Wino Willie Forkner , the free sprited biker has died.
June 26, 1997
"Wino Willie" Forkner, the free-spirited biker some say was the model for Marlon Brando in the '50s-era movie "The Wild One," has died, less than two weeks before he would have made a pilgrimage to Hollister for the big Fourth of July motorcycle rally.
Forkner, who was 76, died Monday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital of a ruptured aortic aneurism.
Four days earlier, in an interview with The Chronicle, he sounded perfectly robust and said he was itching to get on his Ducati and get down to Hollister so he could lead a parade through the streets on July 4.
"I'm ready for it," the grizzled old biker said. "I'm going to stay there until the party's over."
The party Forkner was talking about is a motorcycle rally marking the 50th anniversary of when Forkner and his fellow club Brothers took over Hollister on July 4, 1947.
In one brief, beer-drenched, engine-roaring weekend, Wino Willie and the boys added a piece of genuine culture to the American pantheon -- the boisterous and rowdy motorcycle gang. Dressed in leather jackets and jeans, they were lionized by every kid on a bicycle who yearned to be a rebel. And they were demonized by the rest of the world.
"What are you rebelling against?" a girl eagerly asks movie rebel Marlon Brando in "The Wild One."
"What've you got?" Brando laconically replies.
What Wino Willie had was his club Brothers, a club he and a few other motorcycle-riding buddies formed in South Central Los Angeles 51 years ago. They were all high-flying, hard-drinking veterans of World War II, and when they came back, they exercised that testosterone on Harleys and Indian motorcycles instead of tanks and B-24 bombers.
When the club cruised into Hollister for a seemingly benign weekend in 1947, they were simply looking for a good time -- have a few beers, a few laughs, sleep it off and then start over the next morning.
But things got a little out of hand. It wasn't so much the riding of loud motorcycles through hotel lobbies and taverns, and it wasn't so much the takeover of the small town's main street for drag races.
What put Hollister on the map was a famous picture that ran in Life magazine, showing a burly, drunken biker on his hog, with dozens of empty beer bottles strewn in the gutter.
The image stuck.
Fifty years later, Forkner was asked what, if anything, he was rebelling against back then.
"We were rebelling against the establishment, for Chrissakes," he roared. "You go fight a goddamn war, and the minute you get back and take off the uniform and put on Levi's and leather jackets, they call you an a --. In the early days of biking, they immediately thought you were an outlaw sort of person. We didn't think we were. We didn't go around banging heads."
Forkner's sudden death was pretty hard on the Brothers left.
"We were pretty close, and I sure didn't know he was having any health problems," said 77-year- old Gil Armas. As for the Fourth of July rally next week, he said, "We don't know what's happening yet. I was supposed to meet him up there.
Forkner will be buried at 4 p.m. Saturday at Chapel by the Sea, 445 East First St., Fort Bragg. He is survived by his wife, Terrie, two daughters -- Patricia Potter and Terrie Dukes -- and a son, William Forkner III, all of Fort Bragg. He is also survived by nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.