On that magic March night in 1994, new country sensation Doug Supernaw had the whole world at his feet, damn-near literally. This was the era of the blockbuster country music show, when Garth Brooks flew around the stage like Superman, and nobody could out-Superman Supernaw. He hatched a plan to make the grandest of all possible entrances to his gig at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo -- he would descend from the roof of the Astrodome to the stage on a guy wire.
Only two years before that night, he had promised he would pull off this stunt, and back then people had laughed. But it must have occurred to him there, perched hundreds of feet above tens of thousands of his screaming fans, that he had gone and forced those scoffers to choke on their chuckles. And damned if his fans didn't love him for that dramatic flair, not to mention his string of country hits, including the chart-topping "Reno," and lesser-but-still-substantial smashes like "I Don't Call Him Daddy," "Honky-Tonkin' Fool" and "(Between the) Red and the Rio Grande."
Little could Supernaw have known then that his life would soon descend just as far and as fast as that spectacular entrance. Only in real life, there are no guy wires. In short order, the hits would dry up and he would lose his major-label Nashville record deal, and his comeback album Fadin' Renegade would prove to be aptly titled. He would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and display symptoms of paranoia. Then he would get arrested, once, twice and then again and again. The venues would diminish from the Dome to the dance halls to the honky-tonks, all the way down to the four walls of his own shower.
The trouble, which by now rivals that of George Jones at his worst, started about ten years ago. Since nobody we called would talk to us about Supernaw, and the singer himself is very hard to find, we have had to rely on published reports from papers in Bryan, Corpus Christi and Amarillo to compile this column.
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In September of 1997, Supernaw was arrested in Lubbock and charged with owing $135,000 in back child support. Five months later, he was picked up after a scrap in the parking lot of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and charged with public intoxication. (That charge was dismissed.) There followed a long, quiet interlude, which ended in October of 2001 when Supernaw was jailed ten days for contempt of court for allegedly screaming at the judge presiding over his child support trial. (Supernaw has numerous children with numerous women.)
Supernaw's problems kicked into high gear in September of 2002 when, on his 42nd birthday, he got into a fracas in a Brenham bar that ended with the singer allegedly attempting to head-butt a Washington County deputy. Supernaw was charged with resisting arrest, public intoxication and assault of a police officer, a felony that could have sent him to prison for 99 years. Supernaw skipped a preliminary hearing for those charges, so the authorities tacked on a felony bail-jumping charge. Supernaw went to Mexico for several months, and was met at the terminal on his return by numerous cops. ("I would expect no less for Osama Bin Laden," Supernaw later growled during the cross-examination stage of his trial.) In December, Supernaw was convicted of misdemeanor resisting arrest and sentenced to two weeks in jail. (The authorities tabled the assault-on-a-police-officer charge for the time being.)
In April of 2004, Supernaw was arrested for alleged marijuana possession twice -- first in Fayette County and then in Austin County. In May, a jury failed to convict Supernaw on the bail-jumping charge, and the trial was reset for the following month.
A couple of weeks later, Supernaw turned up in Amarillo. He was there as the traveling companion of the Coastal Bend Aviators, an unaffiliated minor league baseball team managed by Supernaw's golf buddy, former Astro right fielder (and Houston native) Glenn Wilson. According to Supernaw's testimony at a later trial, Wilson allowed Supernaw to wear a uniform and sit in the bullpen with the Robstown-based team, and would perhaps even let him get in a game. Supernaw traveled on the team bus, with disastrous results. According to accounts from two disgruntled former Aviators in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Supernaw allegedly smoked pot on the bus. "The guy was in the restroom for a while and when he got out, you just started smelling pot," said Coastal Bend pitcher Rey Chapa. "We were wondering what was going on. Everybody was freaking out that the guy did that."
Supernaw later admitted those allegations in an open courtroom, but added that he didn't toke on the field. In a trial in which Supernaw acted as his own counsel, he reminisced thusly in his opening statement: "I was on the field, in the dugout with the team having a good time. Not even smoking pot because I didn't want to jeopardize my chance to play ball."
