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Biker Who Was 'Wild One' Dies

Pop culture: 'Wino Willie' Forkner, a founding member of the Boozefighters motorcycle club, inspired title character of 1954 Brando film. He had hoped to attend July 4 anniversary celebration.

June 25, 1997|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Wino Willie" Forkner, the spirited biker who inspired the 1954 Marlon Brando movie "The Wild One," has died.

Fifty years after he helped create one of the classic rebel characters in modern American pop culture, Forkner died of heart disease in a Santa Rosa hospital Monday night. He was 78.

Forkner, known as the Original Wild One, was a founding member of the Boozefighters, a South-Central Los Angeles motorcycle club that gained notoriety for its rowdy behavior on the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 in the town of Hollister, near Monterey. The revelry was widely publicized, but it was a single photograph of the event in Life magazine that portrayed a menacing public image of bikers.

Seven years later, the Brando movie debuted and the legend was sealed.

Forkner grew up in Fresno, where he earned his nickname at the age of 12 when he started drinking red wine. Soon after, he developed a lifelong love of motorcycles. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

Although Forkner long maintained that the media blew the 1947 event out of proportion, he relished his role as the Original Wild One. In an interview Sunday night, Forkner said he was looking forward to his celebrated return to Hollister on Independence Day for the 50th anniversary of the notorious event.

"Going to Hollister is what is keeping me alive," Forkner said from his home in Fort Bragg. He was planning to lead a motorcycle rally through the streets at the commemoration, which is expected to draw more than 100,000 people.

Forkner is survived by Teri, his wife of 56 years, three children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services are scheduled Saturday at the Chapel by the Sea in Fort Bragg.

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