The Downfall of Busey

The Downfall of Busey

By Don Hall

I wrote and performed this for The Paper Machete back when Nixon was a Senator. Yes, it’s fiction but in a “This Could Be True” sort of way. The image of Gary Busey doing anything to get in on the “We Are the World” recording just strikes me as realistically funny.


Stories of Gary Busey out of control are as common as horrifying side effects of anti-depressant medications, but rarely do any of these stories get to the heart of why Busey has been so erratic. Some attribute his behavior to his 1988 motorcycle accident and the subsequent brain damage that was the result. While the accident is an obvious and convenient way of excusing the fall of a promising talent, the event that caused the true damage was due to ego rather than asphalt.

In 1978, Gary Busey was on top of the world.  off of his Academy Award nomination for portraying Buddy Holly, Busey was set to rise, meteor-like, out of a humble beginning that began as a drummer on a Tulsa, Oklahoma television comedy show.

Both a musician and an actor, Busey enjoyed mixing the two artforms as often as he could. Busey’s Wikipedia entry fills us in on his desire to combine the two. In The Buddy Holly Story, not only did he sing the role, he even changed some of the lyrics of classic rock songs to include personal in-jokes. In D.C. Cab, his character Dell is heard singing along with a cassette recording of Busey's own recording of Why Baby Why. He insisted on singing Stay All Night as a host on Saturday Night Live in 1979.

Gary's acting career was all but assured, but he could not let go of his musical ambitions. In the mid-1980s, something happened that changed the upward trajectory of his stellar rise to mega-stardom and flushed it into a downward spiral that at one point featured a broken, babbling Busey on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

That something occurred on January 28, 1985 in Hollywood. It involved a song. It involved rejection. Busey was never the same.

"What the fuck? Do these people know who I am!?"

"I'm sorry, Gary. They only wanted recording artists."

"Really? What's fucking Dan motherfucking Aykroyd fucking doing on the list?"

 Left: Dan motherfucking Aykroyd.

Left: Dan motherfucking Aykroyd.

"He's one of the Blues Brothers, Gary. C'mon. It's not that big—"

"DON'T. Do Not. If Tito fucking Jackson is singing on it, I'm singing on it. Make it happen."

The number one song during Christmas 1984 was Do They Know It's Christmas and was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Called Band Aid (and based in the UK), the song boasted the talents of everyone from Phill Collins to Simon Le Bon to Paul McCartney.

Geldof was repeating the charity in the States with a new single, co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, entitled We Are the World. Quincy Jones was producing the recording under the moniker USA for Africa. Jones enlisted 45 recording superstars that included Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Steve Perry, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen — but not Gary Busey.

What is established by sources ranging from Vanity Fair to Rolling Stone is that Busey was not happy about this snub. That Busey was actually furious. What is not established is how far the man would go to be a part of the recording.


Busey sat in a cab, across the street, fuming. He had managed to snag a copy of the guest list and found the heavily guarded location (Jones knew that artists might bolt at the sight of a mob of fans so the location was made secret; the recording was scheduled for late in the evening). Busey had arrived at 6 p.m. and tried the door. It was locked tight.

The sign on the entrance read "Please check your egos at the door."

It was signed "Q. Jones."

Busey's ego was all he had. He would check it only if he made it into the building. So the man who was Buddy Holly waited.

Michael Jackson arrived at 9 p.m. He had taken the challenge of writing the song with Ritchie but chose to crank it out in one night, by himself. It was the first time Jackson, who was a nearly religious figure in the pop world, branched out into using his talents for a political cause. According to accounts written in Premiere Magazine, Ritchie was less than enthused by Jackson's song and tried to meet with the elusive King of Pop to write a true collaboration. The unconfirmed rumor continues that while he and Jackson share an equal credit, Ritchie contributed exactly one line of lyric.

 Find Busey. You can't.

Find Busey. You can't.

