. He then paused for a moment as if listening to someone and asked, “But why?” Finally, after another brief pause, he said, “Okay, okay, okay,” and drifted off into the afterlife.Sam Kinison is shown performing on stageJohn Atashian, Getty Images

50. He Had A Secret Legacy

Kinison’s sudden and tragic demise left the comedy world reeling. But, decades later, it became apparent that Kinison had left behind an expected legacy. In 2011, the Toronto Sun made a shocking revelation about Kinison: He had fathered a child with the wife of none other than his best friend and opening act, Carl LaBove.The Comedy Store, c. 1980s: Carl LaBove, Sam Kinison (center), and unknownThe World Famous Comedy Store, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

51. He Was A Prophet

Sam Kinison definitely changed the world of stand-up comedy. And following his unexpected demise, his fellow comedians mourned the loss of their wild child. His family buried him in a cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma with a fitting inscription on his tombstone: “In another time and place he would have been called prophet”. Or a preacher.

Comedian Sam Kinison poses for a portrait in October 1989 in Los Angeles, California in brown shirt and a hatAaron Rapoport, Getty Images

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