Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf

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Hank
the Angry Drunken Dwarf
Henry Joseph Nasiff Jr.jpg
Born (1962-04-20)April 20, 1962
Fall River, Massachusetts
Died September 4, 2001(2001-09-04) (aged 39)
Fall River, Massachusetts

Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf (born Henry Joseph Nasiff Jr.; April 20, 1962 – September 4, 2001) was an American entertainer. Hank appeared numerous times on the The Howard Stern Show and on the televised studio segments which aired on the E! channel. He was a member of the show's Wack Pack. His career began August 16, 1996 when he entered Stern's studio at radio station WXRK (K-Rock) in New York City. Hank was 4 ft 1 in (1.24 m) tall, and weighed 95 lb (43 kg; 6.8 st).

Hank received widespread media coverage in 1998 when he won a People Magazine online poll asking the public to vote for the most beautiful person in the world as part of the run up promotion for the magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue. When the public was given the option to submit a write-in candidate, the magazine had not counted on 230,169 votes for Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf — beating out assorted celebrities by a wide margin. In third place was Leonardo DiCaprio with 14,471 votes. In the relatively still early years of public participation on the Internet, various media critics picked up on this, wondering whether this was evidence of an emerging digital democracy.

Early life[edit]

Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf was born Henry Joseph Nasiff Jr. on April 20, 1962, in Fall River, Massachusetts (he stated that he was of Lebanese, French, and English descent).[1] Hank was diagnosed with achondroplasia dwarfism a week after he was born. His mother, Claudette, taught him from a young age that he could do whatever he set his mind to do,[2] and Hank learned to ride a bike and participated in Little League Baseball for several seasons.[3] When Hank was twelve he had an operation on his legs to straighten them. Although doctors had said that he would eventually require more surgery, Hank put off doing it and ultimately opted to not undergo another operation.[4]

Before being associated with the Howard Stern Show, Hank had a bit part in an ongoing performance of Finnegans Wake at a Boston dinner theater.[5] Hank played a character named "Stretch" that would pop up out of a beer keg at the end of each performance. He was paid $50 to say four lines of dialogue. The gig lasted two years.[6]

First Stern Show appearance[edit]

Hank first met Howard Stern on August 16, 1996, when he and a friend from the Boston dinner theatre drove to New York City with the intention of getting on Stern's show. After a night of drinking, Hank was waiting outside the K-Rock studios in Manhattan at 5:30am. He was heavily inebriated and wearing a Hawaiian lei.[7][8] He never had a doubt that he would make it on the air. Stern's producer Gary Dell'Abate recalled arriving at work and encountering an obviously intoxicated dwarf who aggressively demanded that he be permitted to meet Stern:

"There was a dwarf standing there, and I remember he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and one of those Hawaiian leis. And he had a vodka bottle in his hand... and he was drunk beyond belief. And it really was like a gift for our show. It was like a gift fell out of the sky. He could go to Regis, he could go to Letterman, he could go to all those shows, and they'd have him arrested. And I said 'Howard, I just walked in and there's a drunken dwarf wearing a Hawaiian lei, with a vodka bottle.' And [Howard] said, 'Bring him in immediately.' He really found the right place."[9]

Hank's first radio appearance that day included reading a series of one-sentence jabs against various groups and ethnicities which he had scrawled on a piece of paper the night before.[1]

If they put your brain in a parrot it would fly backwards[6]

-Hank in reply to a Stern Show caller

Hank asserted from his first on-air conversation with Stern that he be referred to as a dwarf and not a midget, and was quick to correct anyone who violated this rule, viewing it as an issue of respect.[10] The title for Hank's character or persona came about spontaneously during his first appearance on the Stern show. During the show that day Howard Stern commented to his co-hosts: “I’ve always wanted an angry, drunken dwarf on my program and now I’ve got one". A short time later that morning Stern added, “Isn’t this great? An angry dwarf, an angry drunken dwarf. Everything I’ve ever dreamed about."[1]

