Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Gary Busey

Regardless of how one feels about Gary Busey, there's no denying that he's an incredibly fascinating individual. The actor grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, far from the entertainment mecca of Hollywood, yet he still managed to become an Oscar nominee and a surprising triple threat — he's proven his talent not just in front of the camera, but as a great musician and a football player.

But even if you know all about Busey's multifaceted career, you may not know about some of the personal experiences that have shaped the direction of his life. An unusual childhood and a traumatic accident have served as defining moments for the actor, who's become almost as well known for his eccentric behavior and his legal troubles as he is for his undeniably memorable work on screen. From his early career ambitions to his somewhat troubled legacy, here's the untold truth of Gary Busey.

Busey first saw his father at two years old

Though his son Jake is now a famous actor his own right, Gary Busy didn't exactly inherit the acting bug from his dad. When he was born during World War II in 1944, his father Delmer Busey was still serving in the South Pacific. For the first two years of his life, he was raised by his mother, Virginia "Ginny" Busey, along with his two aunts, Ruth and Sis. Gary knew what his father looked like because Ginny hung a photograph of Delmer on the wall and spoke fondly about him to her son. Gary looked forward to meeting his dad and was excited to see the smiling, loving man in person.

When Delmer returned home in 1946, the experience was not what Gary expected. In his memoir, "Buseyisms," the actor recalled the moment Ginny introduced him to his father. "The large, imposing man was scowling as he looked down at me," Busey wrote. "I couldn't comprehend the scowl. I had never encountered anyone with such an expression ... I pointed at the man before me. 'That's not my dad.' Then I pointed to the picture on the wall of my dad, the man Mom had shown me every day of my two-year life with that comforting smile. 'That's my dad.'" After Ginny laughed and explained that the intimidating figure before him was the same man, Gary understood but was still frightened of the battle-hardened soldier.

Childhood ambitions of stardom

When Gary Busey was a young kid, one of his favorite things to do was going to the movie theater. The future film star recalled the magical experience of his first theatergoing experience in his memoir, "Buseyisms." As he wrote, "I felt the excitement building inside as the lights went down ... I was so moved when I heard that music booming, my heart swelled, bringing tears to my eyes. Sitting there in the dark, I felt like I was in heaven on earth."

After watching 1949's biblical epic "Samson and Delilah" with his mother, he asked her where all the people on screen went after the movie was over. Ginny Busey responded that the actors just moved on to work towards making the next film. Young Gary briefly considered that, before declaring to his mother that that's what he wanted to do. He recalls telling her, "I want to tell stories with light."

Sports became a major passion in high school

Gary Busey may have loved movies while growing up, but football became his passion throughout his teenage years. Like film, his love of the game also started young, as he first played in third grade and completely dedicated himself to the sport in order to make the team freshman year, continuing all throughout high school. In 1963, the future actor had performed so well that he earned a scholarship to Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas, and was then even given another one to attend Kansas State College of Pittsburg when he transferred there to be with his then-girlfriend and future wife, Judy Helkenberg.

However, Busey's football aspirations came to an end after suffering severe injuries on the field. "Things were going great at Kansas State, until one day at practice, while I was catching a pass, the cleats in my left shoe got caught in the ground," he wrote in his memoirs. "The force sent me smashing down, and I busted the medial meniscus in my right knee and tore the ligaments and tendons in my ankle. This caused me to lose my athletic scholarship and forced me to put football in the past, for good." Busey did not let the bad fortune keep him down, though, and instead shifted his focus to music and filmmaking.

He was pressured into trying out for the school play

Even though Gary Busey loved films as a child, he had become so immersed in football that he never considered getting involved in theatre at his high school. But then out of nowhere, the athlete was dared to try out for a school play by his friends on the team, and there was no way that he could not accept the challenge.

After a successful audition, the new actor was both shocked and overjoyed about being cast. "A feeling of excitement came over me ... Because of a stupid dare, I achieved something I never would have imagined possible," he wrote in his memoirs. "I was now playing the part of Private Victor Jerome and looking forward to it. This dare was just beginning." It wasn't long before this apparent fluke led to a total change in his career trajectory.

Busey's entertainment career truly began with Carp

After previously securing two athletic scholarships, Gary Busey impressively managed to earn a third, this one for drama at Oklahoma State University. But theater and academics quickly became secondary to the music group he joined as a drummer with a few guys he met at the Sigma Chi fraternity on campus. At first, they called themselves the Rubber Band, and after gaining a lot of popularity in the area, the group traveled to California in 1966 in the hopes of securing a record contract.

The band struggled for a few years, yet Busey remained determined and even dropped out of school to pursue his new dream. Once they changed their name to Carp, the group then finally saw some success, signing their first deal with Epic for a self-titled album in 1969, according to AllMusic. Ultimately, however, the achievement led to a letdown as the record had very little sales. At the time, Busey had begun to act on the side as well, and as he later wrote in "Buseyisms," he realized that was a more rewarding experience overall.

