“How much money are you looking for?” I asked the man with the high nasal voice.
“Well, Rodger, that’s the thing,” he began, words escaping his throat with the trembling unease of bad notes from a rusty accordion. “I’m really in a bad place right now. I had to have surgery to remove a bullet that’s been lodged near the base of my spine for a long time.”
“How did that happen?” I cradled the telephone receiver between my left shoulder and ear, carefully pouring a shot of rum into a white coffee mug permanently stained by acidic instant coffee.
“Someone shot me five times the day after I got out of the Federal witness protection program in 1990; I turned state’s evidence against Eddie Nash for the L.A. District Attorney.”
Wadd: The Life & Time of John C. Holmes
Bill Amerson, Denise Amerson, Sean ‘Duke’ Amerson
As co-writer and principal interviewer for the award-winning feature documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, I knew more than I ever wanted to know about the man reputed to be L.A.’s most dangerous underworld figure.
Eddie Nash, aka Adel Gharib Nasrallah, was a Palestinian immigrant who built a small but formidable empire in the drug-fueled ‘80s, a vast, interconnected network of trendy Los Angeles nightclubs and hotspots: the Starwood Club and Soul’d Out in West Hollywood, the Paradise Ballroom, the Seven Seas, Ali Baba’s and the Kit Kat strip club, to name a few. Nash ran narcotics out of his clubs and he was reputed to be a major player in the lucrative arson-for-profit racket.
Since 1981, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office had been trying in vain to nail Nash for the notorious, high-profile Wonderland murders, the bloody bludgeoning deaths of four mid-level cocaine dealers, the possible result of the robbery of Nash’s home two days before the slayings at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. A key player in the incident, porn icon John Holmes, was acquitted of the murders, and the well-connected Eddie Nash also eluded prosecution.
In 1990, Eddie Nash was tried in California state court for planning the Wonderland murders; emerging as a pivotal witness in the state prosecution of Nash was Scott Thorson, the one-time boy toy of flamboyant entertainer Liberace. Thorson became an instant tabloid and mainstream press celebrity in 1982 when he filed a $133 million palimony suit against his former lover and companion of five years.
Thorson and Liberace settled out of court in 1986 for $95,000, two cars, and two pet dogs, reflecting a common trajectory in Thorson’s life: Selling dirty laundry for a quick buck or anything else he can get out of the deal; this should not, however, imply that Scott Thorson is a shakedown artist. He is a survivalist, living, as the old Arabic saying goes, “close to the ground”, getting by the only way he knows how without punching a time clock.
The former Las Vegas veterinary assistant entered adulthood earlier than most, accepting a job in 1976 as companion and personal assistant to one of the world’s most popular and wealthiest entertainers. Scott was just 16-years-old, plucked from obscurity into a lavish world of Lear jets, Rolls-Royces, multi-million dollar mansions, and ostentatious jewelry.
The sloth of a hedonistic, jet-setting lifestyle soon extracted a toll on the young blonde Adonis. He put on weight. His features sagged. Liberace had the perfect solution to return the spring to Scott’s stride: Thorson would undergo facial reconstruction surgery to resemble the son that Liberace never had. But the surgeries proved to be a nightmare. (The doctor was a chronic alcoholic who would later shoot himself to death.)
After the botched facial alterations were complete, the surgeon placed Scott on the so-called Hollywood Diet: cocaine, Quaaludes, Biphetamine, and Demerol, leaving Scott not only hopelessly hooked on painkillers for the duration of his life, but also with a chronic case of Hepatitis C, the result of a series of blood transfusions required for the facial reconstruction.
Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace
(Penguin; US: Jun 1998)
In 1987 Thorson wrote a book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, about his life with Liberace. Shortly before the book was released, just as he was about to embark on a nationwide publicity jaunt, the FBI appeared and whisked Thorson away into the witness protection program for his testimony against Eddie Nash in the state’s prosecution of the mobster for the Wonderland murders. The book’s publisher, in the interim, declared bankruptcy and Scott never laid his fingertips on a dime from the slim handful of units that sold.
And so here was Scott Thorson in the year 2004, calling yours truly from his home in Falmuth, Maine, flat broke and disabled, in chronic, horrendous pain from a botched murder attempt and an even more botched plastic surgery mandated by a demented and narcissistic celebrity, hoping that I would serve as his conduit for another lucrative laundry airing.
“Our mutual friend tells me that you’re the man,” Thorson said. “He said that if you can’t sell this story, no one can.”
A brief survey of my bleak surroundings said to the casual observer that the business of selling stories had not been kind to me of late. Divorced for several years, my home and work quarters was a comfortable residential hotel in the L.A. bedroom community of Glendale; the kitchen was comprised of a microwave atop a dresser and a mini-fridge next to my cheap assemble-it-yourself desk. Dishes were washed in the bathroom sink and rinsed in the bath tub.
I had no tangible assets to speak of, no credit cards, no personal vehicle, no savings account, and maybe a hundred bucks in my checking account. As a freelance writer for over ten years, I had hit a bad stretch of road. The heyday of the freelancer was coming to an end—- the buck-a-word magazine assignments had become as fossilized as the prehistoric remains in the La Brea Tar Pits.
“This story is really, really hot, Rodger,” Thorson continued in his nasal whine. “But I need a lot of money. I’m totally tapped out after paying for the spinal surgery and the IRS has put a lien on my bank account. I’m really fucked.”
“How much money are you looking for, Scott?” I asked again, my irritation clearly palpable at this point. The mere idea of dodging into the ghetto of tabloids for a quick cash infusion represented a new personal low for me, but living “off the grid” often means making harsh ethical and moral decisions with little or no time to think, not with the landlord impatiently knocking at the door. “You have to set a price. How much do you want for the story?”
Thorson suggested a low four-figure sum and I laughed. “Scott, if your story checks out, that sum would be my finders fee. You would be getting three times that much, providing you pass a lie detector test.”
“Of course I would pass a lie detector test,” Thorson promised enthusiastically.
“I believe you.”