The room’s cold and dark. The bed’s unmade, the brown soiled sheets bunched atop a battered mattress. A large cockroach ambles up a corner wall. Sitting across from me at what passes for a kitchen table is the man who was once called “The Man of Steel.” That was long ago. Today, he’s an aluminum replica of the legend that valiantly stole America’s hearts. The stark chiseled features are sallow and swollen. The azure eyes are cloudy and gray. Even the Krypton torso is bloated from one too many beers. But he’s still Superman. At least to me.
When I learned I’d been chosen to interview America’s first and foremost superhero, I saw an opportunity to set the record straight. It was time to let Superman tell his side of the story. He’d been out of the spotlight for decades. I had hundreds of questions, all beginning with “Why?” But as I sat across from my childhood idol, the questions vanished. I walked in expecting to see a god. The man I saw looked clearly mortal.
He stared out the window at the overcast sky. A light mist was falling. It was not a day for heroes. This man, who had once saved a falling airplane in front of my eyes, now lived in a run-down, skid-row apartment on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. He wore a dirty undershirt and a pair of torn sweatpants. His face was unshaven and his hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. He held a cigarette in his right hand, an involuntary tremor causing ashes to fall on the dirty carpet.
He was clearly raw and vulnerable. But I had a job to do. I’d try to remain objective. We all needed closure on this narrative. Even the man of steel himself.
Splice Today: Superman. The year is 1938. You and America are enjoying a beautiful love affair. Everything you touch turns to gold. Then America enters the war. What happened?”
SUPERMAN: As I look back on my life, I now believe that things were pre-arranged. From the moment I crash-landed on this planet everything was out of my control. The Kents made me their son. They sent me to school to make me an American. I moved to New York where they made me a hero. I was only trying to do what was right but I was viewed as a messiah.
I learned early on I couldn’t control what people wanted me to be. All I could do was control my actions and hope I did the right thing. I felt fighting crime was the right thing. So I did. For 40 years I worked day and night ridding the streets of evil and chaos. You have to remember I was young and idealistic. Maybe I was naïve. I thought once a thief or murderer was taken off the streets, he was gone for good. I didn’t know about defense lawyers and plea bargains and judicial appeals. I just did what I was capable of and led a morally honest life.
ST: Did you feel any pressure from society in those early years?
SUPERMAN: Not really. The public was so shocked at my appearance it took them several years to believe I wasn’t some prank. Remember, I also had a secret identity and whenever I needed privacy or time to think, I walked around as Clark Kent.
I first started to feel pressure around 1940. The comic book was going strong. The movie had done enormously well. I was on the front page of the paper every day. I remember speaking to Will Rogers at a Red Cross benefit and he told me something I’d never forget. “Congratulations, son,” he said. “You’re the proud owner of 20 million dreams.”
Everyone had a different image of me. Kids wanted me to fight bad guys. Parents wanted me to save their kids. Farmers wanted me to save their land. It became, “Have a problem? Call Superman!” It was absurd. I remember receiving a letter from a woman who blamed me for ruining her Thanksgiving turkey since I didn’t smell the smoke and put out the fire. If it didn’t happen so often, I would’ve laughed.
Then America entered the war. I saw it coming. For months I debated with myself as to what I should do. I knew I could end the fighting immediately and the Allies would be victorious. But I decided that was wrong. I wasn’t from this planet and the problems of the world were not my problems. America had become too reliant on me and it was time for the country to fight its own battles. It was the hardest decision I ever made, but to this day I feel it was the right one.
ST: That must have been hard. Franklin Roosevelt labeled you “a fascist.” Clark Gable called you “a traitor.” Even your good friend Will Rogers said he was “morally disappointed.” The New York Times ran the headline: “From Superman to Superdud.” Your comic stopped selling and your fan clubs disbanded overnight. How did you deal with the backlash?”
SUPERMAN: I blocked it out of my mind though I understood. Nobody likes war. Nobody likes death. If I’d intervened, war and death could’ve been avoided. But I couldn’t change the causes of war and death. You don’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms. I could’ve destroyed all the German and Japanese weapons. But had I done so, Hitler would still be alive. And so would the thousands of followers who allowed him to come to power and the attitudes that created the evil in the first place.