From his first appearance until his death five years later, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf became a popular character on the show. Never afraid to express himself,[8] Hank would come across completely unguarded.[11] In terms of being belligerent, Hank's manager Doug Z. Goodstein explained that this tended to only occur when Hank was really drunk and people would heckle him.[2] He described Hank "as a relatively soft-spoken polite guy who quite often had a big smile on his face."[5] Behind Hank's public persona, an underlying "good nature" tended to shine through, which fans seemed to recognize.[12] During the first few years, Hank would take the bus from Boston each month as soon as he got his SSI disability check.[7] Hank was a member of the show's Wack Pack (a play on the 60s term, "Rat Pack" but featuring a cast of oddball characters) and soon attracted a large informal fan base.[8][13]

Hank was not paid for his appearances on Howard Stern, but he said sometimes they would "slip [him] a little under the table." Adding, "What do I need money for anyway? People fight to buy me drinks.”[7]

Most Beautiful Person poll[edit]

In May 1998, People Magazine conducted an online poll on their website asking the public to vote to determine the “Most Beautiful People” in the world, as part of the promotion for their annual Spring issue. The film Titanic had been released the previous winter, and had a prominent position in American popular culture. There were indications that People's editors simply assumed that the film's leading star, Leonardo DiCaprio, would automatically garner the most votes.[11]

The magazine, owned by Time Inc., also allowed readers to submit a write-in candidate. The suggestion to vote for Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf started on a Stern fan website and was discussed on message boards; then Howard Stern mentioned it on air a few times. Word started to spread and votes for Hank started coming into People Online at a rate of fifty per minute.[7] The voting lasted a week, and by that Wednesday Hank had garnered 50,000 votes as a write-in candidate.[14]

The following Tuesday, the official poll results were posted and Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf had won by a landslide with 230,169 votes.[15] DiCaprio’s final tally was 14,471 votes (third place). In second-place was another write-in candidate, professional wrestler Ric Flair, with 17,145 votes.[16] The executive editor of People at the time was none too thrilled with the poll's outcome, stating: "Frankly, I think it's stupid."[11]

When People's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue hit newsstands, DiCaprio graced the cover. (The magazine photographed Hank so that he was mentioned on their website along with the more famous runners-up).[17]

Details of what had happened with the poll were picked up by various media; as one writer explained, "Voting for Hank offered people a chance to violate People's expectations while still playing by its rules”.[18] Some observers concluded that the reaction by the public to vote for Hank was a veiled commentary on how the media assumes that the masses are easily manipulated into liking what is marketed to them.[11] The New York Times quoted a participant in the poll as stating, "The 'media' tells us what food to eat, what movies to see, what music to listen to, who to vote for politically and what kind of people are attractive enough to have relationships with!...Voting for 'Hank the Dwarf' is a reflection of how the people really feel about media!"[11]

And some saw it as public recognition of Hank's "inner beauty."[19] Hank himself often wondered what it all meant.[7]

The sober Hank turned out to be a pretty good interview. He had a droll, deadpan sense of humor and the true performer's instinct for quick quips. "And, what color are your eyes?" I asked him. "Well, I don't know what color you'd call them. Brown, maybe hazel. No, wait. Bloodshot. You'd better say bloodshot.”[7]

-Excerpt from Salon magazine article

Memorable appearances[edit]

Whenever Hank appeared on the Stern Show inevitably he would be carrying a green plastic bottle of Sprite or some other soda mixed with vodka.[12][20] He explained that it was so he could drink during the bus commute from Boston without getting hassled.

