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Saturday 21 September 2019

'Bumfights' actor Rufus Hannah dies in car crash aged 63

Hannah had been sober for 13 years
Hannah had been sober for 13 years

Rufus Hannah, a formerly homeless alcoholic who fought and performed dangerous stunts in the notorious "Bumfights" videos, has died in a car crash at the age of 63.

Police said Hannah was a passenger in a car which collided with a truck just outside Swainsboro, Georgia.

He had been living in nearby Adrian.

On Friday, Hannah's friend and benefactor, Barry Soper, placed a bouquet on the Dumpster in San Diego where he first encountered Hannah more than 15 years ago.

Hannah first appeared in notorious videos which featured homeless people brawling or performing degrading stunts such as setting fire to their hair or slamming head-first into walls. They were given about 10 dollars per stunt, and were usually drunk.

Mr Soper gave Hannah a job and helped in his eventual recovery.

He told KNSD-TV that Hannah was a "beautiful soul" who had been sober for 13 years.

Hannah, a Georgia native who began drinking when he was 14, was living on the streets when he began his "Bumfights" career.

A high school student and aspiring filmmaker, Ryan McPherson, offered him five dollars to run head-first into milk crates stacked outside a grocery store in El Cajon, California.

"He told me he was doing a video for his economics class on what it was like when you don't have a job," Hannah said in a 2006 article in the New York Times.

"I just wanted some money to get drunk, so I did what he told me to. I never had any idea the stuff he was filming would become what it did."

The first Bumfights video was released in 2002.

It was followed by several sequels in which Hannah, known as "Rufus the Stunt Bum" and other homeless people performed dangerous and degrading stunts.

Hannah, who smashed his head into a steel door, said he suffered permanent injuries.

The videos sold hundreds of thousands of DVD copies. But they were condemned by homeless advocates, blamed for inspiring violence against the homeless and banned in several countries.

The four original filmmakers eventually pleaded guilty in California to misdemeanour charges of conspiracy to stage an illegal fight. They avoided jail, but McPherson and another man later were sentenced to 180 days each in jail for failing to complete community service.

In 2006, the four filmmakers reportedly paid at least 300,000 dollars to settle lawsuits filed by Hannah and two other men who appeared in the original video.

Hannah in those days was a wild-haired, gap-toothed man with the word "BUMFIGHT" tattooed across his knuckles. But eventually, he turned his life around.

He became assistant manager at Mr Soper's 62-unit townhome complex where Hannah had previously scrounged for cans. He held the job for more than half a decade.

"He took care of the complex like it was his place," Mr Soper said.

It was not easy to keep straight.

"I loved to get drunk," Hannah told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2010.

"I see a TV show like 'Law & Order,' where they win a case and go back to the office and have a drink, and I say to myself, 'Boy, that looks pretty good.' I can almost taste it. But I don't ever want to go back there."

Hannah also became an advocate for the homeless.

"He worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless as an advocate because he had lived that life himself," Mr Soper said.

"He taught me that we all needed to look at the homeless more kindly, that it could've been your mother or your brother. It could happen to anyone."

Hannah's story, co-written by Mr Soper, was chronicled in the 2010 book, A Bum Deal: An Unlikely Journey From Hopeless To Humanitarian.

He is survived by his wife and four children. Mr Soper said he plans to cover funeral expenses for his friend.


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