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The life of the party is dead. Nevertheless, when word of his death spread last week, Bruce Henry Davis insisted as usual on having the last laugh. But this time, none of his friends thinks it is funny.
The demise of Davis, 52, was duly noted last week in a paid obituary in the Houston Chronicle. Accented by an appropriately impish-looking picture of Davis sporting a straw fedora, the notice began by notifying readers that the city's favorite wild child passed away on April 27 "due to too many years of partying too hard."
Indeed, the irrepressible Davis could not have said it better himself. Apparently he did say it himself -- or at least he wrote it about two years ago, with a blank left for the actual date of death.
A native Houstonian, Davis graduated from Spring Branch High School and the University of Texas. His advanced degree came in decadence, though. Davis will be best known for his annual Going Out of Business bashes, coupled with events with less elusive titles: Porno de Mayo, Porno Picnic, Pornteenth and Porno July. Loosely referred to as parties, they were in reality nothing short of semi-organized debauchery.
He owned his own advertising agency, but friends say that for Davis, the party never ended. A close associate scoffed at the claim two years ago that Davis had stopped drinking.
"He was cheating at solitaire," explains Richard Hudgins, Davis's longtime co-conspirator in outrageous bad taste and good times. "Bruce was just bound and determined to live hard, die young. But unfortunately he didn't leave a good-looking corpse. He did leave a beautiful memory."
The friends are best remembered, at least by those who still can, as two-thirds of the infamous trio known as the Ooze Brothers. From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Hudgins, Davis and the late Greg Campbell often took on their alter egos of Mongo, Lloyd and Syndrome, a.k.a. the Ooze Brothers.
In what could charitably be called a comedy routine, the three donned outlandish clothes, played toy instruments and satirized popular songs: "I Shot John Lennon (But I Did Not Shoot the Deputy)," "Johnny B. Hung" and "(I Can't Get No) Rely Tampons." They produced a record of one performance at their home base of Fitzgerald's, the Heights music club.
More than anything else, the three were known as King Hell partiers. An early Porno Picnic -- replete with scantily clad women, skin flicks and mind-altering substances -- was where Hudgins and Davis first became friends.
Hudgins recalls that he went to get a beer for his large-breasted first wife only to return and find a stranger, Davis, standing behind her with his arms under her armpits and his hands "squeezing her tits."
"And I said, 'Hey, asshole, that's my wife!' And he goes, 'Well, I know that!' So immediately, I liked him."
Surprisingly enough, they divorced a short time later. He started hanging out with Davis, and the Ooze Brothers were born. Campbell was the first to depart -- killed in a drug deal gone bad.
Davis and his friend continued oozing for two decades, until maturity finally caught up with Hudgins. He remarried, had a child and, like most 52-year-olds, slowed down. Davis didn't. Hudgins says his friend became isolated and depressed as he continued his hard-living ways.
"Nothing made any difference," says Hudgins. "I tried sweet love, tough love, everything I could to get him out of the doldrums, but he just wouldn't hear of it. He was going to do it his way. He was a tough guy."
Davis never married. Five years ago he told Hudgins he was taking himself out of the dating game. It was then that Hudgins knew Davis was in serious trouble. "I'd never heard Bruce say that," says Hudgins. "I was real surprised that he wouldn't be out there going after the snatch. To me that was the first of the seven deadly warning signs."
About nine months ago Hudgins confronted him about his failing health. Davis said he had lost the will to live. At that point Hudgins began distancing himself emotionally from his old friend, preparing mentally for the inevitable bad ending.
Donna Alexander met Davis years earlier, when she was just starting out in the medical marketing business. She still credits his early ad campaign for much of the success of her company, Marketing Rx.
"Part of his genius and brilliance were the words he used," says Alexander. "He used words in a funny sense when he was an Ooze Brother, but he really was the ultimate copywriter. He had a tremendous command of words."
Alexander, who relocated to Houston recently after several years in Dallas and Florida, ran into her old friend early last month as she shopped at Randalls near West University Place. As usual, Davis was dressed strangely, wearing a weird hat, an extremely loud aloha shirt, striped pants and fluffy slippers. But it was not Davis's attire that caught the attention of Alexander and her husband.
Instead, they were horrified by his yellow eyes, jaundiced and bruised skin, distended stomach and swollen ankles. The couple tried to convince Davis to see a doctor, but he insisted he was fine and brushed off their suggestions -- or so they thought.
Davis apparently took the recommendations to heart. A few days later he checked himself into Ben Taub Hospital for treatment of his failing liver and kidneys. On Easter Sunday, he emerged like some sort of detoxed Jesus.
But by April 25 Davis was back in intensive care. Doctors told his sisters that he would not be coming out alive this time. Mongo Hudgins went to see his Ooze Brother one last time.
"I saw him on Wednesday, and he was so weak and tired," says Hudgins. "So I cried pretty thoroughly that day. I came back and saw him later in the day and told him that the doctors said he was going to die there." Hudgins asked if there was anything he could do.
"Nothing I can think of" was Davis's terse reply.
Bruce Henry Davis died two days later.
Davis was a "born-again agnostic," so there will be no memorial service, Hudgins says. There will be a memorial bash. On May 20, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., the usual suspects will gather at the Shady Tavern on West 20th Street for the Final Annual Going Out of Business Party to remember the fallen ringmaster.
"He just didn't want to live," says Hudgins dejectedly. "And in that case, it was time to move on. He just let things go to hell is what he did. And a lot of people sure will miss him."
Already feeling the loss is Dardar, who drove him home from the hospital on Easter.
"He said he wasn't prepared to live to 55," says Dardar. "He was on a mission, and I guess he accomplished it. But I'm going to miss Bruce the way he was before, before he started on that mission."