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under the sun
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16. 1993
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UISIDE US SECTION.
THE BRUNSWlCKfeBtACON ^7V schedules, 4-5
iSports, Fishing, 7- ' '
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SURVEYING his domain, the Golden Boy looks over the holiday weekend crowd on Holden lieach July 4th.
STAFF PHOTO BY EWC CARLSON
STAFF PHOTO BY ERIC CARLSON
NEIL'S COFFIN is not used for sleeping or kept
for his future interment. It's a display model he
bought from a friend as a Halloween decoration.
The Golden Boy/
A Man For All Seasons
/ too am not a bit tamed ? 1 too am
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs
of the world.
? Walt Whitman
BY ERIC CARLSON
e has what is probably the most recognized face
(or head) in Brunswick County. Few local gov
ernment officials, business executives, sports
stars or social figures shew up in as many newspaper
photographs or television clips.
Every summer, you can see him swaggering along the
strand at Holden Beach like a beneficent giant, pausing
to talk with friends or strangers and waving at others
who greet him from afar:
"Hey. Golden Boy!" they call out.
"Yawp!" he bellows back, holding two beefy arms in
Every fall, he becomes the unofficial mascot for the
West Brunswick High School Trojan football team.
You've probably seen hitn on the TV highlights, stalking
the sidelines every Friday night, carrying homemade
signs and hollering enthusiastic "yawps" to encourage
When winter arrives, you can't miss him in the
Shallotte Christmas parade, wearing his red-white-and
blue "flag suit," revving his customized motorcycle
"Lucille" and throwing candy to the children.
In any season, you might spot his bright blue pickup
with the hand-painted surfer on the tailgate parked at the
beach. You might even see him riding the waves on one
of the huge antique surfboards. He claims to have gone
out at least once in every month of the year ? without a
wetsuit. (He'll probably lend you a board, if you ask
A lot of people recognize Neil Clarke (a.k.a. "Golden
Boy") when they see him. And while most are probably
unsure about what they've seen, they do tend to remem
Maybe it's his size, which IS rather large. Or it could
be the black leather vest with the peace sign painted on
it. Or the grinning silver skull dangling from his left ear.
Or perhaps it's his voice, which booms like a drill
sergeant in need of a cough drop. Or the thundering red
motorcycle with the Maltese-cross mirrors and the skull
named Harvey on the handlebars.
Or maybe it's the Mohawk.
Yep. It's definitely the Mohawk. Nobody wears a
Mohawk better than Neil Clarke. In fact, not many peo
ple wear a Mohawk, period.
Like an asphalt highway of hair crossing a smooth
desert of tanned skin, Neil's Mohawk announces his
presence from a mile away. Some might say it tends to
make him look a bit. ..shall we say.. .menacing. As if he
just walked off the set of a "Mad Max" movie.
Consequently, folks tend to make a lot of assumptions
about Neil, most of them false. So for those who have
never had the chance (or the courage) to strike up a con
versation with him. here are a few facts about the man
they call "Golden Boy":
He got that nickname because of his hair, which used
to be long and bleached out to a golden yellow by the
summer sun, while the rest of him turned a golden
He is not a professional wrestler. ("That's the question
kids ask me the most," says Neil.)
He does not sleep in a coffin. Although he did pur
chase a display model from a friend in the funeral busi
ness who wanted to get rid of it. Neil uses it for
Neil is a NASCAR fan who grew up in Kannapolis (a
few miles from Dale Earnhardt) and once dated the
daughter of stock car legend Glen "Fireball" Roberts,
who is one of Neil's heroes, along with Elvis Presley
and James Dean.
Neil's father. Richard Gray Clarke, was a third base
man for the Milwaukee Brewers who used to play
against Babe Ruth.
