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Bumfighter turns life around

December 08 2010
© KC Alfreds, San Diego Union-Tribune 2010. © KC Alfreds, San Diego Union-Tribune 2010.
Former ‘bum‘ is now employed and campaigns for homeless rights

A homeless man who starred in one of the first ever Bumfight videos has turned his life around and got off the streets.

Rufus Hannah, 55, became infamous in 2001 when a video of him riding in a shopping trolley down concrete steps, running head-first into walls and punching his best friend went global.

The father-of-five - who at the time was an alcoholic - was paid $5 to perform the degrading stunts, which including him getting a tattoo with the words 'bum fight' on his knuckles.

But since then he has transformed his life, having been sober for eight years, re-married and got a job working full-time as a property manager. He is also a campaigner for homeless rights. He said: "I always thought dying on the street would be my fate."

Bumfights was a US film series that showed homeless men fighting and attempting amateur stunts in exchange for money, alcohol and other incentives. Homeless groups across America condemned the videos, and said they "disseminate hate against the homeless and dehumanise them."

Stunts Rufus performed for the videos included riding a shopping cart down a flight of stairs, ramming his head into steel doors so hard that he now suffers from epilepsy, and beating up his homeless best friend, army veteran Donnie Brennan, so badly that his leg was broken in two places. Mr Brennan was paid to have the word 'bumfight' tattooed across his forehead.

The videos' makers were eventually convicted of several charges, including the soliciting of felonies, and they were sentenced to six months in prison. The producers also paid an "unspecified" amount in damages to the pair.

Mr Hannah, of Swainsboro, Georgia, became homeless and an alcoholic after being discharged from the army because of an injury.

He is worried that Bumfights contributed to the sick trend of homeless bashing, where people attack rough sleepers and film it. Last year, 43 homeless people were killed in America, up from 27 the year before.

Mr Hannah now works with state and federal legislators to pass hate-crime legislation that would increase the penalties for those convicted of attacking the homeless - and hopes to one day to get his tattoo removed from his knuckles.