With bones up his nose, a vampire cape, and a cigarette-smoking toy skull named "Henry," Screamin' Jay Hawkins put the cool in ghoul.
Now, the legendary blues man and womanizer is being celebrated posthumously in a way only he could have appreciated: His illegitimate children — and he claimed to have more than 50 of them — are getting together to throw him a party.
Call it the Screamin' Jay Hawkins Illegitimate Family Reunion. At least 12 of his offspring are coming to Los Angeles — making pilgrimages from as far away as Paris, Cleveland and Honolulu — to celebrate the bizarre showman Feb. 12 at L.A.'s House of Blues.
Love Children Galore
Hawkins, best known for the hit "I Put a Spell on You," died in Paris last February of multiple organ failure — a condition presumably not related to supporting his prodigious extended family. His was a storied life of stage antics and skirt chasing. One girlfriend even stabbed him in the back when she found he was cheating on her.
But that episode occurred some 40 years ago, and the Cleveland native lived to the ripe old age of 70, singing, dancing and dressing like a ghoul, right up to the very end.
"He led a fast life, a hard life — and he said without exaggerating that he had 57 children," said his friend Maral Nigolian, a banker and film producer who is working on the singer's life story.
"He wasn't boasting," she said. "He was just sad that he didn't get to know many of the people who should have been more present in his life."
Hawkins left behind a 31-year-old French widow — his sixth wife — and thousands of admirers, who packed European venues for his concerts up until his final years, when he was residing in Paris.
Nigolian recalls meeting Hawkins after hearing "I Put a Spell on You" in the Jim Jarmusch movie Stranger Than Paradise. For days, they sat in his living room as the old man chain-smoked, gazed at the TV and rued the fact that he was not close to his offspring.
He had three children with his first wife, and was certain that he had fathered more than 50 other children with girlfriends and groupies, some of whom he had met. At some point, he estimated that there might be 75 Hawkins love children out there.
An old man's boasting might not have a lot to do with reality. But in the weeks after Hawkins' death, Nigolian started the Jayskids.com Web site, and now believes she has identified 33 of the so-called Hawkins 57.
"It wasn't like an FBI investigation — no DNA tests," Nigolian says. "But I ask for documents. The locations, dates of births and stories check out. There is, also, a family resemblance."
Hawkins, who had a tradition of beginning shows by jumping out of a flaming coffin, might rightfully be dubbed the granddaddy of shock rock. Indeed, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and Marilyn Manson have pulled rubber snakes and fake tarantulas out of Hawkins' bag of voodoo tricks.
With a dad like that, the kids might not be your typical suburbanites. But you never can tell.
"Two of the kids are in bands, one in Washington, the other in Calgary, and they have acts that would make their papa proud," says Nigolian.
But for many of the supposed children, the event at the Hard Rock Café is the closest they've come to a stage.
"It's a little scary meeting a whole new family for the first time. But I'm really excited about it. I can't wait," says Melissa Ahuna, a 31-year-old hula dancer, hotel store manager and nurse.