Gary Busey became Teddy Jack Eddy in Tulsa

While Gary Busey was consistently working acting gigs in California, he never fully gave up on music. In between his various TV and film jobs, he would take the opportunity to return home to Tulsa. It was on one of these trips that Busey connected with Leon Russell for the first time while playing drums at the music legend's Church Studio. Yet when the two met, Russell was one of many who had mistaken Busey for a character he played on a local sketch comedy show called "Mazeppa Pompazoidi's Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting."  

In his memoir, "Buseyisms," the actor explained, "The character Teddy Jack Eddy had actually become semi-famous locally in Tulsa. Most people, when they saw me on the street, thought I was Teddy Jack ... Heck, sometimes I knew I was Teddy Jack Eddy, too."

Even after Busey corrected the songwriter, Russell continued to call him Teddy Jack Eddy the entire time they collaborated. The versatile performer embraced the persona as well, and even performed with others, including legendary singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, using the famous moniker (via AllMusic).

The Buddy Holly Story was delayed by the search for a perfect wave

After appearing in the surf film "Big Wednesday" in 1978, Gary Busey gained a whole new respect for the sport at the center of the movie. In an interview with The Coast News, the actor admitted, "I was a football player and thought surfers were a bunch of sissies. But when I got to Hawaii and saw Sunset Beach for the first time, I knew that surfing was hardcore."

In fact, finding the perfect enormous wave was so important to both the actor and the filmmakers that production on his next big project, the music biopic "The Buddy Holly Story," was delayed until the final shot was made. As he reflected in "Buseyisms," this turned out to be a risky move, as he would only know in retrospect that his performance as Buddy Holly would be arguably the greatest of his career, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Ultimately, the ideal 20-foot wave did finally appear, allowing "Big Wednesday" to get the perfect shot and Busey to move on to a career-defining performance.

Fighting for victims of traumatic brain injuries

In December 1988, Gary Busey survived a motorcycle accident that was so horrific he not just had a brush with death, he fully experienced it. When he stopped too abruptly at an intersection, his bike flipped him over, slamming both his head and back into the curb (via Risen Magazine). The actor's pelvis was fractured, but far worse injuries were sustained by his skull, mostly because he was not wearing a helmet. The trauma was so great that he literally died for a short time, then miraculously survived the ordeal with brain surgery, followed by weeks of physical rehabilitation. 

The experience made a huge impact on his life, and afterwards he had a personal mission to do whatever he could to prevent anyone from suffering a similar tragedy.  "I went to Washington, DC, and met with someone in President George Herbert Walker Bush's administration," Busey told Ability Magazine. "Parts of what we discussed became the initial language used to create the Traumatic Brain Injury Act that President Clinton signed in 1997. So, my ability to recover from a disability created that law that helps so many. It's a good feeling, you know, when you help somebody."

The motorcycle accident significantly increased his faith

Surviving that severe accident on his Harley Davidson was a life-changing experience for Gary Busey that made him much more of a believer in a higher power than he ever was before. Not only was his Christian faith increased, but the actor also became more dedicated to Native American beliefs as well, with a far more spiritual perspective overall. The pivotal reason behind the shift was the belief that through his soul, he experienced a realm beyond reality as we know it when he briefly died. 

In the interview with Ability Magazine, Busey explained his new outlook. "Faith gives me the ability to rise above anything, because what is true in the spiritual realm is forever true. It cannot be denied," the actor said. "That was a big experience of spiritual epiphany to me, going to the other side. I've had some experiences in life that have seemed like setbacks, but they aren't because I grew from them."

Busey improvised a memorable moment from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Gary Busey has taken on a wide variety of roles throughout a long career in film and TV, but one of his most memorable remains his brief appearance in the cult classic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." He plays a state trooper who pulls over Johnny Depp's incarnation of Hunter S. Thompson, and lets him go with a warning as long as he gets off the road at the nearest rest area. According to the script, the scene would end with the trooper's final line recommending that Thompson order the land crab at a local restaurant. But thanks to Busey, the action went in an unexpected direction from there. 

As Busey later told Den of Geek, when he expected director Terry Gilliam to say cut, there was silence, so the actor just went with it and improvised. First, he gently grabbed Depp's chin and asked for a kiss, saying he was lonely, and then took it a step further by slamming the other actor onto the trunk of his vehicle. At that point, Gilliam burst out laughing and repeatedly yelled "Cut!" Not all of his antics made it to the final cut, but it was certainly enough to leave his mark on a now-legendary production.

His appearance on The Simpsons was quite scary

In his later career, Gary Busey has become well known for some pretty bizarre behavior in interviews and all sorts of appearances as himself. Whether intentional or not, his increasingly strange antics and mannerisms have become so common that it's expected, but that was not always the case. A definite turn in his public persona was marked by his appearance in a 2005 episode of "The Simpsons" titled "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister." In the show's rich history of wacky characters, Gary Busey lent his voice to one of the wildest of all: Gary Busey.