Had I intervened the United States would’ve become complacent militarily. It would’ve been a situation where one nation becomes reliant upon one man. This is not the American way. America always fights its own battles.
It wasn’t easy standing back as thousands of young men lost their lives. But instinct told me non-intervention was correct and I stood the course.
ST: How did you feel the day the atom bomb was dropped?
SUPERMAN: It was one of the saddest days of my life. The moment I heard the news, I questioned whether I’d made the right decision. But it ended the war and in a tragic way, it served its purpose.
ST: Okay, it’s 1948, the shores of Havana, Cuba. Bob Hope is hosting a show for American troops. All of a sudden, Superman appears from the sky with Betty Grable in his arms. Why did you make this your return to the public eye?
SUPERMAN: America had gone through a great change. Winning the war had renewed everyone’s confidence and there was a new emphasis on self-reliance. I never doubted I would return to public service, it was simply a matter of when. Things had never been better economically but crime was also on the increase. I saw a chance to stop this trend.
I knew people still doubted me. I had to plan my return carefully, stay away from controversy. When I heard Bob Hope was doing the armed forces show I stopped by his house and asked if I could be included. Bob was an ultra-patriot and more than anyone else, he questioned my sincerity. But gentleman that he was, he supported me.
The Betty Grable scene was Bob’s idea. Betty was America’s sweetheart and Bob figured if she accepted me, America would as well. I was hesitant, but it worked. Betty kissed me on the cheek, said she was glad I was back and within minutes the troops were cheering my return. I remember the moment well. Never before had I let others determine how I should feel. I think this was the start of all my problems.
ST: Not everyone accepted your return. Superman resistance clubs formed throughout the country. John Wayne said he thought you were a communist. The Catholic Church called you “the devil incarnate.” How long did it take you to win America back?”
SUPERMAN: Not long. We had just won a war and the mood was forgiving. Plus, as soon as I returned I made several notable crime busts and used every opportunity as Clark Kent to write myself good press. The big coup came when I caught Tony Righetoni, the feared Mafia chieftain. Police had been trying to nail him for years and I caught him with his pants down. The mayor was so grateful, he gave me the key to the city. I typically spurned public appearances, but I accepted this one to bolster my reputation.
I was learning what it took to survive in America. It doesn’t matter what you do but how you appear that counts. This sounds cynical, but the war changed me. I learned I had to manicure my image. I could save a million lives but not until Bob Hope and Betty Grable gave America permission to love me again did America love me again.
ST: While we’re on the topic of love, let’s talk about Lois Lane. The story is tragic and nobody is quite sure how it happened. What happened?
SUPERMAN: You have to understand that Lois and I had a love-hate relationship. She entered my life when I was vulnerable and she was the first woman I was close to on this planet. As Clark Kent, we were friends. As Superman, we were lovers. And in 1955, after 15 intimate years, we became husband and wife. At first, everything was perfect. We were both happy at our jobs and it was enough just to be with each other. I revealed my identity to her and she came to love me as both Clark and Superman. I finally had someone to share my frustrations with and for the first four years, we were the model couple.
Then, in 1959, Lois decided she wanted to have a child. I thought this would be wonderful, so we began preparations. But after a year of trying, we had no luck. A doctor informed me my sperm was not compatible with a human egg. I saw the irony in it, you know, since I was supposed to be the ultimate man, but Lois was shattered. She went into a deep depression.
About the same time, America’s crime spree was hitting record levels. I found myself working 10 hours a day as Clark Kent and 10 more hours as Superman. I hardly slept. I only saw Lois in the office and our relationship was becoming strained. She’d always wanted to marry a superhero but it wasn’t what she expected.
She began drinking. It was a sad sight. I came home from a long night at an explosion or a disaster and she’d be sprawled on the floor, drunk as a tequila worm. She began missing work and some nights she didn’t come home at all. I told her to cut down on the drinking, but she just screamed accusations at me and open another bottle. One night I appeared at a charity benefit with Marilyn Monroe. The dinner went late and when I finally came home, Lois threw a whiskey bottle at me and called me a “two-timing dog.” She said if I wanted to sleep with Marilyn I might as well just pack my bags and leave. So I did.
