Playing Poker with Actor Gary Busey
I’ve met quite a few celebrities over the years. Some I remember. Most were utterly forgetable.
But not Gary Busey.
A few years back, the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas hosted a charity poker tournament. I was invited to play. Typically, these lighthearted events consist of a mix of poker insiders and rich people, with a few celebrities sprinkled into the field. My starting table included none other than actor Gary Busey, who displayed one of the most bizzare episodes of erratic behavior that I’ve ever witnessed by someone famous.
Busey has spent a long career in front of the cameras. He’s perhaps best known for his mesmerizing Oscar-nominated portrayal of one of rock n’ roll true icons, in The Buddy Holly Story. More recently, Busey has appeared in several big-budget action films, including Under Seige, Lethal Weapon, Point Break, as well as several recurring television roles. But he’s just as famous for the drama in his personal life, which included a death-defying motorcycle crash and several public outbursts fueled by drug and alcohol abuse. Supposedly, the night Busey attended out charity poker tournament, he was both “sober” and “born again.” Perhaps so — which made his behavior all the more baffling.
When Busey took a seat next to me, I knew instantly that we’d all be in for quite a show. Busey didn’t disappoint.
The first thing everyone noticed was that Busey had apparently never played No-Limit Hold’em before. He had no idea about the rules. Fair enough. Everyone at the table, especially the dealers, were eager to help out our VIP guest. In fact, no one wanted to see the celebrity bust out early. After all, this was intended to be a fun social event.
When Busey was dealt his two down cards, he had absolutely no understanding of the importance of concealing his hand. He’d flash his cards to the rest of the table and talk openly about what he had. When it became his turn to act, he’d ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?”
This was quite funny the first few times he did it. Less so, as the action was incessantly delayed and Busey showed no inclination whatsoever to try and learn the rules. It was like playing poker with a two-year-old.
Totally oblivious to normal poker etiquette when players out the hand talk softly, if at all, Busey behaved like he was the life of the party. He ignored players and the betting action completely – even when they were all in. Busey would laugh openly after players took a beat and ask compelely irrelevant questions while others were pondering a critical decision.
But what was most peculiar of all were Busey’s seemingly duel personalities. As he became increasingly bored with a game he neither understand nor had any desire to learn, Busey began exhibiting the characteristics of someone with multiple personality disorder. Witnessing this human train wreck was like watching master of improvisation Robin Williams in his prime, launching into multiple character schtick in the midst of a showstopping comedy routine. Only Busey wasn’t joking.
At one point, the casual table chatter turned to Busey’s recovery from his motorcycle accident. That triggered a terribly overlong and out-of-place sermon about Jesus during which he started quoting scripture. From that moment on, he hollared “Halleluja!” every time something at the table pleased him.
Then, a few atttactive women in the crowd managed to catch the actor’s eye.
The hot girls made Busey’s head pin-ball back and forth. He rotated between Bible thumper and a bug-eyed slimeball on the prowl for fresh tail. As soon as he let out a “Praise Jesus!” to the rest of table, some stray female would somehow draw his attention. Then, he’d flash his snow-white chompers, whirl around in his chair, and leer forward in order to get a better view of the package inside a short skirt, and hollar out in a lounge lizard voice, ”Hey, hot Mama!”
The rest of us shifted our eyes and glanced downward, trying to figure out if what we were seeing was real or not. And so between Busey’s awkward soliloquies on First Corinthians interspersed with shocking comments about the breast size of females in the immediate vacinity, things somehow deteriorated from there.
That’s right. Deteriorated.
As noted previously, Busey had apparently never played Hold’em before, nor any other flop game which included posting blinds. After several rounds of play and escalating blind levels, Busey became increasingly annoyed with the notion of posting a blind. He called it a “stupid rule.” At one point he became fed up and snapped that he refused to post. Had this been an intented comedy act, it might have brought a few laughts. But Busey was dead serious. Even angry.
Disturbed that he was getting low on chips and blinds were mandatory, Busey protested. He failed to understand why he had to commit chips to the pot without even seeing his cards. So, Busey instructed the dealer that he didn’t want to be dealt into the next hand. The dealer looked at Busey with a blank stare. The action froze. He did his best to tell Busey that sitting out wasn’t an option in tournament poker.
“I don’t like that!” Busey said. “I protest!
The dealer had absolutely no idea what to do. After another minute or so of unprecedented back and forth argument (this was a charity poker tournamet, remember), a floorman was finally summoned over. The floorman was politely explained to Busey that posting blinds was a standard tournament proceedure. Again, Busey refused and became even more stubborn.
“I refuse to do that!” he said. “If I have to do that, then I don’t want to play!”
The dealer, someone I know very well named Steve McDonald, finally got fed up with the nonsense. By then, he’d had more than enough of Busey antics. So, the dealer reached across the table and plucked chips from Busey stack in order to post the blind. Well, that made the actor go ballistic.
Busey slammed his hand down on the dealer’s arm like a claw, locked a death grip onto the invader’s wrist, and squeezed.
“Don’t touch my chips! Busey screamed. “You can’t do that! You can’t touch my chips!”
The entire table was flabberghasted. No one knew how to react. We didn’t know whether to roll onto the floor laughing, or be horrified.
Busey arm wrestled with the dealer for a moment before finally a few stray chips flung into the air and landed all over the table. Fortunately, another good-looking girl walked by at that very instant and probably unknowingly saved the day. Busey became distracted by the new eye candy just long enough to holler out another one of his can’t-miss pick-up lines, ”Hey, Hot Mama!” while enough chips were dislodged from his stack for the blind, and the cards were dealt.
Once action revolved around the table to the big blind where Busey was sitting, the celebrity was utterly confused and distracted and in such as sour mood that he stood up from the table and announced he no longer wanted to play. With that, Busey threw his remaining chips into the pot without even looking at his cards and then stormed out of the room before the flop was dealt out.
At least Busey made a lasting impression.