Hank would don a costume for some appearances, such as when he was an angel with wings and a halo; a leprechaun; or dressed as Superman.[21]

On March 4, 1998, Hank dressed in a pink rabbit suit, took a succession of phone calls from Stern listeners; sang karaoke to Led Zeppelin songs; and blew a .375 on a breathalyzer test.[22] During another appearance dressed in the same costume, Hank made a visit to illusionist David Blaine, who was encased in a large block of ice outside on the street in New York City. Speaking to Hank remotely, Stern wanted Hank to urinate on the ice. Hank wasn't willing to do that, but he did give Blaine the finger.[17]

After the publicity generated by the online poll, Hank started appearing more often on the Stern Show. In June 1998, Hank was followed by the cameras of E! Entertainment Television as he was given a make-over.[23] Hank had his 1970s-era hair cut at a salon; had his long fingernails and toenails chiseled off during a manicure; received an eye exam and new glasses; got fitted for a tuxedo; and was supposed to have his teeth cleaned at the dentist office, but was unable to do so because he was too intoxicated.[24]

One of the producers from E! started managing Hank, and soon he was being offered various paying gigs to make appearances at bachelor parties, bars, strip clubs, etc.[8] In an interview his manager said that "Hank was diligent in finding out every fine detail about his appearances and treated them with the utmost professionalism."[5] Hank would be hired to sing karaoke, bartend, or hurl insults. He also started merchandising a line of t-shirts and key chains. Hank, once dependent on disability checks, was now making $5,000–7,000 per month.[8] He had bought himself a new stereo, and was most excited about almost being out of credit card debt.[25] When Hank was asked if he wasn’t worried that he was being exploited he replied: “No, and even If I am I don’t care, I’m making money.” [2]

Rock trivia contest[edit]

Despite his physical limitations and alcohol-related troubles, Hank was intelligent and had an exceptional knowledge of rock music trivia, especially late 60s—early 70s rock music (Hank had been regularly listening to rock radio stations since he was four or five years old).[26] In what many fans consider to be one of his most memorable appearances, on April 25, 2001 Hank competed against Stern producer Gary Dell'Abate in a rock music trivia contest (Dell'Abate was scheduled to be a contestant on VH1's Rock & Roll Jeopardy!). Despite being so inebriated that it was difficult for him to sit fully upright in his chair, Hank easily won the contest.[27] The type of questions that Hank answered correctly included: "Who played keyboards on the Beatles', 'Let it Be'?"; and, "Which group sang the song, 'Green-Eyed Lady'?" After the match was over, Hank insisted on laying down in the studio and passed out for several minutes. The segment was televised on the Howard Stern Show on the E! channel, and has since aired on Howard TV on demand. During a later show Hank competed against Mark McGrath in another rock trivia contest, which Hank also won (McGrath was a 3-time champion on Rock & Roll Jeopardy! on VH1).[28]

Film and television[edit]

Hank was friends with actor Billy Barty and had auditioned for a part in the 1988 movie Willow in which Barty had a role as a benevolent wizard, but Hank did not get the part. Because of his friendship with Barty, Hank raised money every year for the Billy Barty Foundation to Benefit Little People.[29]

Hank made at least one appearance on WWF Raw is War;[30] and starred in a local commercial selling used cars.[31]

In 2000, Hank played the role of "God" in the movie Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.[32]

In 2000, Hank had a supporting actor role in the film Shoe Shine Boys playing a mustached felon named Leo Henry Williams. Actor Martin Landau saw the film and was so impressed with Hank's performance that he arranged a meeting and met Hank.[33] (the film's title was later changed to Prank).[34]

In 2001 Hank had a guest starring role in an episode of the FX network comedy Son of the Beach.[35][36][37]

Death[edit]

Hank would occasionally cut down on his drinking. During a Stern Show segment in August, 1999, in which Howie Mandel was the guest, Hank explained that when he reduced his intake of alcohol it precipitated him to go into a seizure during an appearance in California.[12][38] In October, 1999, Hank related that he had gone a "full three days" without a drink the previous week.[39]

As Hank's fame grew, he couldn't even walk to the liquor store without being recognized and having people honk their horns and yell his name.[2]

In a documentary short that profiled Hank, his mother related how doctors had told her that Hank's liver was damaged, and that she didn't know how long he had to live, and she "didn't know what to do."[2] Hank had been in rehab before, as well as court-mandated detox, and it had never worked. Once Hank was even kicked out of Alcoholics Anonymous because he brought into the meeting a bottle of Mad Dog 20-20 and started drinking it five seconds after the meeting started.[40] Regarding trying to get Hank help for his alcoholism, Howard Stern explained, "People always asked me if we tried to get him to stop drinking, and I said all the time we did..."[21] Stern also related that there were employees of the show who tried to get Hank into programs.[41]