A week later we were back together and for a while things improved. I realized my personal life had suffered because of my life as a superhero. It was time for a change. I quit my job at the paper and started charging the city for my services. Despite public outcry, this gave me more time for my marriage. Lois entered a rehab program and I took some time off. Before long we were flying around the world, deep in the throes of love again.
But we couldn’t keep up the illusion. Crime worsened, Lois started drinking again and soon I realized I didn’t love her the same way anymore. Her jealous rages became intense and I moved out for good. We were in the process of filing for divorce when I ran into Lois, as Clark, at a Daily Planet Christmas party.
She was drunk as usual and she was hanging all over Jimmy Olsen trying to make me jealous. I knew Jimmy was gay, but her obnoxious charade continued and people started talking. Then she did the unthinkable. In front of everyone, she grabbed the microphone and screamed out that Clark Kent was Superman. She went on to say, “Superman’s impotent” and that she’d “had better lays from a wilted carrot.” I calmly burned the microphone cord with my x-ray vision and escorted her from the room. My identity had been revealed but even worse, Lois had become a nuisance. Something had to be done.
I took her for a fly over the Hudson River. I figured the fresh air would sober her up. I tried reasoning with her, asking her to get on with her own life. But all she did was scream and yell and continue to insult me. I’d had enough. I don’t lose my temper often, but when I do, watch out. I began dropping Lois over the Hudson, letting her fall a few thousand feet then swooping down to catch her just before she hit the water. I did this several times just trying to scare her. When I caught get her the last time, she wasn’t moving. I looked into her eyes. They were blank. She’d stopped breathing. I rushed her to the hospital, but she was already dead. Heart attack. I think a part of me died that night as well.
ST: I remember that day. All at once, everyone knew your identity, your wife was dead and people were calling you a murderer. The 1962 trial City of New York vs. Superman was a circus of reporters and you were virtually lynched by the press, even the Daily Planet. Were you surprised when the jury found you not guilty?
SUPERMAN: Not really. My attorney painted a lurid portrait of Lois. He brought in a slew of ex-lovers, everyone from drunken bartenders to married businessmen and they all testified that Lois was an alcoholic. Even Lois’ mother testified on my behalf, saying her daughter wasn’t of strong enough character to have me as a husband. It was ridiculous. By the end of the trial, the jurors were all too happy to set me free. Even the judge apologized for wasting my time. My lawyer became famous and the tabloids began their daily predictions about whom I would wed next.
The fact I had a hand in Lois’ death was conveniently forgotten. I don’t think the public ever accepted Lois. America felt like it owned Superman and Lois was an unwanted intruder. John Lennon went through the same thing with Yoko. When Lois died, America finally had its wonder boy back. Or at least they thought they did.
I used to think Lois was weak. Knowing what I know now, what she must have gone through, she was the strongest woman I’ve ever met.
ST: The post-trial years were a strange time for you and the country. John Kennedy was assassinated, race riots dominated domestic news, and another war brewed in Vietnam. Things were no longer black and white and the country no longer stood unified. You took a bizarre stance. Despite President Johnson’s plea for help, you refused to get involved in the politics of race. Then, for the first time, you publicly criticized the country’s leaders. Time ran a cover story where you called President Johnson “a nice man, but basically a naïve redneck.” What was going through your head at the time?
SUPERMAN: After Lois’ death, I went into seclusion. It was a time to reevaluate my morals, my dreams and my duties. I’d always believed in America as a symbol of peace and freedom. But America was changing. And so was I. Kennedy’s death crystallized my feelings. He was a good and caring leader who led by example and with hope. When he died, the country lost more than a leader. I was one of the pallbearers at the funeral and more than anything else people kept asking me, “What do we do now, Superman?”
I realized then that I was a role model. For years, people had molded me to fit some romantic national image. It was time for me to respond. I could teach people that not all their leaders were perfect. I found Lyndon Johnson to be the consummate politician. He had a kind word for everybody, but he liked to bully people. And there was hell to pay if he didn’t get his way. In the Time interview, I was just being honest. Unfortunately, honesty is often frowned upon and for the second time in 20 years people were calling me a communist. This time I didn’t care. People could make me whatever they needed me to be. If some chose to listen to me, maybe they’d learn something.
