The Day I Killed Wolfman Jack

One of the greatest figures in the history of the music business in America was not, himself, a musician.

But when he sat down before a radio microphone his power to engage and entertain helped promote countless musicians to the prominence they enjoyed.

Wolfman Jack, he called himself. The Wolfman, who rose to broadcast stardom on a simple premise: give the people great music.

So why did I have to ask him that one fateful question?


Wolfman Jack was born Robert Weston Smith in 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. When he was a child his parents divorced, and his dad bought him a radio to try to keep him out of trouble.

Photo courtesy Orange County Archives

The music he heard on that radio changed his life.

When Alan Freed originally came on the air, he had a Cleveland show where he played nothing but rhythm and blues. And I’m talking about, he went back and got the old stuff. And this old Minnie Smith record that she sang, ‘I’m gonna rock you, baby, I’m gonna roll you all night long.’ Well, he tookd the ‘rock’ and ‘roll’ of that.

“I remember when Elvis came out with his first record, Heartbreak Hotel. He was probably the only white artist on the whole program. It was quite unusual to have a white artist doing rock and roll back in those days, you know?”

“And he went on this big, powerful station in New York, WINS, and called himself Moondog. He had all the Moondoggies out there. And he called it rock and roll, but he was really playing rhythm and blues.

Young Bob Smith knew that he wanted to be on thr radio, too. But. that would have to come later.

“When I was a kid I did a lot of door to door selling. Sold encyclopedias, and I sold Fuller brushes. It was my big thing. I could sell a lot of brushes. You knock on the door: ‘Hello, this is your friendly Fuller Brush man. I’ve got a gift for you!’

“I remember this one time, this lady came to the door, and she had one of these negligee kind of bathrobes, and she stood there at the door ane gave me big smile – and all of a sudden it dropped to the floor and she was nekkid! Nekkid standing right there in front of me, just a young boy.

“‘Yeah, I’m a Fuller Brush guy, how you doing?’ And she said, ‘Come on in. I want you to meet my friends.’I walked in, and all her friends were nekkid! They were doin’ snarlin’s and stuff like that, and rippin’ off things, you know? I said, ‘Well, it’s real nice, I guess you guys don’t need any brushes.”

Eventually he did get that radio job, and became a legend. So much so, that when George Lucas was making a movie about the early ’60s, he called Wolfman to come and be a part of “American Graffiti”….

“I woke up, I remember, on a Monday morning and they told me they wanted me to go down to Universal Studios to put me in a movie. I said, wow! And I went down there, and it was George Lucas sitting behind a desk in this old trailer. George said, ‘Listen, I want you to kiij at this script.’ I opened it up. and Wolfgman was on every page.

“I said, ‘George, you probably think I got money, right? And you want me to help you finance this picture?’ I said, ‘I sure appreciate it, man, but I ain’t that wealthy.’ ‘No, we want tyou to be in the movie, Wolfman. We want you in the picture. You’re a vital force in this movie.’ I said, ‘Well, thank you very much.’

“I think the deal was like, $3.000. I did the scene with Richard Dreyfuss. Never got to meet the other folks, Harrison Ford and those people. Never met them. Still to this day I’ve never met ’em.”

That brings us to June 30th, 1995, the day I met and interviewed Wolfman Jack./ He was 57 years old, but I remember that he looked pale and rather pasty that day. I didn’t give it that much thought at the time.

That was a Friday. That weekend I kind of unplugged from the news, so I had no idea what my workmates were talking about, come Monday morning.

“Bill, what did you do to Wolfman?” they said, asking in that sly voice that implies some kind of wrongdoing or misdeed on my part.

“What do you mean, what did I do to him? ” I said. “I interviewed him.” I was still clueless — until one of my co-workers piped up.

“You know he died, right?”


It turns out that a few hours after our interview, Wolfman did his usual Friday night oldies radio show, then went home. He got out of his car, suffered a heart attack, and died in his own driveway.

And then it occurred to me. Mine must have been his last interview. A quick phone call to his media escort confirmed it. I was, indeed, the last person to interview him.

Then, in the next instant, my own heart stopped for a moment as I remembered one of the questions I had asked him during that interview:

“I always wonder, when somebody comes in whose life story has taken them that positive road when they could just as easily have gone the negative way. have burned out, maybe even been dead by now. Why aren’t you dead by now?”

Yes, you heard that right. Just hours before his untimely death, I asked the great, the legendary, the seemingly immortal Wolfman Jack why he’s still around…

I don’t know. I guess the Lord loves me and wants to keeo me around to take care of His children, because I seem to be able to convince people to have a good time and be able to do the things they like to do in a positive way.”

Now, I’m not necessarily superstitious, but it was a long time before I asked anyone else that question.

I didn’t, after all, want to become known as the serial-killing interviewer.

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