Hank had related that he first tried alcohol when his grandfather had given him a taste of blackberry brandy when he was around seven or eight years old (his grandfather died when he was eight).[1][2] Although the schtick of Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf was that Hank drank because he was angry about being a dwarf,[21] Hank had actually experienced significant trauma in his life as a child. On his first appearance on the Stern Show he related how he had been sexually abused by a male when he was seven years old (Hank explained that it was someone unrelated to him).[1] Later, during another Stern appearance, when asked further about the incident, Hank said that the abuse was in the form of rape.[42] As he got older he said that he almost took out lethal revenge against the perpetrator.[42] When Hank reached adolescence, particularly around the age of fourteen, his drinking started to pick up, and he slowly started "to build up a tolerance".[2]

Right now I wouldn’t change if they had some kind of drug that would make me grow. Plus I’d lose my job. And I’d have to buy new clothes.[2]

-Hank discussing being a dwarf

On the afternoon of September 4, 2001, Hank died in his sleep at the home he shared with his parents in Fall River[2] (his mother discovered that he had died when she went to wake him).[17] He was 39 years old. His death certificate listed his immediate cause of death as a seizure disorder, with ethanol abuse and chondrodystrophy (a skeletal disorder that affects the development of cartilage) as contributing factors. Hank is buried at the Notre Dame Cemetery in Fall River, Massachusetts.[10] The next day, Howard Stern devoted most of the show to Hank.[21] Among the many tributes and reminiscences, the show played several audio clips that Hank had prerecorded, saying "This is Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf, and I'm dead."

Hank's mother, Claudette, called into the Stern Show on September 10 to publicly thank everyone who attended Hank's funeral and wake. She also thanked everyone who e-mailed, and sent their condolences. She told an anecdote about how someone in the family had put a can of beer in Hank's casket. She said that "someone else slipped a bottle of Jack Daniel's in under Hank's coat."[43] She ultimately left the items in the casket because she said that's what Hank would have wanted.[43]

Aftermath[edit]