ST: As I hear you talking, the bitterness remains. This was clearly a difficult time in your life. In addition to the political controversies, there were a rash of child suicides in New York by youngsters who wanted to be like Superman and fly. In response to the problem, you told a reporter: “If the stupid little brats think they can fly, they deserve to die.” What did you mean by that?
SUPERMAN: I was sick of people holding me responsible for every idiot who tried to do things they’re not capable of. I didn’t ask those kids to fly. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. For years it was, “Superman this, Superman that.” I was tired of it. Parents had to teach their own kids right and wrong. If not, little Johnny might just climb the nearest building and become a pepperoni pizza on the sidewalk.
ST: I understand your point, but soon after you made these comments you took them back in the press and sponsored a “Fly with Superman” contest for kids. This was quite a reversal. What happened?
SUPERMAN: That was Artie, my public relation guy’s idea. He said it was okay to criticize the President, but kids were untouchable. We had to make it up to them. So we sponsored a contest where the winner got to fly with me to the moon. We received incredible press and more than two million letters from kids across the country. The winner was an eight-year-old boy from Wisconsin, Billy Davis.
The event was broadcast live on national television and thousands looked on in person as we departed from the base of the Statue of Liberty. As Billy clung to my shoulders, we took an aerial tour of New York, flying between the downtown skyscrapers. Billy said he wanted to fly really high. So we shot upwards. Like a rocket. The last time I checked on Billy was at 20,000 feet where he had an impish grin on his face. I told him to hold on tight and we doubled our speed till we reached the moon. As soon as we landed, I turned to ask Billy how he felt. He didn’t answer. His face was completely blue. His arms were rigid.
I’d forgotten there was no oxygen on the moon. Billy had suffocated and there was nothing I could do. This was just what I needed. Another Superman controversy. It was embarrassing. I remember landing back in New York, dead Billy in my arms, the crowd looking on confused. Harry Reasoner was reporting for the local news and I remember the look on his face when Billy wouldn’t answer the question, “Did you have fun?” All I could do was laugh. Reasoner kept asking, “What happened, Superman? What’s so funny?” The more he asked, the more I laughed. And the more I laughed, the more shocked he looked. I never laughed so hard in my life. Only later did I realize I was having a nervous breakdown. And by then it was too late. Too much damage had been done.
ST: For the second time in five years you were tried for murder. This time, the public was against you. How is it you once again received a not guilty verdict?
SUPERMAN: My attorney kept showing the footage of me laughing with a dead boy in my arms. The jury had no choice but to find me not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. The judge sentenced me to two years in a state mental institution. I knew they couldn’t hold me, but in truth I looked forward to the sentence. I needed time away from the world. As it turned out, I was released after only six months for good behavior. The same justice system that had freed all the crooks I’d captured over the years decided to free me as well. What a crock.
ST: 1967. You say goodbye to New York City and hello to Los Angeles. Why did you make the move?
SUPERMAN: I needed a change. New York had become a prison. I’d lived there almost 30 years and it had taken its toll. I was trying to save the world, but the world didn’t want to be saved. I remember flying above the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing a young girl about to jump. I caught her before she hit the water and spent two hours with her talking about the beauty of life. We laughed and cried and I brought her back home to her parents. A week later, she was back at the bridge ready to kill herself again. This time I wasn’t around.
New York had lost its soul. I’d had enough and I think New Yorkers felt the same way about me. I’d done the extraordinary for so long it became ordinary. Plus, a new man was on the scene. Spiderman.
ST: The press reported a feud between you and Spiderman. Was there any truth to this?
SUPERMAN: That’s absurd. Spiderman had the power of a spider while I had the strength of a thousand men. I used to fly above him while he climbed buildings and burn his web with my x-ray vision. The little bugger would fall 10 stories before he caught himself. A feud? Nah. The only thing he did better than me was catch flies. But Spiderman did stay away from controversy. I seemed to attract it. After my incarceration, I let Spiderman take over New York while I moved west. I remember how I felt the day I left. No more trash and subway strikes. I was going to the surf and sun of Los Angeles and for the first time in 20 years, I felt like a kid again.
