Dope Dealer to the Stars
Deep in the Hollywood Hills, there's a party goin' on. Mercs and Jags spill out of the driveway, up and down the undulating curbside for more than a block. The guests, who effortlessly flaunt their Melrose "disheveled chic," are the creme de la creme of Hollywood Gen-X society: models, up-and-coming actors and, most prominently, the idols of L.A.'s semialternative rock scene. Any local whose tonsils have ever graced KROQ's playlist is ligging away at the bar and buffet. But not everyone at this midwinter affair is so fatally attractive. Winding his way amongst the beautiful is a tall, fleshy, acne-faced ruin. And it is to this man that many of the assembled pay homage as if he's John Paul with an extended pinkie ring. Of course, it's more than huzzahs he's gathering. From the pockets of Levi's and Dickies come wads of Uncle Sam's finest, accompanied by a cursory show of sneakiness. Who knows why they even bother? After all, everyone in the room is hip to Lucky Pierre, the self-proclaimed "dope dealer to the stars. "Once Pierre has made the rounds and collected his ducats, he gathers three other hardy, or especially dope-sick, souls for a ride in his late-'70s Corolla. It's time to go shopping. On the way, the small talk is pretty much what you'd hear in the lobby of any record company or studio: who's selling, who isn't, who rules, who sucks. Pierre, normally a chatterbox, absorbs all this info like a dried-out sponge - it'll come in handy later for dazzling noncelebrity clients, to show them that he truly belongs with the in-crowd, even if it's just to sell them dope.
Didn't start that way. At first, Pierre was going to make it with his horn. Years ago, I saw him play Raji's, the late and legendary rock club, and, in reality, he was pretty damn good. (He smiled gratefully when I told him this.) But he found himself more valuable as a source of drugs than as a capable sideman. And that career move paid handsome dividends for a while - as on this Hollywood party night.
After collecting the cash, Pierre and comrades drive out of the hills to a deserted park on the Westside, just north of the 10 freeway. There, Pierre exchanges $200 for 20 tiny balloons filled with sticky black Mexican tar heroin. On the return trip, one of Pierre's passengers, a club waitress whose only claim to fame is proximity, decides she can't wait. She snatches her share with one hand and, with the other, jams Pierre's cigarette lighter into the dash. Thirty seconds later, she throws some tar on the red-hot lighter and sucks the heavenly shit out of the fumes. "Hang on, we're almost there," Pierre says to the rest of his anxious carload, snickering to himself.
By that time, some of the band members at the Hollywood manse are getting just as fidgety. Peer into their brainpans, and you'd come up with the universal thought: Where's Pierre? Where's their medicine? At his return, many of the town's finest rockers make for him like their fans run toward them. Pierre slithers to a side room, where he distributes the booty. A job well done; six more hours of relief. If only every night were like this.
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Pierre can tell you about parties like this all day long - although the specifics of any one bash get blurry as we sit in a corner pub at a rundown strip mall in Culver City. Like a lot of dealers, Pierre fingers his pager nervously every five minutes. In between, he takes long, hard pulls on his draft.
His present cover/straight job is in dry wall, and as work is rather slow this week, he's got plenty of time to gab. Still, Pierre's a mess and a half - for reasons that will soon become clear.
As dope dealers go, Pierre is a nickel-and-dimer, a provider for weekend users who don't want to rub elbows with gangstas. "Real junkies don't come to me; I cost more. They'll deal with the Mexicans themselves, or go downtown to Alvarado and Bonnie Brae and risk their asses."
Pierre tries to maintain at least a $200 back stock of tar for his 10 best clients, lest withdrawal bite their sorry asses hard. His clientele have been mostly visiting out-of-towners and local altie-rock stars, who feel at ease with Pierre because he's just a seedier version of themselves; he can still recite chapter and verse on every great rock album ever made.
Some of his customers are now in rehab, some have kicked the habit, and some are dead. But others remain on the delivery list because Pierre is to heroin what the legendary "Harry the Bastard" was to cocaine, a sure bet whose number was probably tucked into music-business Rolodexes all over L.A. The industry makes a show of an anti-drug stance, but when stars are screaming for a taste - while expensive studio time gets burned up - it's call-on-Pierre time.