Talk of Hank's death in the media was cut short by the events of 9/11. In fact, early in the 8'oclock hour of the Stern Show on 9/11, Stern was interviewing an executive from the E! channel in charge of programming who said that they were going to produce an E! True Hollywood Story about Hank. He said that Hank actually had quite a few friends in the entertainment industry.[41] (The first plane crashed into the World Trade Center at 8:46am). The episode, "Hank the Angry Dwarf", aired February 20, 2002, according to TV Guide.[44][45]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e The Howard Stern Show, morning segment - August 16, 1999 - archived program via Howard TV On Demand
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Documentary short featuring interviews with Hank, his mother Claudette, friends from Fall River, and manager Doug Z. Goodstein. Various brief clips of Hank at appearances. Writer/Producer: Tom Parnell; Rob Worsoff. 1999. Aired on HowardTV (2011-12).
  3. ^ Letters to the Editor: Herald News, October 16, 2001 - Fall River, MA
  4. ^ As explained by Hank's mother Claudette — Howard Stern Show — September 5, 2001
  5. ^ a b c Silverman, Stephen (2001-09-05). "Stern Sidekick Hank, the Dwarf, Dies". People magazine. 
  6. ^ a b The Howard Stern Show program segment - August 15, 1997
  7. ^ a b c d e f DiLucchio, Patrizia (2001-09-10). "Death of a Dwarf". salon.com. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Ryan, Joal (1999-06-12). "Is the World Ready for Hank, the Angry, Drunken Dwarf". E!. 
  9. ^ Howard Stern broadcast, September 5, 2001
  10. ^ a b "Howard Stern's Hank the Dwarf Dies". eonline.com. 2001-09-04. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Harmon, Amy (1998-05-08). "The On-Line Choice for People’s Most Beautiful: Angry Hank". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  12. ^ a b c Canzona, Tony. "IMDb Biography: Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf". IMDb. 
  13. ^ Marc Hartzman (21 September 2006). American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History's Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers. Penguin. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-1-58542-530-3. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Einstein, David (1998-05-01). "Who's the Fairest of Them All? Internet polls are producing incredibly bizarre results". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  15. ^ Seminerio, Maria (1998-05-12). "Hank the Dwarf claims his prize in People poll". Zdnet.com. Retrieved 2012-04-02. 
  16. ^ "Madonna, Leo Bested By Angry Drunken Dwarf In Beautiful People Poll". mtv.com. 1998-05-13. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  17. ^ a b c "Angry Drunken Dwarf Dies". wired.com. 2001-09-05. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  18. ^ Clay Shirky (2010). Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Penguin. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  19. ^ Gene Roberts; Thomas Kunkel (15 October 2005). Breach of Faith: A Crisis of Coverage in the Age of Corporate Newspapering. University of Arkansas Press. pp. 200–. ISBN 978-1-55728-808-0. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  20. ^ "Show rundown for August 5, 1999". marksfriggin.com. Retrieved 20112-3-26.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  21. ^ a b c d Kaplan, Don; Mainelli, John (2001-09-06). "Stern Loses Little Drunk". New York Post. 
  22. ^ "Hank The Dwarf Does Karaoke. 3/4/98". Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  23. ^ Campbell, Robertson (2007-10-22). "Arts Beat:24 Hour Plays: Baldwin Formal Wear". New York Times. 
  24. ^ E! segment: June 28, 1998; Howard Stern Show, July 1, 1998
  25. ^ The Howard Stern Show — morning segment (6:25am hour) — October 30, 1998.
  26. ^ As explained by Hank before and during the program: 9:15am hour — April 25, 2001 — Howard TV.
  27. ^ "Show rundown: Hank vs. Gary in Rock and Roll Trivia — 9:15am 4/25/2001". Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  28. ^ "Stern Show rundown for 6-11-2001". marksfriggin.com. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  29. ^ "First Look: The News in Brief, June 21, 1999". eonline.com. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  30. ^ "Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf at WWF Raw". Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  31. ^ Cavanagh, Matt; Mongeau, John (January 24, 2010). "Hank the Angry Dwarf". BikiniWheels. YouTube. Retrieved 2012-11-03. "This is a commercial John Mongeau and I shot with Hank the Angry Dwarf about 6 months before he passed away" 
  32. ^ Lloyd Kaufman; Trent Haaga; Adam Jahnke (2003). Make your own damn movie!: secrets of a renegade director. Macmillan. pp. 104–. ISBN 978-0-312-28864-8. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  33. ^ "Show rundown — 2-8-1999". 
  34. ^ "Prank (2000)". IMDb. Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  35. ^ "Stern's "Beach" Washed Away?". eonline.com. 2002-09-16. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  36. ^ ""Son of the Beach" It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World (2001)". imdb. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  37. ^ Norman Chance (7 January 2011). Who Was Who on TV. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 233–. ISBN 978-1-4568-2454-9. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  38. ^ Stern show — August 5, 1999.
  39. ^ "Stern show rundown for October 18, 1999". marksfriggin.com. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  40. ^ Howard Stern Show — July 1, 1998 segment
  41. ^ a b "For The Week Of 9/10/2001 to 9/14/2001". MarksFriggin.com. 
  42. ^ a b Howard Stern Show — morning segment (7:30am-8:10am) — March 4, 1998. During the segment, Gary Dell'Abate brought up sexual abuse as a potential reason for the trajectory of Hank's life. Hank also said that "it only happened that one time".
  43. ^ a b "Show rundown — 9-10-2001". 2001-09-10. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  44. ^ "True Hollywood Story Episodes on E! - 2/20/2002: Hank the Angry Dwarf". tvguide.com. TV Guide. Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  45. ^ "E! True Hollywood story episode list". epguides.com. Retrieved 2012-11-03.

External links[edit]