ST: Did you intend to continue being a superhero in Los Angeles?
SUPERMAN: Yes. That’s who I was. I didn’t know anything else. I quickly learned New York and LA were like night and day. I was used to chaos as a way of life. In LA all I ever heard was, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll do it tomorrow.” It was like everyone was walking around on tranquilizers. Even the crooks were mellow. Never before had I seen a bank robber wearing shorts. It felt like a dream.
I settled in a small house in Venice Beach. Unlike New York, I saw smiles everywhere. One of my neighbors was a young talent agent named Bernie Brillstein. We became friends and before long he started representing me. Bernie was of the mind that I should become an actor. At first, I thought it was ridiculous. But Bernie had that ability to talk you into anything and make it sound great. We started going to Hollywood parties and wherever we went, people told me I should make movies. You hear something enough times and you start to believe it. So I signed a contract to act in my first film alongside Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers.
My first day on set was an eye-opener. The huge lights, the false backdrops, everyone running around with walkie-talkies and a thousand keys. I was in another world. Everything would’ve been fine except for one thing. I couldn’t act. Not a lick. It took 40 takes to get my first line right. Compounding this, the director thought it would be funny if I acted against type. He asked me to play a helpless Jerry Lewis-like messenger boy who was always getting pies in his face or slipping on banana peels. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life. But the movie was a hit. And the public wanted more.
I told Bernie if I was ever to act again, I had to do it my way and had to be the star. No more bumbling idiots. You don’t pay to see Clint Eastwood in a musical. I was a superhero and my movies should be about me. At least that was one role I knew I could play.
So we came out with the Superman series. We stayed true to the comic book, which the kids loved and we brought back the characters of Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Perry White. The first film was The Adventures of Superman in the Urban Jungle. It was fun to shoot, it came in under budget and audiences loved it. From 1969 to 1974, we shot 10 more Superman epics. Superman vs. Godzilla, Superman and the Legion of Doom, even a super romantic comedy, Superman in Love. All made money, but I became so wrapped up in the world of movies I no longer had time to fight crime. My popularity was peaking, but I never felt more lost.
ST: Your films were successful at the box office, but critics panned them. Rex Reed wrote: “Like Elvis Presley before him, Superman as movie star has become a laughable caricature of himself. While he bravely tackles villains of all shapes and sizes on the big screen, the very theaters where his films flourish are havens for crime off screen. He may call himself a hero, but I have no problem calling him a bum.” How did this critical response affect you?
SUPERMAN: At first I ignored it. I’ve dealt with criticism all my life and I didn’t expect the movies to be different. But the more I made films, the more I sat back and watched as the criminal element took over the real streets. Much of the criticism was deserved. I was a superhero, not an actor. It was time to start fighting crime again. But it wasn’t that simple. I had a five-picture deal at Warner’s and they refused to let me out of the contract. I got down on my knees and begged, but they wouldn’t budge. So I stayed in Hollywood. But I made it hard on them. I came to set late. I demanded larger motor homes. I requested my own chauffeur, my own chef, a masseuse, even an organic cook for my dog Krypton.
What began as harmless fun became a nightmare in cinematic slavery. The atmosphere on my sets became strained, the crew lost respect for me and even the executives stopped caring. My spirit was crushed. By the time we shot Superman Meets the Wolfman, I was drinking a quart of tequila and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I was a physical mess. But my days of indulgence were just beginning.
ST: In a 1984 interview, you called the years 1975-1982 your “drug years” and went on to say, “I’m lucky to be alive.” Superman sure had come a long way. From a small town in Kansas you found yourself staying up all night drinking with the likes of Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando. What were those years like?
SUPERMAN: I screwed the best women, drove the fastest cars, did the best drugs. I was living the American Dream. The problem is in order to dream you have to be asleep. And for six long years, I was in a coma. As I look back, all those moments mesh into one. I’d stay up for days at a time, getting higher until I’d just pass out. Often, I’d sleep for a week straight. All my waking moments were spent looking for new and exotic chemicals. Dennis Hopper and I created our own alcoholic nutrition plan. For Vitamin C we drank screwdrivers. For Vitamin A, we downed Bloody Marys. We got our protein from White Russians and our fiber from peyote buttons.
