Killing with laughter: Filmmaker John Waters speaks Wednesday at the book fair

Filmmaker John Waters killed a guy once. In 1970 on an early Sunday afternoon, he and his frequent leading lady Mink Stole were driving in Baltimore when an elderly man stepped off the curb and directly into the path of Waters’ car.

“His body flipped up and landed on the hood with his face pressed toward mine through the driver-side windshield,” Waters writes in his new book Role Models (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25), a collection of autobiographical essays. “This image so horrified me that I have used it over and over in my later films.”

Even though he has published two previous books ( Shock Value and Crackpot), granted countless interviews and found great success on the speaking circuit, Waters had never revealed this story until now. The Miami Herald recently talked to Waters about the ghastly incident and other revelations he makes in his highly readable memoir that will make you laugh out loud.

Q. It kind of makes sense, in a weird way, that you actually killed someone.

It was an accident. Can we please make sure you put that down? No one ever tried to tell me it was my fault. Fortunately there was a cop who witnessed the entire thing, and I was never charged with anything. I had never told that story for obvious reasons. It’s not a laugh riot. It’s not something you do a one-liner on. I just felt this book was the only real context where it felt appropriate.

I’m still sorry it happened, but I remember my grandmother saying “I’m praying to God for you,” and I said, “Why don’t you ask Him why he picked my car to walk in front of?” I only felt sad and, as Naomi Campbell once said when she had to testify at a trial, “This is a great inconvenience.” It was a nightmare. I imagine when you’re reading the book, and you get to that sentence, it stops you for a moment. But you’re supposed to tell some secrets in a book.

Q. “Role Models” is a book about the people who influenced your life and work — Johnny Mathis, Little Richard, Tennessee Williams, designer Rei Kawakuro, pornographer Bobby Garcia — but it also doubles as an autobiography. We learn a lot about you we didn’t know before.

It was great to write an autobiography where every other word wasn’t “me” or “I.” All those people I write about are why I am who I am today. I think everybody in the world should write a book like this about their lives. It might surprise you. But when you say role models, people automatically think it has to be Gandhi or Martin Luther King. My role models were weak or had terrible things happen to them. It has to be somebody whose influence, good or bad, has lasted with you, and you look back and realize they enabled you to do something in your life because of them.

And yes, I do tell a lot about myself — but not really. Like I say in the book, I never trust any celebrity who reveals the most personal things. Whenever I see people pouring out too much information to journalists, I always think these people obviously have no friends.

Q: Your early films were often described as pornographic, even though they weren’t. But they almost felt pornographic in this strange way.

A: Porn films were huge influences on me for many reasons. First of all, we have to be friends with pornographers, because they’re the only people who can afford mafia lawyers to fight the cases and win so artists and filmmakers and painters can use the same subject matter and not be sued. They do it first.


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