"It's like being in the middle of a movie I've never seen before ... where I'm the star."
—A "dice student" singing the praises of his mentor, Dr. Luke Rhinehart
A FEW DAYS BEFORE Jeff Parker was shot to death on his mother's doorstep, we talked over lunch at a patio café in Newport Beach. I wanted to write a book about what happened on April 30, 1983, and he wanted people to know he wasn't the monster they read about in their morning papers.
Three months had passed since a San Francisco businesswoman named Joan Mills collapsed in a Beverly Hills hotel room after a night saturated with sex, champagne, and high-grade cocaine. The man she had met only hours before, panicked and coked out of his mind, was trying to administer CPR to her battered body when the paramedics arrived. As soon as Mills was pronounced DOA at the hospital, police arrested her new companion, Jeff Parker. Pictures of the victim and the accused made the front page — and why not? Both were young, blond and beautiful, seemingly successful, the world at their feet until a one-night stand went wildly wrong. "L.A.'s Mr. Goodbar Murder" captured headlines up and down the California coast.
Freed on bail, Jeff agreed to meet with me because I was a family friend. "The accident," as he called Mills's death, was simply a bad reaction to the drugs he had generously provided. The tragedy for both of them, according to this self-described all-American boy from Minnesota, was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His only regret seemed to be the embarrassment he caused his mother and sister.
An optimist by nature, he hoped to be cleared of murder charges and make the most of prison time for drug possession by writing stories for his favorite TV series, Cheers. After all, he could spin comic banter with the best of them. He asked if I might be able to get him a copy of a sample script from my new agent, and I promised I would. Pleased, he wanted to give something in return. As we walked out, he opened the trunk of his sports car, pulled out a cherished hardcover edition of The Dice Man, and handed it to me. This book, he said, is hilarious. More than that, it can change your life. Read it.
Later, after Jeff was dead and buried, I did, searching for clues about a man who — like all of us — contained multitudes. After all, as Dr. Luke Rhinehart wrote in The Dice Man, "anybody can be anybody." Rhinehart (a pseudonym for author George Cockcroft) exhorted readers to follow his example and break free from the chains of civilized behavior by surrendering to his new religi...read more