Four days earlier, Jones had sent out cassettes of the song, recorded by Jackson and Ritchie, with a directive that they should listen to them and return them on the night of January 28 entreating them that "In the years to come, when your children ask, 'What did mommy and daddy do for the war against world famine?,' you can say proudly, this was your contribution." Busey had managed to steal a copy of the cassette from Waylon Jennings' mailbox, and had memorized every part.

At 10 p.m., word was sent that Prince would not be participating because Geldof had called him a "creep." Busey, now hiding in the shrubs just within earshot of the security guards, heard this. He ran, arms flailing, to a nearby payphone and called his manager.

"Prince is out."

"Gary. Seriously. I spoke to Bob myself. You just aren't..."

"Did you HEAR me? Are you LISTENING? Clean that crap out your ears, son! PRINCE HAS FLOWN THE COOP! There's an opening! They NEED ME!!!"

"Gary. I'm done with this. Let's focus on the part that Oliver Stone offered you—"

"Gecko? That's bullshit. I can't play a Wall Street guy!? And I'm RIGHT OUTSIDE the studio! C'mon, man!

Hello...?"

Busey had screen tested for the role that ultimately won Michael Douglas an Oscar; Stone offered him the role. Until this very moment, no one knew why.

Undaunted, Busey decided he had to take matters into his own hands. He mussed up his hair and strode to the entrance, behaving as if he had been invited. He was, after all, an Oscar-nominated actor.

"Excuse me. Can I help you."

"I'm Huey Lewis."

"Sir?"

"Huey Lewis. I'm here to sing on We Are the World. To help the hungry children."

"You're Gary Busey, right?"

"No, sir. I'm Huey Lewis!"

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Busey. That's very funny but..."

"Look me in the eye, son."

"What…?"

"Say Hello Huey Lewis."

"Sir..."

"Say — Look! It's Huey Lewis!"

"Mr. Busey, really..."

"CALL GELDOF! I'm HUEY FUCKING LEWIS!!" and Busey stormed for the door.

The security guard pulled out a large flashlight and was prepared to bean the raging actor but Busey turned on a dime and sprinted off in the other direction, knocking both Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon sprawling on the pavement.

 Not Gary Busey.

Not Gary Busey.

Inside, Jones was rallying his troops. At one point, Stevie Wonder suggested that a bit of nonsense syllable singing be replaced with Swahili. Waylon Jennings left in a huff, claiming he wasn't there to sing Swahili, still annoyed that he was never sent a cassette tape. There was a great deal of discussion and neither the Swahili nor the "sha-lum sha-lin-gay" originally written was recorded.

Outside, Busey continued his quest.

"Telegram for Kenny Loggins."

DENIED

"Pizza delivery for Diana Ross."

DENIED

"Seriously, I actually AM Huey Lewis."

DENIED

Busey tried everything but the intrepid security staff was on to him. And he could not get in the door. And he could not join the chorus.

In March 1985, We Are the World became the fastest selling pop single in history. It was the first ever single to be certified multi-platinum and raised over $63 million for the Pop Star Charity. Unfortunately, the effort to do-something-for-the-war-against-world-famine was a disappointment. Aside from flying Harry Belafonte over to Sudan with a planeload of food, medicine and t-shirts, the $10 million actually raised by the single for use in Africa was a paltry sum in the face of both the country’s famine and the duel foreign policies that prevented the hungry from being fed.


Busey was a broken man. In his rejection from participating in a project with the best intentions, his disbelief that he was not considered a musician by the pop establishment careened in his mind like a bullet. He could not check his ego at the door. He began drinking excessively and developed a cocaine habit. He recorded a cover of We Are the World but Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson refused its release.

In a rumor that was completed fabricated for this article, in 1991, at the premiere of Point Break, Busey encountered Huey Lewis for the first time and, before hitting Lewis with a bar stool, was heard to scream "You look NOTHING LIKE ME, Jackass!!" Lewis had no idea what he was talking about.

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