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Vodka and Bulldogs: The Day I Met Lewis Grizzard

Posted: Nov 20, 2008

I met Lewis Grizzard in the summer of 1991, and I’ll never forget it.
You see, Grizzard was a real hero to me. I dreamed of being a writer that blended the styles of my “top five,” Lester Bangs, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen King, Mark Twain and the crowning jewel, the columnist turned superstar from Moreland, Georgia, Lewis Grizzard.

My friend, the late great James Irwin, and I had started Greenville, South Carolina’s first ever alternative newspaper, EDGE Magazine. We came out of the chute kicking in 1991, and I found myself conducting interviews with everyone from Gene Simmons to George Harrison. On top of that, I was writing my Southern Accents column, which was inspired by the Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas, Joe Bob Briggs, and of course, Grizzard.

When I heard Grizzard was to be in town for a golf tournament one weekend in August, I set about contacting the appropriate people to hook me up with a man I considered to be one of the funniest writers in history. The author of Don’t Bend Over in the Garden Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes,  and If I Ever Get Back To Georgia, I'm Gonna Nail My Feet To The Ground.  One of my favorites was his memoir about the many health issues he was always fighting and countless hospitalizations and surgeries, They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.

I was so anxious to meet the man who lived through four wives and  hundreds of concerts and TV appearances - he almost landed his own sitcom, but the network nixed the idea saying he was “too Southern.” Of course, that gave way to one of his most angry, funny and memorable columns ever, titled, appropriately enough, “Too Southern.”

As we sat down at a local eatery, I ordered coffee and Lewis ordered a vodka tonic. It was 9 AM. Typical Lewis.

The first words out of his mouth were, “You a Gamecock fan, son?”

“I’m not really into sports,” I repled.

Lewis was a Bulldog. A proud graduate of The University of Georgia.In fact, he did something no other writer I know of had ever done before. He published an almost completely blank column. The day after UGA had lost to Georgia Tech, Grizzard wrote a single sentence above several columns of plain white newsprint. The sentence read, "Frankly, I don't want to talk about it.” 

Not unlike my later meeting with Garrison Keilor, I found Grizzard to have a dry wit. At first I couldn’t tell if my interview was going to be a wash out or not. He was nursing his cocktail and giving me answers shorter than Herve Villechaize.

It wasn't until I mentioned golf that he lit up. He started telling me how much he liked golf, and while it would take me several weeks to uncover that old issue of EDGE, I can recall him flipping a switch and becoming very animated and funny. Or maybe it was the second vodka tonic.

When I asked for his advice for myself as a columnist, he had only three words for me, “Keep ‘em short.” He said that people generally have short attention spans. He was right. Wonder what he’d think of the world in 2008, when everyone demands instant gratification.

Lewis was really nice to me during the hour we spent together, and as we parted ways, me wired on caffeine and him buzzing on alcohol, I shook his hand and thanked him for all the great writing.”

Three years later on March 20, 1994, at 10:45am, Lewis died. He was 47. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were  scattered over the fifty-yard line at UGA’s Sanford Stadium.  The man was a Bulldog ‘til the very end. I’ll never forget him.

Keep it Real. Keep it Southern.

Photo caption: Pushing Fifty is Exercise Enough!

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