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[Deathwatch] David Hampton, "Six Degrees of Separation" inspiration, 39

- Thanks to a reader for sending this to my attention - Ed.

Six Degrees' Inspiration Hampton Dies
Sat Jul 19, 3:14 PM ET
By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK - This was no stage production, and there was no happy ending.

David Hampton, the ersatz son of Sidney Poitier whose pursuit of the
glamorous life inspired the award-winning play "Six Degrees of
Separation," died last month in a decidedly desolate fashion: alone in
a Manhattan hospital bed, friends confirmed Saturday.

"David, like many of us, had a real need to be somebody important and
special," said attorney and close friend Susan Tipograph. "He did stuff
to be somebody in his mind ? somebody important, somebody fabulous.

"To me, he was fabulous."

The black teenager earned notoriety by charming his way into New York's
white upper crust, presenting himself in 1983 as the Oscar-winning
Poitier's son and a Harvard University student. The scam inspired John
Guare's acclaimed play and a movie starring Will Smith.

The reality was quite different: Hampton came from a middle-class home
in Buffalo, a city he once dismissed as lacking anyone "glamorous or
fabulous or outrageously talented." His father was an attorney, not an

Hampton, 39, died at Beth Israel Hospital, Tipograph said. He had been
living in a small room at an AIDS residence, and was trying to start
work on a book about his life.

Hampton was glib, charming, funny ? the skills of the consummate con
man. He talked his way into the homes of several prominent New Yorkers,
including the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of
Journalism and the president of public television station WNET.

Once there, he reveled in the posh surroundings and fancy meals. He
accepted money and clothes and regaled his hosts with stories about his
famous "father."

"David took a great joy in living the life he lived," said attorney
Ronald Kuby, who knew Hampton for more than a decade. "It was
performance art on the world's smallest possible stage, usually
involving an audience of only one or two."

After he was taken into custody in October 1983, police said Hampton
had six previous arrests in New York and Buffalo. Hampton, just 19,
pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and was sentenced to 21 months in

Guare, inspired by the bizarre tale, opened his play in 1990 to
immediate critical praise. It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle
Award, an Obie, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

But on the day the play was nominated for four Tony Awards, a court
order was issued telling Hampton to stay away from Guare, who said he'd
been threatened.

Hampton felt entitled to a cut of the cash generated by his "work," and
he sued ? unsuccessfully ? for a $100 million piece of the play's
profits in 1992. There was victory in the defeat: It introduced him to
another of Manhattan's bright lights, radical lawyer William Kunstler.

Hampton was later arrested for leaving this message on Guare's
answering machine: "I would strongly advise you that you give me some
money or you can start counting your days." A jury acquitted him of

"I think he felt used by Mr. Guare," said Tipograph. "I'll let history
judge that."

The 1993 movie version of the play earned Stockard Channing an Oscar
nomination for best actress. Channing recreated her stage performance
as a wealthy Manhattanite taken in by the scam artist.

In recent years, Hampton kept in touch with friends and stayed in
trouble: He faced charges of fare-beating and credit-card theft. One
alleged victim told The New York Times that Hampton, using the name
David Hampton-Montilio, duped him out of more than $1,400 in October

"When pretending to be somebody else, he dazzled people," Kuby said.
"For an evening or a couple of days, he mesmerized people by bringing
them into his totally fictitious world of stardom."