Ed Driscoll

The Rainbow Man

While I was at the gym today, one of the TVs in front of the treadmills had ESPN on, but with no sound. At one point, they did a segment on Rollen Stewart. While the name probably won’t ring a bell, the image will: anybody who watched professional sports in the late 1970s and early 1980s will remember seeing a guy with an enormous rainbow-painted fake Afro and a sign that read JOHN 3:16.

That was Stewart, who’s lead a life far stranger than his antics at football games. This biography matches almost indentically to the images that ESPN was displaying today, which included this bizarre, tragic ending:

All of this strange behavior finally came to a head in late September of ’92, when Rockin’ Rollen was arrested after holding a maid hostage in the Hyatt Hotel next to Los Angeles International Airport. Rollen–according to the Sept 23rd LA Times article–held the police at bay with threats that he had a bomb. When the standoff continued well into the evening police officers used what they called “Flash-bang” grenades to stun a wigless Rainbow Man and storm the seventh room floor where he was holding siege. A 38 year old house keeper was found un-injured after having locked herself in the bathroom. The police officers apparently decided to make their move after Rollen threatened to fire a pistol at planes landing at the airport. A few hours after the incident, as the police were driving Rollen away, reporters asked him why he had done it.

“To get the word out ,” he shouted back at them flashing his famous whacky smile.

The incident began at 9:15 AM on Sept. 22 when Rollen walked unnoticed into a vacant room at the Hyatt, taking the cleaning lady, Paula Madera, by surprise. Madera immediately ran into the bathroom and wisely locked herself in, figuring rightly that Rollen was some kind of crazy. It was at this point in the proceedings The Rainbow Man for some reason decided to light two small fires that attracted attention to himself.

In short order, LAPD had ordered up the SWAT Team, bomb squad and several fire trucks to deal with the situation. While all this commotion was going on outside, Rollen was posting biblical placards in his hotel room window, so they could be read from the ground below. One was an apocalyptic verse from the New Testament referring to the passage: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat…”

At 5:45 PM–when Stewart threatened to harm his hostage and start taking pot shots at jetliners as they passed near the hotel–the police decided to act. Shortly after, the SWAT team stormed the room, using the aforementioned flash-bang grenades to disorient Rockin’ Rollen. At the scene police found Rollen’s infamous blue, red, yellow, green, purple and pink Afro wig, along with a high caliber pistol, various incendiary devices, three days of food and Bibles, religious tracts and poetry.

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On July 13, 1993, Rockin’ Rollen Stewart was found guilty for the Sept ’92 “hostage drama” and sentenced to three life prison terms. This might seem extreme when one takes into account that Rollen Stewart never hurt a flea, though many saw him as “a David Koresh waiting to happen. He has the same beliefs and he stands by them so strongly he’s willing to die or kill for them,” said deputy district attorney Sally Lipscomb.

Others disagreed. An LA Times letter to the editor–written shortly after Rockin’ Rollen’s conviction–called rightly into question the inequality of the American justice system in regards to The Rainbow Man. The text read: “Tell me how this adds up right? A drunk driver in Ventura, after four years in the courts, gets less than two years for killing three young men, while Rollen Stewart, the Rainbow Man, gets three life sentences for holding someone hostage and displaying religious placards. Does more money for more lawyers equal more justice? Seems so, but I never got past quantum mechanics.” -Paul Garson

During sentencing in the L.A. Superior Courtroom, pandemonium erupted, as Rockin’ Rollen began a rambling end o’ the world rant, screaming at the top of his immensely quotable lungs. Upon being wrestled to the floor by deputies, he shouted: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they’re doing!” While all this commotion was going on, the maid who had been trapped in the hotel room by Rockin’ Rollen, wept in the rear of the courtroom.

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Shop at Amazon.com The L.A. Times from Sept 25 ’92 stated that Rockin’ Rollen had contemplated killing President Bush and took steps toward assassinating then Presidential candidate Bill Clinton. According to District Attorney David Conn, Rollen purchased a .45 caliber handgun at the same time of Clinton’s campaign visit to L.A. Rollen went to the Boneventure where Clinton was staying with plans to shoot him, but did not carry them out because of the heavy security surrounding Slick Willie. At around the same time he was also spotted at a speech given by the Arkansas governer.

Naturally, in this Rupert Pupkin/Travis Bickle world we live in, somebody whose behavior is this nuts is prime fodder for a documentary film. And in 1997, The Rainbow Man/John 3:16 was released–and is now on DVD.

Why am I posting this? No reason, except having Googled Stewart’s bio to discover who the Rainbow Man was after watching a silent broadcast of ESPN, I figured I might as well share the results.