Byline: Pamela H. Sacks
Rufus Hannah and Donnie Brennan were homeless alcoholics when Barry M. Soper hired them to work as handymen at his townhouse complex in San Diego.
Soper, a native of Worcester, was impressed as he watched the two men diligently build a fence. He took a liking to them and did what he could to help them out.
But Hannah and Brennan were always desperate for drinking money, and they fell into the clutches of several teenagers who, as things turned out, would use them mercilessly as the featured players in their notorious "Bumfights" videos.
The teens gave Hannah and Brennan a little money and plenty of cheap alcohol in exchange for performing all sorts of dangerous stunts. One involved Hannah viciously beating Brennan. Hannah was the main performer and was eventually dubbed "Rufus the Stunt Bum" by radio personality Howard Stern.
When they got involved in making the videos, Hannah and Brennan disappeared from Soper's life. But Soper had given Hannah his business card and told him to call right away if he was ever in trouble.
That call came one day in 2002, and thus began a chapter in the lives of Soper and Hannah that has continued to unfold ever since. Hannah made up his mind to sober up and succeeded despite enormous physical and emotional challenges. Soper supported him morally and financially through it all. Brennan has tried, but has not managed to give up alcohol, according to Soper.
Soper hired lawyers who sued the teenage videographers on behalf of Hannah and Brennan; the case became news around the world. Soper and Hannah were interviewed on national radio and television. The late Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" urged them to write a book.
In a recent interview, Soper said that he made up his mind to follow through after the newsman's death. "A Bum Deal" was published three years ago and still sells well.
The book is an unsparing account of Hannah's life. He describes his alcoholic parents giving him beer to quiet him when he was an infant and marches forward to his time on the streets. It recounts his utter despair while making the infamous videos, then details his battle back to a normal life with Soper's unstinting support. After conquering his alcoholism, Hannah reconnected with his children and married a former girlfriend. Soper gave him a job as an assistant manager at the townhouse complex.
The two men have spoken extensively at schools and colleges about alcoholism and homelessness. Now, they are showcased in...