Pierre got his start with a partner who connected with suppliers he met in prison. His partner had roadied for major bands, which extended Pierre's own music-biz contacts. He was a quick learner, but then he's always been self-taught, be it playing music, humping Sheetrock or dealing tar. His closest brush with the law came after his partner's body was found stuffed in a trunk in the Inland Empire. After police found Pierre's name in the car, atop a list of accounts receivable, he had to lie low for a while.
Just two years back, Pierre had become Mr. Skag, ensconced in a lush Echo Park hilltop love pad with girlfriend and roommate, where he hosted weekendlong dope-a-thons, mostly with the disciples of Keith/ Thunders types that used to call Raji's home.
"Crazy rock stars," he says, ruefully. "Last pad I had, I had the stereo and TV going at full tilt all night and day. How my roommate slept through that, I dunno."
When I ask him about a pair of stories that have circulated, he denies them both. "I didn't sell River Phoenix the dope that killed him," he says. "I did sell to him before that night, but not then. And I wasn't Kurt and Courtney's man either."
Although Pierre likes to brag, he knows better than to let me publish a list of celebrity clients. But in a later interview, an acquaintance of mine - a singer well-known locally - was willing to vouch for him, if "vouch" is the right term.
"The music business is full of people like Pierre," says the singer. "Keep us loaded so we'll be more easily manipulated, then shuttle us off to rehab when we can't cope. Wherever we go, there's always a Pierre there. Shit, he used to camp outside this one detox I was sent to, and why not? Ten feet from the front door of a rehab is prime turf for a dope dealer."
The singer laughs when I suggest that Pierre is a kind of groupie. "He's got celebrity-junkie radar," he says. Pierre "is jazzed that he dealt to River Phoenix and that crew. And he drops a lotta names in a business where you should be more discreet, I guess. But he knows his market, man, no two ways around it."
The singer ought to know. Pierre once tanked him up just before he belted "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a Clippers game. The resulting performance is legendary in L.A. rock circles. Pierre mournfully accompanied on his horn, equally zonked and out of tune - though no one there understood his full role in the collaboration. "Good thing it was a Clippers game and no one was watching, huh?" comments Pierre, when reminded of the incident.
Leaving the Culver City bar, Pierre and I repair to his digs, a mile or so away, where he's meeting a customer. Pierre's pushing 40, and looks as beat-up as his old Corolla. Hollywood parties starring Pierre are a rarity these days.
Raji's was leveled in the '94 quake, and Pierre too has taken a fall of seismic proportions. With chic music clients buying elsewhere, Pierre relies mostly on "secretaries, businesspeople, waiters, people with cash at hand," like the person we're meeting, whom Pierre describes as a "pest."
"Cheap; always a 10 here and a 20 there," he says. "Useless."
Maybe pushers fall out of fashion just like rock stars, but Pierre has another problem. His profits - and even his house - went up his nose and into his veins. He's hooked as badly as anyone he's ever dealt to.
For a few months recently, Pierre was a homeless couch surfer. Right now, he's staying with his 77-year-old mother, which is cool for business, as she's away for a few days. "I told her I'm not using anymore, and she believes me, 'cause I've kept it kinda low-key," he explains.
We pull up to his mom's drab two-bedroom, where we have to keep it down because Pierre's 21-year-old girlfriend is sleeping off a load in the next room. "Twenty-one and beautiful. Not bad, huh? Too bad I got no sex drive. All junkies got no sex drive."
His "pest" client rolls out 30 bills, and the two of them commence with the "dragon-chase," which is a lit match under rails of tar laid out on foil. As the smoke rises off the tar, Pierre inhales deeply, then carves out a coke line to speed along the high.
His mood elevates. "What I really wanna do is kick this shit, and then deal strictly for money," he says. "The Mexicans can do it. Why not me?" he asks. "I coulda been a millionaire if I'd had my shit together."
He still blows a bit of sax and harp from time to time; they are his only possessions that have never ended up in a pawnshop. Most of the time, they gather dust in his one suitcase, which also contains his two changes of threads.
Pierre and his customer slump into the couch and then turn their halfhearted attention to the MTV video flickering on the cheap TV, where Pierre can watch the rockers whose world he so wanted to be a part of. In about five hours, the dope dealer to the stars will need another fix. The high and the music must be okay, because Pierre seems to halfway believe it when he turns to me and comments: "Exciting, huh?"
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