I had no desire to fight crime. A robbery could occur in front of my eyes and I wouldn’t flinch. Unless the thief was a dealer trying to screw me on a drug buy. I busted more crooked pushers in five years than the DEA had in 20. I remember once Dennis and I walked into a downtown warehouse in the middle of a major drug war. Two rival gangs were shooting it out with machine guns and AK 47’s. Bodies lay all around, blood was flying, like some old Peckinpah film.
Dennis turned to me and said, “You’re a frickin’ superhero, man. Stop the fuckers and get the drugs.” We cleaned up that night. We had enough coke to last two years. Unfortunately, we went through it in a week. I completely lost touch with reality. I began seeing monsters and spaceships and taking late night trips to distant galaxies to fight hairy squids with tentacles. One night while driving I thought I saw Lois Lane at a convenience store parking lot. I stopped and forced this poor woman into my car and drove her to my home. She kept telling me she wasn’t Lois but I was convinced. For two days I held her in my arms and bawled my eyes out. When I finally became sober, I realized I’d kidnapped an old black woman with graying hair. She was completely naked and had an ear-to-ear grin on her face.
There was no end to the weirdness.
Dennis wanted me to teach him to fly. So I flew him atop a Century City skyscraper and started giving him lessons. I took him on a trial run. After a few swoops and dives, he said he was ready to go. I hovered near the eighth floor and yelled for him to jump. He plunged like a rock and drunk as I was, I barely caught him before he hit the ground.
Dennis was going crazy, screaming and yelling that he knew how to fly, all he needed was a costume. So we broke into a department store and he picked out some long underwear, a purple tank top and a Stetson hat. He wrapped a mink scarf around his neck, put on a black silken bathrobe and painted the letter “A” on his back for “Acidman.”
We returned to the roof to try again. Dennis looked like a total idiot. Just as he was about to jump, a police helicopter flew by and spotted us. We panicked. I grabbed Dennis and flew away. But I was so drunk I couldn’t control my direction. I headed right toward the helicopter. I tried swerving, but couldn’t avoid contact. Next thing I knew, Dennis screamed, “Man, you just knocked those fuckers out of the sky.”
That was the first of my drunken flying arrests. I had so many repeat offenses that air traffic controllers put me on radar. Most of the time I simply flew into windows or crashed through billboards. I became a menace. Worst of all, I didn’t care.
ST: I remember hearing the rumors about you at the time and wondering whether or not they were true. And then, in 1981, the Johnny Carson incident occurred. When I first saw the footage, I thought it was a joke. But the next day, I learned otherwise. What exactly happened?
SUPERMAN: You have to understand I was gradually going insane. I’d abused myself for so long, I’d become a different person. I was convinced everyone was out to get me. Even my friends became enemies.
My agent was still trying to get me work so he booked me on Carson. I never should’ve gone. A television studio with hot lights, a live audience and 20 million people watching is no place for a paranoid schizophrenic. I sat in the green room, waiting to be brought on stage. When I learned my time was cut short because of a singing parrot act, I flipped out. I thought Johnny was tying to embarrass me in front of the world, to show everyone what a joke I’d become. So when he reached over to shake, I crushed his hand. I could hear his fingers crack and feel his arm go limp. Johnny screamed. Ed laughed thinking it was a joke. Doc and the band played on. I walked off and the rest is history.
The next few months I sank lower and lower. I holed myself up in my house, closed all the shades and cut off my phone lines. My only human contact was with drug dealers. Even my agent stopped calling. I was ready to die. I bought myself a gun, loaded it with bullets and put it to my head. I pulled the trigger. But I forgot I was bulletproof. I was a total failure. I couldn’t even kill myself. I hit rock bottom.
ST: How did you finally quit using drugs?
