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The gravelly voice rises to an excited shriek. It’s a voice damaged by years of raucous cheering at Dodgers baseball games, Lakers basketball games, Raiders football games and more. TV cameras still catch him on the sidelines: a frenetic figure holding up signs, ringing the cowbell he got while touring with band leader adidas d lillard 4 Spike Jones. He runs up and down the aisles with his Nature Girlsyoung blondes who heed his motto: “Don’t panic, go organic; get in cahoots with Gypsy Boots.”
Dressed in his running shorts, torn Hawaiian shirts and, occasionally, a multicolored beanie with a plastic propeller, Boots encourages that impression. He is likely to rip open a banana and consume it at any moment, just about anywhere. His hair, still black, hangs in scraggly locks to his shoulders. His hazel, closeset eyes gleam mischievously above a white beard.
Boots recalls times, during World War II, when he lived on a quarter a day in the berry fields and date orchards of Lodi, Vacaville and Sonoma. He picked fruit, slept in haystacks good basketball shoes for men and under fig trees, and traveled the state with other selfstyled vagabonds like his friend “Gypsy Gene”killed by a jealous husband, circa 1955and Eden Ahbez, who found unexpected fame in 1948, when he wrote a tune, “Nature Boy,” that became a smash hit by Nat (King) Cole.
In 1962, Gypsy Boots became a regular on the old Steve Allen Show. He was a hippie philosopher who rubbed elbows with the likes of Gene Kelly, Sammy Baugh, Dean Martin, Stevie Wonder and Marlon Brando.
“He would turn the stage into a madhouse about 30 seconds after he came on,” remembered Allen, who invited Boots to return for more than 20 guest appearances before his variety show went off the air in 1964. Boots would swing onto stage on a vine, adidas low top basketball shoes wearing a loincloth, or coax Allen to milk a goat on stage, or whip up some organic concoction in a blender.
Much of that early fame has gone now. But at an age when many of Hollywood’s legends seem to be feeble or dying, Boots still totes his football into the street in front of his modest, bluetrimmed Hollywood home, firing long, arched spirals to back up one of his selfbestowed titles: the “Ageless Athlete.”
“Here I am now, at age 75, throwing the football better than I did 40, 50 years ago,” he said, voice rising. “I run up and down the sidewalk here and stop traffic and throw the ball 50 yards, 55 yardsthrow bullet passes!
“A lot of people see me and say, ‘Oh, you’re living!’ Some thought I died, and some thought I went in a nut house. And the people who thought I was nuts are in the nut house. And me, who acted nutty, I’ve got to be doing something right. . . . “