Supernaw also told the court that Wilson asked him not to ride the team bus from Fort Worth to Amarillo, but to make his own way there. In Amarillo, a dispute erupted at that city's baseball stadium -- the Dilla Villa -- and Supernaw was escorted from the premises by security. Two days later, he was arrested at 4 a.m. at an Amarillo Ramada Inn, where police, acting on a noise complaint, entered his room and found a nude Supernaw passed out on the toilet. They also allegedly discovered a small pot stash and a room in "extreme disarray." After a fan bailed him out, Supernaw and the fan hit the bars -- at one, he delivered a karaoke rendition of the Commodores' "Night Shift" -- and returned to the hotel in the wee hours to collect his luggage. A hotel employee told him it was in the Dumpster behind the hotel. He found some of his personal effects, but not his guitar or some other valuables, which, unbeknownst to him, had been impounded by the Amarillo police. He allegedly launched into a tirade against the night manager, who called the police, who charged him with trespassing and hauled him in. After bailing a day or two later, Supernaw was arrested once more when he attempted to pick up his belongings from the Amarillo police, who discovered that he was supposed to have been at a hearing that day in Brenham. Supernaw spent the next two months in Potter County jail. Later that month, he was charged in Washington County with missing yet another hearing.
In September, another jury hung and failed to convict him on some of his bail-jumping charges. Later that month, he was arrested again in Austin County, this time on charges of driving while intoxicated and driving on a suspended license.
In March of 2005, Supernaw was arrested in Bryan during the wee hours. An off-duty policeman later alleged that Supernaw was walking down the street yelling and making obscene gestures; Supernaw later told the Bryan Eagle that he was merely singing "Gin and Juice" as rendered by the Gourds, one of the bands he had seen earlier that evening at Bryan's Northgate Music Festival. He was later acquitted of the public intoxication charge that ensued.
A few weeks later, Supernaw served as his own attorney on the Amarillo pot bust case. On the stand, he freely admitted to smoking pot and even offered up his favored method for doing so. "I don't buy rolling papers," Supernaw told the court. "I do smoke off the can when I get the opportunity." He also warbled a few bars of the Los Lonely Boys hit "Heaven" from the stand. He was convicted and sentenced to 115 days in jail, but was released for time served.
The next month he was jailed in Washington County for failing to pay a fine for the resisting arrest conviction, and the month after that -- May -- he was arrested outside a bar, where he was accused of disturbing the peace of Lawton, Oklahoma. In June a warrant was issued in Fayette County for Supernaw's failure to appear at a hearing on the weed charges there, and in July Brazos County issued a warrant after Supernaw's bondsman told a court that he hadn't heard from Supernaw in three weeks. The Bryan Eagle reported that the bond company wrote a letter reading, in part, thusly: "[Supernaw] feels he is above the law and thinks it is a conspiracy to get him by the CIA, FBI and various other people." The letter went on to say that Supernaw's family attributed many of his woes to his refusal to take his meds for his bipolar disorder.
In November of last year, he was arrested in a Humble club for allegedly being in possession of a small amount of pot. Through all of this, Supernaw occasionally posted bulletins on the message boards at his still-operating Web site, one of which read: "Money was the ruination of my entire family, band and career, even if you would like to blame my habits.... Since having a lot of money, I have been through many, many liars and thieves. They ... [have] taken everything and now have taken my horses ... and are attempting to take my children. They will have to kill me first, which they have made many attempts to do."
Supernaw's story reminds me of that of another Houston native -- former Oakland Raider Barret Robbins, who abandoned his team on the eve of the Super Bowl to go on a bender in Tijuana. Like Supernaw, Robbins suffers from bipolar disorder, problems with authority and alcoholism, and has been arrested for possession of marijuana.
Early in 2005, Robbins assaulted three Miami policemen while he was having a psychotic episode. He was shot three times. Miraculously, he survived. He was convicted of attempted murder, but an understanding judge sentenced him to five years probation, on the conditions that he take medication for his bipolar disorder and swear off booze.
Let's hope Supernaw can get his demons in check before it comes to all that.
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