According to some estimates, lightning strikes Earth more than 3 billion times a year. In my brother Kevin’s life, it has struck at least twice.
As children growing up in Salt Lake City, Kevin and I both once had a small role together in a First Security television commercial, owing to my father handling the bank’s advertising account. Who knew that at the tender age of 5, the acting bug had bitten my baby brother? That thespian bent re-emerged through several play performances throughout high school, leading eventually to his enrolling in Cal Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Upon graduating college with a degree in performing arts in 1977, it truly was a bolt out of the blue when Kevin almost immediately landed his first professional acting job, starring in the title role of the ABC television series Lucan. No waiting tables in hopes of the big break here, thank you very much.
Although in the ensuing years, it became necessary for him to keep a day job (27 years as senior valet at the Bel Air Hotel, the position having an unstated acting component and also allowing the flexibility to go to auditions), Kevin nevertheless accrued a substantial list of film and television credits. Some other career highlights include the movie western The Long Riders, Hell Night (a film with The Exorcist’s Linda Blair and Peter Barton), and one of the only four MASH episodes without a laugh track, in which I always thought he had done some of his best work.
Since Kevin’s phone hasn’t exactly been ringing off the hook with acting offers the past several years, and the hotel closed for remodeling five years ago and didn’t offer him his former position upon reopening, he was facing his “third act” in life with little to fall back on save a small Screen Actors Guild pension.
But then something amazing happened—all because of a publicity photo he’d taken the time to autograph and mail to a fan he’d never met.
Ray Fulk III died July 16, 2012, in Lincoln, Ill., leaving no survivors. The kindly director of the funeral home wanted to ensure that something positive about him would be said and wrote five sentences that were the totality of his short obituary: “Ray graduated from Lincoln Community High School in 1958. His class was the last class to graduate from the old high school building. He also served in the United States Army. He was a member of St. John’s United Church of Christ. Ray had been employed by Birch & Son, and the Star Gas Station.”
So, while Fulk’s life was not exactly the stuff of legend, his final act via his last will and testament could possibly be considered his last laugh by relatives denied his largesse. Instead, Fulk named my brother and the above-mentioned Peter Barton (known for playing Dr. Scott Grainger in the The Young & the Restless from 1987-93) as beneficiaries of all but $5,000 of his estate of over a million dollars.
What prompted Fulk to make such a magnanimous, yet unusual, bequest evidently was based solely on the two actors’ response to his fan-mail requests more than 25 years ago. Why those perfunctory PR gestures were so appreciated by Fulk that he left everything—aside from the sum given to an anti-animal-cruelty organization—to, essentially, complete strangers and did not want any of his 17 aunts and uncles plus cousins on his father’s side of the family to share in his estate, only he knows.
Perhaps Fulk was gripped by the nearly universal obsession with fame that is responsible for the plethora of celebrity magazines published today.
In 1993, I somehow missed that Kevin had done the movie Fearless with Jeff Bridges, which I had gone to see only because of a free coupon. When I heard his voice just before he appeared onscreen in one scene, I was so surprised that I impulsively and loudly blurted out to my friend, “That’s my brother!” in the crowded theater before sinking, mortified, into my seat. It turns out neither am I immune to the stuff.
Maybe it really was just the simple fact that, in Fulk’s mind, receiving those autographed photos was a major act of kindness deserving of such generous financial acknowledgment.
In the weeks before his death from heart failure, Fulk had mentioned leaving everything to the only friend he apparently had, a fellow who had helped him over the years and taken him to his doctor’s appointments, but he never changed his will to that effect.
It was only through the estate’s personal representative researching the SAG membership roster that the actors were located to be notified of their good fortune, which doesn’t speak to any sort of close personal relationship with the deceased that might merit the bequest.
Considering also that this attorney, who drew up the will and witnessed Fulk’s signing, described him as “an eccentric recluse and hoarder,” one might rightly further question Fulk’s thinking in this decision.
All that is now moot. There was no contest of the will in probate court, the actors were recognized as the sole beneficiaries of record and the first distribution of the assets was made Feb. 11.
Shakespeare insightfully wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Along with most of us upon our demise, that statement also can be applied to Fulk, except where two unemployed actors are concerned.
Lightning strikes have been good to Kevin.