Playing Poker with Actor Gary Busey
I’ve met celebrities over the years. Some I remember. Most were forgettable.
But not Gary Busey. He made a lasting impression.
In 2006, the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas hosted a charity poker tournament. I was invited to attend and play. Typically, these lighthearted events consist of a mix of poker insiders and casino high rollers, with a few celebrities sprinkled into the field. My poker table included none other than actor Gary Busey, who displayed one of the most bizarre episodes of erratic behavior that I’ve ever witnessed by someone who’s famous.
Busey has spent most of his life in front of the cameras. He’s probably best known for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of one of rock n’ roll’s icons, as the title character in The Buddy Holly Story. More recently, Busey has appeared in several big-budget action films, including Under Siege, Lethal Weapon, Point Break, as well as several recurring television roles. But Busey is just as famous — make that infamous — 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, on the night Busey attended the 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 we noticed was that Busey had never played No-Limit Texas Hold’em before. He had no idea about the rules. Fair enough. Everyone at the table, especially the dealer and staff, were eager to help out our VIP guest. Fact is, no one wanted to see any of the celebrities 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. So, he’d flash his cards to the rest of the table and talk openly about what he held. When it became his turn to act, he’d ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?”
This was 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 they talk at all, Busey behaved like he was the center of attention and life of the party. He ignored players and the action completely — even when someone moved all in. Busey would laugh openly after players took a beat and asked completely irrelevant questions while others were pondering a critical table decision.
But what was most peculiar of all was Busey’s seemingly duel personality. As he became increasingly bored with a game that he neither understood nor had any desire to learn, Busey began exhibiting the characteristics of someone with multiple personality disorders. Witnessing this human train wreck was like watching a master of improvisation, launching into multiple characters in the midst of a showstopping comedy routine. Only, Busey wasn’t joking. This wasn’t an act.
At one point, the casual table chatter turned to Busey’s noble recovery from his terrible motorcycle accident. That triggered a terribly overlong and out-of-place religious sermon about the power of Jesus at which time he started quoting Bible scripture. From that moment on, he hollered “Hallelujah!” every time something at the table pleased him.
Then, a few attractive women in the crowd who were watching the table action managed to catch the actor’s eye.
The hot girls made Busey’s head pinball back and forth between the game and the attraction along the rail. He rotated between Bible-thumper and a bug-eyed slime ball on the prowl for fresh tail. Busey would belt out a loud “Praise Jesus!” to the table, while a stray female managed to catch his eye. Then, he’d flash his pearly-white chompers, whirl around in his chair, and leer forward in order to get a better view of the physical package packed inside a short skirt, and holler out in his most convincing lounge lizard voice, “Hey, hot mama!”
The rest of us shifted our eyes and glanced down towards the felt, awkwardly trying to figure out if what we were seeing was real, or not. And so, between Busey’s awkward Bible study soliloquies on First Corinthians interspersed with shocking speculation about the physical talents of females in our immediate vicinity, the course of events somehow deteriorated from that point onward.
That’s right. Deteriorated.
As previously noted, 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 a blind. Had this been a comedy act, it might have brought a few laughs. But Busey was dead serious. Even angry.
Frustrated that he was getting low on chips and posting blinds was mandatory, Busey protested. He failed to understand why he had to commit chips to the pot without even seeing his cards. So, Busey stopped the action and instructed the dealer that he didn’t want to be dealt-in the next hand. The dealer looked at Busey with a blank stare. The action froze. The dealers did their best to explain to Busey that sitting out wasn’t an option in tournament poker.
“I don’t like that!” Busey said. “I protest!
The dealer had no idea what to do next. After another minute or so of unprecedented back and forth arguing (this was a charity poker tournament, not the usual scene of contention), a floor man was finally summoned over to the table. The floor man politely explained to Busey that posting blinds was a standard tournament procedure. 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, a friend named Steve McDonald, finally got fed up with the nonsense. By then, he’d had more than enough of Busey antics. So, had everyone else. McDonald reached across the table and plucked chips from Busey’s stack in order to post the blind. Well, that made the actor go ballistic.
Busey snapped his head down like he was possessed. He 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 flabbergasted. No one knew how to react. We didn’t know whether to roll onto the floor laughing or be horrified.
Busey arm-wrestled back and forth with the dealer for a few seconds before a few stray chips flung into the air and sprayed all over the table. Fortunately, another good-looking girl walked by at that very instant and probably unknowingly saved the day from turning into total chaos. 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, the celebrity was so 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.