Hitting Bottom By Curtis Rist | PEOPLE Magazine, May 13, 1996
FOR A TIME, JAMES STACY SEEMED a rakish figure who knew how to live on the edge. … On Sept. 28, 1973, the actor—who was 35 and best-known for a gig on the CBS western Lancer—was racing his motorcycle through the Hollywood Hills just after midnight. Stacy, who was working as a kind of B-level Rock Hudson in movies opposite actresses such as Raquel Welch, had just picked up a 26-year-old waitress named Pia Isataki and was taking her for a spin. But, as they rounded a turn, a drunk driver swerved into them, knocking them onto the road. Isataki bled to death from a severed leg. Stacy survived but lost his left arm and leg.
Hollywood’s elite rallied around the injured actor—who suddenly was more famous than ever. The next spring, his ex-wife Connie Stevens helped stage a gala that raised $118,000 toward his expenses. “Because of you, I’ll smile again,” Stacy told the crowd, including Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, as he stood at the podium on one crutch. “I’m gonna do good things with the money!”
It hasn’t turned out that way. Even though he had a comeback as an actor—and earned two Emmy nominations—Stacy’s life today is a shambles. Now 59, he sits in a cell in the Chino Men’s Prison in California, where he is serving a six-year term for molesting an 11-year-old girl at his house in Meiners Oaks, 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
At his trial in November, the judge also found Stacy guilty of “prowling”—terrorizing two teenage sisters by entering their nearby home. When he was led out of court in a wheelchair after the sentencing on March 5, Stacy—strands of gray hair hanging down the neck of his prison jumpsuit—smiled wanly and waved at the few family members who had come. “Oh, Daddy, no!” sobbed Heather Elias, 28, his daughter with his second wife, actress Kim Darby (True Grit).
Later, in his cell, Stacy, at the very least a confused and self-contradictory man these days, wavered about taking responsibility for his actions. “It makes me look like a goddamn pedophile,” he told PEOPLE. Then he added morosely, “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this damn mess.”