Busey's appearance as himself comes as part of an informational video, "A Guide to Your Restraining Order," in which he describes a character named Joe who harasses a woman named Mary in increasingly bizarre ways until she finally gets a restraining order. At the end of the tape, Busey reveals the twist: "Joe is me, and Mary is a composite of 12 different women and a small independent film company, all of whom couldn't deal with me because I'm too real." Of course, the segment is meant to be funny, but there's no denying it's pretty genuinely creepy, especially with his random bursts of maniacal laughter. With the scene in mind, it's easy to wonder exactly how much of his public behavior is a performance.

Gary Busey got into a fight over what heaven looks like

The brain injury Gary Busey had from his motorcycle accident was so severe that he technically died for a short time before being revived (via Ability Magazine). After that traumatic experience, the actor appeared in a film called "Quigley" in 2003 that depicted heaven — and he was very upset when it did not look right. When talking with the AV Club, co-star Curtis Armstrong recalled the bizarre day that Busey showed up on set and refused to shoot his scenes until changes were made. "They were three days behind at this point," Armstrong recalled. "But Busey said, 'It's nothing like this. I've been to Heaven and it doesn't look like this. That sofa's all wrong. That mirror is ridiculous. They don't even have mirrors!' It was ridiculous. He was completely nuts about the design of Heaven."

Yet even more chaos erupted when another cast member, who had also lived through a near-death experience, vehemently disagreed with Busey over the appearance of the divine realm. The argument between the two actors escalated quickly, getting so heated that it led to a fist fight that had to be broken up so everyone could be sent home for the day.

He prefers to lead interviews

Gary Busey has displayed all sorts of odd behavior during interviews, especially in the latter part of his career. One of the strangest — and yet most consistent — aspects of these conversations is that the actor does not allow interviewers to control the flow, as he refuses to discuss almost anything unless he's allowed to choose the subject. Several times, his go-to method of preventing interviewers from asking questions is the ambiguous claim that they're using "earth words."

Busey never fully explains exactly what he means by "earth words," but he's used the phrase repeatedly when questioned. For example, when talking with The Coast News, he claimed early on that the interviewer was using "earth words" and refused to answer anything until he was asked what he wanted to talk about. Busey did the same thing again with Risen Magazine in the beginning, but moved forward once the interviewer got rid of their notes. That's when the actor finally gave some insight into the meaning of the phrase. "I consider myself a child of God, completely," he explained. "Actor, preacher, earth words. Look into the thesaurus for how many ways you can say actor or preacher. Words can be an entrapment."

That time Gary Busey got attacked by his pet parakeet

In a comical yet somewhat alarming remote appearance on the Australian talk show "Hughesy, We Have a Problem," Gary Busey introduced the audience to his pet parakeet Pee-Wee. Before the conversation could continue, the bird started incessently pecking all around his face. When talking with News.com.au, host Dave Hughes described the hilarious scenario. "As he was explaining the problem, the parakeet started attacking him," Hughes said. "It nearly pecks him to death as we try to interview him!"

Busey clearly cares for the bird as a member of the family, but his appearance on the Australian show is not the only time he's shown the world how aggressive Pee-Wee can be. On Facebook, the actor has shared more than one video depicting what life is like with the pet parakeet and the incessant pecking. In one particular Facebook clip, Busey even admitted he was frightened by the bird, which was apparently why he went on "Hughesy."

Busey's behavior has definitely gone too far

While his eccentricities have been a source of amusement for many, Busey's family don't think it's any laughing matter. According to those close to him, his traumatic motorcycle injury was so severe that it changed his personality significantly. The actor's son, Jake Busey, made a heartbreaking admission to The Hollywood Reporter in 2019, saying, "I feel like I lost my dad on December 4, 1988." Gary's antics afterwards has often been comical or bizarre, yet there are incidents in which his behavior has been extremely inappropriate — such as an indecent exposure incident on the British version of "Celebrity Big Brother" in 2014 (via Daily Mail) — or even potentially criminal.

In August 2022, Gary was charged by the Cherry Hill Police for sexual offenses committed at the Monster Mania Convention in New Jersey (per CNN). The actor faces one count of harassment, and there are allegations of additional inappropriate touching. A public statement from the event organizers said that Busey was asked to leave shortly afterwards, which is backed up by several witnesses who saw him promptly removed from the convention (via Twitter). When confronted over the issue, Busey denied the accusations, but an affidavit released from law enforcement said he attempted to get out of the charges against him by asking to have detectives apologize to the victims on his behalf (per TMZ).

Just days after the police report, the troubled actor attracted even more controversy when he was filmed by the paparazzi with his pants down on a public bench. A spokesperson for Busey told Page Six that the 78-year-old may have been confused and thought he was sitting in the private setting of his nearby home in Malibu.