David Hampton, the ersatz son of Sidney Poitier whose pursuit of the glamorous life inspired the award-winning play and 1993 motion picture "Six Degrees of Separation," has died alone in a Manhattan hospital bed, friends confirmed Saturday. He was 39.
"David, like many of us, had a real need to be somebody important and special," said his 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 1990 play and the subsequent movie starring Will Smith.
The reality was quite different: Hampton came from a middle-class home in Buffalo, N.Y., a city he once dismissed as lacking anyone "glamorous or fabulous or outrageously talented." His father was an attorney, not an actor.
Hampton, died last month 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 had known Hampton more than a decade. "It was performance art on the world's smallest possible stage, usually involving an audience of only one or two."
He was finally taken into custody in October 1983. Police said he had six previous arrests in New York and Buffalo.
Hampton, just 19, pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Guare, inspired by the bizarre tale, opened his play to immediate critical praise. It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and an Obie and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
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 had been threatened.
Hampton felt entitled to a cut of the cash generated by his "work," and in 1992 he sued -- unsuccessfully -- for a $100-million piece of the play's profits. 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 harassment.
"I think he felt used by Mr. Guare," said Tipograph. "I'll let history judge that."
The movie version of the play earned Stockard Channing an Oscar nomination for best actress. In the film, Channing re-created her stage performance as a wealthy Manhattanite taken in by the scam artist.
In recent years, Hampton had kept in touch with friends and stayed in trouble: He faced charges of fare-beating and credit-card theft.