Rumi Missabu was born in Hollywood, took a bus to San Francisco, got lost and was too stubborn to ask for directions. The first place he lived in the Bay Area was in a water tower with a lesbian poet.
Rumi Missabu was an original Cockette, left the troupe after a year and a half, moved to New York and then returned to San Francisco. For 35 years, Rumi never had a government ID, work record and a social security number. The closest form of identification he had was a San Francisco library card that said "Rumi." He was convinced the hippie days would never end. Everything had to be done on his own terms.
Cue the mystery and rumors. People thought he was in the gutter and people forgot he existed. An entire legacy erased by a transient, underground life.
The LGBTQ History Project has over 300 hours of Rumi on tape. That is a lot of Rumi. We have the dirt and the glitter, the truth and the lies.
Maybe Rumi recreated his biography because he could. Maybe he recreated it because he did not want someone else to. It is his story, so why not tell it in the most over-the-top, "did this really happen," way? It keeps you guessing and on your toes.
In the last recorded session, when he was asked, "Who is Rumi Missabu?" he began reading his favorite quotes and changing the names mentioned to his name.
"The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sainted me. I like to say, 'Please don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.'
I don’t want to be famous, I want to be infamous. There is a difference. Famous is when you can’t even do your own shopping. Unfortunately, I can’t do my own shopping but that is because I am disabled. I don’t want to be so famous that I can’t go out in public and that I need an agent. I never wanted that."
"It is so funny. I became the Cockette’s archivist after Kreemah Ritz died. I was his power of attorney and I got all his shit.
I lost his body. I found the prosthetic leg, but I couldn’t find his body, his teeth or his wallet. I had the will and it specifically said he didn’t want to be cremated.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence kept asking me if they could help with a funeral. I said, 'That’s really cute Sister Roma, but I can’t find the fucking body.'
I called the Green Street Mortuary. The mortuary said, 'Yes, we had him but he’s gone.'
I said, 'What do you mean he’s gone?'
'We sent him to the cemetery and, if you’d like more information, here is the number. Call and ask for Gloria.'
So, I called old Gloria and I said, 'Hi, I’m the power of attorney for Kreemah Ritz, the dead Cockette, is he there?'
She said, 'Why? You want him?'
I said, 'No, I just want to know what happened to the fucking body.'
She said, 'He's in a hole in the ground.'
The city administrator cremated him. They assign you a number and, if you didn’t have any money, if your indigent, they throw your ashes in a hole with everybody else's.
I said, 'Oh my God!'
To this day I have his urn. It is sitting outside my front door. There’s a little Starbucks bottle in it."
"Two years after Jim Morrison died, I was in New Orleans. I was on my way back to California. I stuck out my thumb, and the first person to pick me up was Jim Morrison. He was on his way to a Led Zeppelin concert in Baton Rouge. He said that he wrote a book and asked if I’d like to check it out—there was a whole box of them in the back seat.
He was all fat and had rings on his fingers and was driving a big, old Cadillac. I picked one out of the back seat and all I remember—I didn’t take the book, he didn’t offer it to me. All I remember about the book was that it had Jim Morrison’s name on the cover and the words 'Bank of Louisiana.' It was, in fact, Louisiana where he picked me up. If you Google, ‘Jim Morrison Bank of Louisiana,’ you can see the book. You can find a bunch of printouts about his alleged death and the whole deal. A lot of people go to his grave at Père Lachaise in Paris and worship on his grave—he’s not in there! He ain’t even in there, don’t you get it? He staged his own death. He dropped out of society. When Jim was alive, he always said his parents were dead. They were fine.
What happened was he showed me the book, he put the book back, I got out at Baton Rouge and he went on to the Zeppelin concert. I didn’t go, I didn’t have tickets. I was on my way to California. When I got to California, I knew these rock archivists who did the fan clubs for Iggy, David Bowie... I mentioned what happened and they went out in the other room and came out with the book that I had seen in Jim’s car.
They said, 'Is this the book?'
I said, 'It sure is, it sure is. How do you have it?'
So, there it is. Recently, when I was putting together my archive, I told my intern about this and he went online and found one copy for $650 and another for like $27 and he bought it for me. Guess who the publisher is? Zeppelin Publishing! Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!
You can’t stress how much his death is alleged. I’m convinced and I’m not the only one—I’m not nuts. Other people have had sightings of him since and have talked to him since. Someone told me he was hanging out in the Castro for months. Who knows? I haven’t heard anything recently.
At that point, in 1974, he was starting to get really fat, he had a gut. He had lost his looks. When he picked me up, he was hella fat. He didn’t really say, 'Oh, I’m Jim Morrison' and, 'Oh, I’m a Cockette.' He didn’t have to tell me who he was. We did talk about our mutual groupie friends. They were all girls from the groupie scene. He knew all those groupie people. He knew all of them. They all hung out together in LA.
I didn’t say, 'Oh my god, I thought you were dead.' We didn’t go there. It didn’t occur to me because two weeks prior to meeting a dead man, the last two weeks I was in New Orleans, I was there for four months, I became associated with death in two other ways which were kind of freaky. Coming so close to death, not my own death, made me think, 'What the fuck am I doing here? I’m going back to California.' Who was my first ride out of town? Jim Morrison, dead for two years.
It’s so funny that people worship at his grave because—it’s like a shrine. I keep telling people, 'He’s not even in there. Knock first.' I don’t know who’s in there. Some people say that about Elvis too but this definitely happened. It was so freaky. It was no dream, it was true."
"After I hitchhiked back to San Francisco, I changed. I realized that the dream was over. I thought, when the Cockettes were in San Francisco and we were doing all that crazy shit, that was how it was going to be forever. Once I got back, after having the New York experience and then hitchhiking for months—there were no more Cockettes to fall back into. I dabbled in the art world for a while. I hung out with the Cockette, Pristine Condition, and we did a bicentennial calendar art-thing. I worked at a gay art gallery. I tried to dabble in the art world in 1975, ‘76 but it was over. I finally had to support myself. Even though I was still underground, I had to figure out how to support myself.
I took me being disabled to become an artist again. I had to prove to the government I was disabled to get SSI. Just the fact that I didn’t have an ID or work history for 35 years proved it.
The psychiatrist said, 'You have no work history since you were 19 years old, temping at a bank in LA. You're 55 years old, where have you been?'
I said, 'People took care of me because of who they thought I was but they are all gone now. By the way, can you please leave the door open for this interview?'
The next thing I knew, I was mentally disabled! I got it immediately, and no one gets it the first time. Everyone thought I’d be denied, but I got it immediately. I was kind of coached. I got a stuffed teddy bear to keep in my purse but ended up leaving it on the washing machine. Then, I became physically disabled in 2008 when I caught pneumonia and also got diagnosed with chronic COPD."