Neil did not attend West Brunswick High School. He
became a rabid Trojan fan while his daughter, Sherrie
l^nea Wisnowski, was there. She does not have a
Mohawk (although Neil has tried to convince her to get
Neil does not sleep in a cave and eat small children
for dinner. He lives with his wife of 21 years, Vicki, at
Holden Beach in a trailer he single-handedly converted
into a sprawling house decorated with paintings by
Sherrie, who also helps him customize his vehicles. It's
a quite normal looking house with a tidy, landscaped
lawn surrounded by a picket fence with mimosa and live
oak trees growing in the yard.
His characteristic war cry, heard regularly at Trojan
games, originated as a surf call used to summon waves:
Neil used to drive a customized 1964 Ford with "muf
flers so loud they could shatter glass." He liked the way
they sounded. The Kannapolis Police did not. He kept
driving. They kept giving him tickets ? 36 in all. Now
he collects "Hot Wheels" cars, of which he has nearly
He is not a beach bum. Neil is a high-school graduate
who has had a steady job with the Brunswick County
Schools system for the past 10 years. He's also operated
his own chimney-sweeping business for 12 years and
does yard work on the side. He admits to being "worka
Neil is not a mean, nasty, belligerent, violent barbar
ian. He just looks that way. In fact, Neil is a very friend
ly, gentle guy who loves children and wouldn't lift a fin
ger to hurt anyone. As long as they don't make him
mad. And who would want to do that?
Lounging in a living room chair after work last week,
Neil told a visitor about the night he went to the Holden
Beach Fishing Pier to shoot pool and decided to wear a
dog collar as part of his evening attire.
He overheard a couple of guys saying that it might be
fun to jerk his chain. Between shots, Neil made it a point
to stand directly in front of the group, allowing them
easy access to his choke chain. There were no takers.
So why does he wear dog collars and flag suits and
skull earrings and drive outrageous vehicles and cut his
hair in a Mohawk?
"I've always liked to be different; always liked to at
tract a little attention," Neil said. "Everyone's unique.
They should have the right to look the way they do I'm
a rebel with a cause."
It's an attitude he's had since childhood. In the 1960s,
as an early Beatles fan, Neil was the first male student at
A.L. Brown High School to wear his hair long. The
school administration told him he couldn't accept his
diploma with the other graduates unless he cut his hair.
"I said right then that if I ever get old enough and big
enough and mean enough. I'm going to wear my hair
any way I want to," he remembered.
So the next time an employer objected to his hair and
told him to get it cut, Neil obliged by shaving his head.
The Mohawk is his idea of a compromise. One that has
its advantages and disadvantages.
"I don't spend too much on shampoo. But them Bic
razors are costing me a fortune."
Neil said he's learned a lot over the years about dis
crimination and about the way people tend to make as
sumptions about others based on their appearance.
Like the time he was back in Kannapolis one night
and stopped by the side of the road to help a woman
whose car had broken down. Out of nowhere, he said
several police cars appeared. The officers jumped out
and immediately trained their guns on the big man with
the Mohawk. It reminded him of the old days, when he
used to get stopped because his hair was long.
Neil has gotten used to such occurrences over the
years. Perhaps it's the price he pays for being unique.
And while he understands prejudice first hand, he still
doesn't condone it
"It's true what they say about not judging a book by
its cover," he said. "That Bible over there might have a
.357 magnum inside. Never judge a person by the way
he looks, or by his age, or by his race. Judge him by his
"I'm going to cut my hair any way I want to," he said.
"I plan to be the only person on earth who dies at 98
with a haircut like this. And wSen I do, G >d's going to
say, 'Where's that big soul with t.>e Mohawk?'"
PHOTO BY DOUG (Until
TROJAN FAN extraordinaire Neil Clarke roots
on the team with war cries and handmade signs.
He plans to attend every game this year.
STAFF PHOTO BY EMC CAMSON
A REGUIAR ATTRACTION in the annual Festival by the Sea parade, Neil "Golden Boy" Clarke
M ayes to fans and revs the throttle on his custom motorcycle.