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Celebrating Fruits of a Healthy Lifestyle

Friends and relatives gather to remember Gypsy Boots, whose free-spirited ways made waves long before healthy was hip.

August 29, 2004|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't easy having a heath-food pioneer as a father. Daniel Bootzin, son of the recently deceased Gypsy Boots, said he remembers bringing sprout sandwiches to school and always failing to trade for a Twinkie or Ding Dong.

"I had no bargaining power," Bootzin said.

When friends came over, Bootzin said his parents offered the guests fresh carrot juice, a novelty in the 1960s.

Some of his father's quirks -- and there were thousands of them -- were revisited amid tears and laughter Saturday at a memorial service at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Nearly 200 family members and close friends squeezed into a chapel to reflect on the life of Boots, who died Aug. 8 of natural causes at 89.

Friends and family have credited Boots for being an early advocate of California's health-conscious, free-spirited lifestyle long before hippie culture emerged in the 1960s. He pushed wheatgrass, made smoothies, ate raw oats for breakfast and preached the benefits of garlic and his beloved figs during lectures at health-food stores.

Born Robert Bootzin, Boots was the child of poor Russian immigrants in San Francisco. As a teenager in the 1940s, he dropped out of high school and wandered California, living in trees and caves, family members said.

In 1958, he opened a health-food store in Hollywood, where he met people from the movie industry. His message of healthy living would reach millions after he became a regular guest on television programs such as "The Steve Allen Show" in the 1960s.

Fittingly, peaches and nectarines were offered to mourners Saturday at the chapel's entrance.

Guests, who opted for colorful shirts and sandals instead of dark suits, ate the fruit at the end of the 1 1/2 -hour service.

"We longed for a normal life and a normal relationship," said Alex Bootzin, the oldest of Boots' three sons. "But normal wasn't in his repertoire."

Many spoke of Boots' love for life and people. Boots, always said to have a big heart, actually had too big of a heart, Daniel Bootzin said. That genetic defect would contribute to the eventual decline of his health.

Alex Bootzin recalled his father's idiosyncrasies: He never read books, but read the newspaper every day; he distrusted government; he loved talk radio; he never traveled on an airplane; and for dinner, he would eat a massive salad and up to six baked potatoes.

Daniel Bootzin likened his father -- known for his shouting, leaping and the assortment of percussion instruments that he banged to signal his arrival -- to a muscle car driven hard and fast until it finally gave out.

When Daniel Bootzin was dating the woman who would become his wife, Beth, they were watching a USC football game on TV when the camera panned to the eccentric-looking Boots hooting and hollering.

"That's my dad," Bootzin told her nonchalantly.

"OK," she replied, not really believing him.

"You know, that was really my dad," he said, minutes later.

"She freaked out," Bootzin said. "And that was her first glimpse of her future father-in-law."

After the memorial service, a party was held at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, which could not accommodate hundreds of people who called too late to make the guest list.

"He did so many things before they became a fad," said Daniel Bootzin, shaking hands with dozens of strangers who said Boots had changed their lives. "His lifestyle has now become part of mainstream culture."

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