SUPERMAN: The turning point came in 1982 with John Belushi’s death. John and I were close friends. We’d had many week-long binges talking about how we were invincible. We believed Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones and Elvis were wimps who didn’t know how to handle their chemicals. We were different. Nothing would ever happen to us. Well something did. After John’s death I realized what a waste it all was. I also realized the same thing could happen to me. I made the decision to become sober. But I wasn’t able to. I was in too deep.
Then miraculously, Dennis Hopper came back into my life. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and he’d just gone through a detox program. I asked him for help and he came through for me. Six months later, I was sober and ready for a new beginning. But I wasn’t the same person anymore. I’d gotten older. I wasn’t as fast. I’d put on a few pounds and as a result of my drug years, I could no longer fly. Where my x-ray vision could once penetrate everything but lead, I was having a hard time seeing through wood. I was also gun-shy. My confidence had been shattered and I didn’t know how to get it back.
I went to therapy. My analyst helped me focus on my strengths rather than my faults. I learned I had the wisdom of age and the virtue of experience. I also still had the strength of at least four men even if my lower back gave me problems. I wasn’t sure if people were ready to have Superman back, but I was ready to try.
I decided I needed a new alias, a secret identity that would keep me in touch with the world. I became Wade Stevens, newspaper deliveryman. But not many crimes took place between eight and 10 in the morning, so a new identity was in order. I settled on Hugh Crimmins, Meter Maid. By spending my days on the busy streets, I was once again in close contact with city life.
Alas, my comeback was cut short. During my first bank robbery, I was so excited I hurled myself across the street without looking and knocked over a tourist bus. The robbers escaped and two dozen people were injured. The press got wind of the story and had a field day. I became a joke. I was no longer meant to fight crime. I couldn’t even get a job as a department store security guard. I took off my suit, folded it in a box and put it away in a corner closet. Superman as superhero became a memory.
ST: How did the Las Vegas shows come about?
SUPERMAN: It was July, 1987 and I was getting edgy. I’d been doing nothing for several years and felt the need for a new project. Around the same time, Frank Sinatra was about to open a six-week run at Caesar’s with Sammy Davis Jr. Two days before opening night, Frank entered a Nevada hospital with heart pains. Sammy pleaded with him to go on, but Frank was too sick. Apparently he told Sammy, “Who do you think I am, Superman?”
As show business goes, Sammy called me the next day and asked if I was interested. I had nothing else to do, so I agreed. The performances were delayed a week and I was given last-minute lessons in singing, dancing and standup comedy. We had super dancing girls, a rope and pulley system allowing me to fly, sets recreating the New York skyline, everything Las Vegas is famous for. But once again, I was out of my element. I had as much business in Vegas as I did in Hollywood.
The final straw came at the end of the first night when Sammy called me out for an encore by saying, “Once again, ladies and gentlemen, my super little white boy, Superman!” After the show, I told Sammy that if he ever called me that again, I’d pluck out his other eye. Frank got better and I only had to weather a weeks worth of shows. I left Vegas and started looking for a new diversion.
I did several TV guest spots. Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Hollywood Squares. I even hosted a celebrity golf tournament. But the joy was gone. In the past show business had merely been a diversion from my job as superhero. With my superpowers gone, show business was my only creative outlet. I remember attending a celebrity roast for Don Rickles. I saw all the celebrities around me. Nipsey Russell, Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle. Everyone was trying to resurrect their career. It was sad.
This wasn’t how I wanted to be known. I went into seclusion. I sold my house, gave my money to charity and moved downtown. I resolved to live my final years in solitude. Here, in the heart of the city, I’ve done my best to live a humble life. Once in a while I think back to the old days, the good and the bad. The memories no longer carry weight. I guess that’s a sign of maturity.
ST: Do you have any regrets?
SUPERMAN: No. Life has no place for regrets. You live as well as you can and do what you think is right at the time. You make mistakes. How else do you learn? As you get older, you start to find your own truths. Why are we here? What does it all mean? I’m a man without a country, without a home, without a family. I never knew my real parents. I know I’m here for a reason. I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I also did a lot of good. And that’s all we can do. Be good, love and try to have some fun. Life isn’t easy so we have to appreciate the good times.
ST: How would you like to be remembered?
SUPERMAN: As someone who tried and someone who cared. And ultimately as someone who made the world a better place to live.