Off Limits

It's my party, and I'll die if I want to: Colorado was the center of the universe in 1997 and proved it by ending the year with Michael Kennedy's death in Aspen--an anti-advertisement for skiing that could set Colorado Ski Country back years. It didn't help that skiing snagged another fatality the same day, a fifteen-year-old who'd been injured several days earlier, and added two more winter-sports deaths on New Year's Day: a fifteen-year-old snowboarder and a ten-year-old who'd slammed into a wall while sledding. This state can't buy publicity like that. (But it can take heart that alleged-singer-turned-politician Sonny Bono went slip-sliding away at another state's ski area.)

Aspen, of course, had barely recovered from the passing of adopted son John Denver, who died October 12 when his plane crashed into the Pacific; he would have turned 54 on New Year's Eve. Generally speaking, it was not a good year for people named Denver. Unlike the former Henry Deutschendorf, Denver Pyle--a native of Bethune, Colorado, who passed away Christmas Day--was born with the name. His mother named the future star--he played Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard and dueled with rock-throwing troublemaker Ernest T. Bass as Pa Darling on The Andy Griffith Show--after her favorite city.

As a consolation prize for losing two celebrities, Hollywood threw two back at Colorado. The Titanic sank, but the movie of the same name has raised Molly Brown's profile; volunteers report record crowds at the Pennsylvania Street mansion once occupied by J.J. Margaret Brown, even if Kathy Bates's dour screen portrayal made the Unsinkable Molly seem more like an iceberg than hot mama Debbie Reynolds played in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. And Pam Grier, an East High graduate whose profile rose faster than her Afro in the Seventies, when she starred in Coffy and Foxy Brown, is looking good--real good--in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Grier, who plays a flight attendant in the flick, has plenty of air experience to draw from: She commutes to California from her home south of Denver.

In Saturday's New York Times, Frank Rich summarized Colorado's odd season in the spotlight: "Didn't [Kennedy]'s 'accident' occur in the same state that almost exactly a year earlier let a wealthy family derail the JonBenet Ramsey investigation?" It's a good thing Rich didn't realize that Jello Biafra, former star of the Dead Kennedys and a Boulder-boy-made-bad, was also back in town last week.

Shooting stars: Biafra's been attacked for tastelessness, but he has a way to go if he's to beat the work of Ryan McNamara, a nineteen-year-old art student at Arizona State University, whose "Auto-Sacrifice," now on display at a student art exhibit at ASU, consists of four photographs by McNamara--of McNamara portraying celebrity corpses JonBenet, Princess Diana, Nicole Brown Simpson and Mother Teresa. "I'm sick of art that is not relevant, art that goes on about aloof emotions known only to the artist," McNamara wrote in a letter to the show's judges. "This semester I want to move away from [that] and into something that has more relevance to people outside the art world. I want to make pictures that are interesting to the common man."

His postmortem pinup of JonBenet is a re-creation of the death scene, with McNamara himself in the starring role, attached to a paintbrush garrote and wearing a homemade white pullover with stars and a tiara. The JonBenet shot was "the first one I did," McNamara explains. "That piece really, to me, has unfolded like a story out of a book more than anything. Everything you hear about it becomes more and more like a story. It gets more bizarre and more bizarre."

Not only was JonBenet his premiere portrait, but it also marked "the first time I'd dressed up as a woman," says McNamara. "I really was surprised when I put on all the makeup and everything, because I looked nothing like a woman."

Much less a six-year-old girl. "But that wasn't the purpose of it," he adds. "I could have gotten a young blond girl. But the point was to show how absurd this whole thing has gotten. As a society, what does it say about us that we're so interested in all this?"

Season's greetings: It was not a very happy New Year for Clyde Hoeldtke, the developer who left his posh Evergreen home in time to show up by noon December 31 at the Land O'Lakes, Florida, jail, as ordered by Pasco Circuit Court Judge Stanley Mills. Hoeldtke had been under house arrest in Jefferson County (although he was allowed to leave the state on business trips and to continue running Beacon Properties Inc.) since March 1996, after he pleaded no contest in Florida to 23 charges of misapplication of construction funds--he stiffed homeowners and subcontractors for up to $6 million. Now many of those people want to sue Hoeldtke, and his failure to file a complete financial affidavit on time earned him a contempt-of-court charge and several months in jail. But even a cell will provide comfier housing than some of Hoeldtke's victims wound up with.

This fall, RTD boardmember Jon Caldara ran a bare-bones campaign against Guide the Ride and won, even though his opponents outspent him fourteen to one. In Caldara's holiday card, those bare bones are on display for all to see, in a comic drawn by Caldara himself. Presumably, postage was not charged to the RTD, where Caldara racked up the highest travel costs--over $5,000--for any boardmember last year.

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