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- November 30, 1992
- Vol. 38
- No. 22
End of the Rainbow
The Strange Crusade of TV's Wigged Evangelist Turns Violent
On Sept. 22, Stewart, 47, was back on TV—this time, on the 6 o'clock news. Driven, he says, by apocalyptic visions and fortified by marijuana, he look a maid hostage at the Hyatt hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. After nailing shut the door of his room, he told police that he wanted airtime for his Jesus-is-coming message. During an eight-hour standoff, Stewart, who was armed with a .45, tossed a stink bomb at cops and roused fears that he might aim a potshot toward jets landing on the runways 2,000 feet distant. Finally a SWAT team blasted through the door with an explosive device and subdued him.
Stewart is marginally repentant. Now in custody facing 11 charges, he says he could have done something to rate even bigger headlines, like shoot somebody. Bui he didn't. "This is not Bozo the Clown," says L.A. deputy district attorney David P. Conn. "He is a very sick and dangerous man."
By his own account, Stewart's life was troubled from the first. He says he was born in Spokane. Wash., to alcoholic parents. His father, Rollen Sr., a car dealer, died when Rollen was 10, and his mother, Catherine, perished in a fire in December 1968. After an early marriage that produced a daughter, Colette, 27, Rollen migrated to Hollywood in hopes of becoming an actor; instead he found his fame as a wigged fixture at sports events. Although he lived meagerly off a family inheritance, he bought prime seats, fought his way into camera range and grew familiar enough to appear in a beer commercial for Anheuser-Busch. But things changed after the 1980 Super Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. As Stewart once recalled, "I walked out [feeling] sad. It was the shallowness. I was being seen all over the world, but never as myself." He says he found Jesus hours later when, in his hotel room, he tuned in to a television show called Today in Bible Prophecy.
Subsisting on one meal a day and ample supplies of pot, Stewart went into a kind of frenzy, "working" 12 events a month and flashing his JOHN 3:16 message through placards, signs and T-shirts with manic glee. When Margaret Hockridge, now 42 and an L.A. grade school teacher, met him at a Virginia church in 1984, she found herself "in awe of him," she says.
Smitten, the two bought a van in December 1985 and embarked on a peripatetic joint ministry. Ten months later they were married—he for the fourth time, she for the first—with Stewart dressed in a JESUS IS COMING T-shirt for the St. Louis ceremony and his bride in a mauve dress.
But Stewart's emotional troubles weren't over. At the 1986 World Series, says Margaret, he tried to choke her at New York City's Shea Stadium for standing in the wrong spot with her JOHN 3:16 placard (a charge he denies). His mood, says Margaret, was "constantly up and down." So, too, were their finances. By 1990, Hockridge had filed for divorce.`
Still, the two kept in touch. When she heard on her car radio on Sept. 22 that there was a standoff at the Hyatt, she immediately thought of Rollen. "Il lore me up that he would go to such lengths and sacrifice his own life," she says, "when nobody's going to listen anyway."
Stewart, however, is undaunted. "I was asked by the psychiatrists here if I hear voices," he said during a prison interview. "I answered, 'No, I'm not hearing voices. But I've been hearing the voice of God for years.' "
KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH
LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles
- Lyndon Stambler.
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