In Memoriam: Rikki Madrigal’s Story, by Brian Bentley

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”Jack Kerouac

I agonized over how to write this, primarily because I knew the subject; she meant many things to me. Other folks around town have written it up already, but I really wanted to “do it justice”–not to mention the whole subject really threw me for an emotional loop–and so I lagged. But my personal baggage should not come between this post and whomever out there who may need to read it, so I’ve tossed my half-completed Notepad drafts into the recycle bin and have just come here, to the wordpress page, to compose this on the fly.

Los Angeles is full of a special breed of amazing women, inspired women, women who wear their damage like red dresses and with whom you fall impossibly in love. These women blaze a trail through the city, equally torn between their dreams and their demons. They’re artists, and in turn they inspire art; despite their sadness, they shine. You’d think with all the beauty that ripples out from them, they could see some sort of way through, but their lives accelerate too fast, and close in on them, and the beauty happens less and the desperation happens more.

I wish I could seize every one of these women by the shoulders and force her to grab onto peace, onto serenity, like a buoy in a sea. To hang on, and to slow down, and to change; to stop burning out so fast like a flare shot off into the night sky, falling fast and guttering, the sparkle turning, too fast, to ashes.

This is the story of Rikki Madrigal, whom I knew towards the end of her life. I did not know her well. When I knew her, I was pretty lost & sad as well.

If I knew her today I would never let her walk away from me the way I did the last time I saw her.

I would have grabbed her by the shoulders, and begged her to hang on, and to slow down, and to change. Maybe I couldn’t have prevented what happened, but maybe I could have. We never know how much we matter in the lives of others.

Rikki, I never got to tell you how much you mattered in my life, but what I’ve learned lies somewhere in a truce between the two sides of you that did battle for your life.

I wish neither of us had had to learn it this way.

The story that follows was written by LA author Brian Bentley. Originally purchased by a major LA glossy, it was then passed over for publication again and again. I don’t know why. I want to thank Brian for writing it, and providence for bringing it to my inbox. When I received it, I knew I had to publish it, but it took me a while to grapple with my own memories. Brian, I apologize for the delay. Your difficult work in writing this story deserves far more acclaim than I can give it here.

photo by Scott Ewalt
photo by Scott Ewalt

PLAYING WITH FIRE: The Crazy Life and Mysterious Death of Rikki Madrigal

Everybody seemed to know the woman from Silver Lake with the flaming red hair.

But no one knows what really happened the night her house burned down.

By Brian Bentley

When Rikki Madrigal walked into a room, she made an instant and unforgettable impression. Six feet tall, with flaming red hair and a fondness for colorful homemade dresses and striped leggings, her appearance suggested a living, breathing Raggedy Ann doll. Not much escaped her large, coal-black eyes. Luminescent, soulful and haunting, they darted back and forth with boundless manic energy.

Rikki loved to smoke and drink, boozing to reach oblivion like a reckless 25 year-old. But by the time of her 40th birthday party, which she celebrated in true Rat Pack style, with a gathering of friends at Musso and Frank in Hollywood, Rikki was a middle-aged woman who desperately needed a time-out. She had always swung wildly from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other; it just seemed part of the natural up-and-down rhythms of her life – to fall in and out of trouble. “That’s just Rikki,” her friends would say with a smile.

In the early hours of July 4, 2006, the party finally did come to an end. Everyone’s friend, that crazy girl Rikki from Silver Lake, was dead, lost to a house fire that made the six o’clock news.

The rest of the story is here.

25 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Rikki Madrigal’s Story, by Brian Bentley”

  1. I’m sure that the reason this story was not picked up by any publications is because, subject matter aside, it’s simply NOT WELL WRITTEN.
    Another reason that I didn’t like it personally is because back when this Bentley guy was asking many of us friends of Rikki’s all about her, I got the gut feeling/impression that this Bently guy was:
    1. Digging for anything that would justify the “spin” he was planning to put on her story
    2. Admitted that he didn’t even know her, which led me to think that…
    3. This was all just a vehicle for the author, who seemed to REALLY be interested in launching a writing career.

  2. @ professorw: I understand what you’re saying. I don’t think it was poorly written, but I do, as a former editor, see the validity in your other assessments.

  3. Professor W:

    You are basically spreading misinformation about the efforts I went through to put this story together over a 2 year period. How do you know I didn’t know Rikki? Please describe exactly what my “spin” was. Were you one of the many people I contacted regarding Rikki who refused to comment, or were you one of the many people who had only train wreck stories to tell, despite my best efforts to find “positive” anecdotes about her? I went out to find the truth as best as I could, with no preconceived notions whatsoever. What I found was a story of a sweet and troubled woman who had some pretty sad excuses for “friends” in many cases. The last comment about me doing this for my writing career is pretty funny. What do you do for a living?

  4. Sorry to get bogged in a minor point but near the end of the article it states:

    “A man, I believe his name was Brian Humphrey, showed us her mattress with a hole that was a foot and a half wide where her head would have been. He told us she had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette,” Claudette says.

    Jim Thornton gets a little hot under the collar when this information is relayed to him. “It was improper for him to comment on the investigation to the family,” he says.”

    I’d be curious what Brian Humphrey might have to say about that, and I wonder if the writer attempted to contact him for a statement. It would only be fair given the conclusion the writer draws that Ricki’s cause of death has been perpetuated “in no small part, to a fire department spokesman who guided the next of kin through the house shortly after the fire and offered them only preliminary findings that run contrary to the official conclusions.”

    Thornton might see it fit to slag Humphrey, but given how Humphrey has demonstrated himself time and again to be a most accessible, conscientious and professional public servant, I say it’s not only inappropriate for Thornton to take him to task for what may very well have been a misinterpretation of his statement, but the writer should have offered Humphrey the opportunity to respond; or at least if he did and Humphrey declined, state as much.

  5. Thanks for letting us know about this colorful and ultimately tragic character who, for better or worse, helped make Los Angeles the unique and creative city that it is. I do have to agree that there are some issues with the story that you featured, which probably could be solved with some further editing. I don’t want to get into an argument about that, but I do hope that other people who knew Rikki will also write at length about their experiences with her. How about you, Luce?

  6. Matt: probably not. But thanks for the compliment.

    I also have to defend Brian on the account of his not knowing Rikki. That shouldn’t discount any journalist’s writing. It’s the rare writer or journalist who only writes about subjects he or she ALREADY knows. If I was limited only to the subjects I understood well, my clips list would be considerably shorter. From my perspective, it seems like Brian really did his homework. I usually refuse to take stories on that require this much research, especially when I’m not sure if it will be run by a publication. This mostly means I’m lazy; but I think it also shows that Brian really put a lot of work in, that he was committed to his subject, and, by the time he was done, probably knew Rikki as well as many people who’d know her for a long time.

    Will, I also found the part about Humphrey interesting.

  7. I don’t think the last comment was addressed to me specifically, but, for the record, I had no issue regarding whether the author knew the subject. Of course, great journalists often write great profiles of subjects they don’t know. The focus here should be on Rikki.

  8. It’s my belief that the writer who identifies himself above as William Campbell is, in fact, Brian Humphrey. He has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to crucify the story, based on his assertion that I should have got a response quote from him when both of Rikki’s parents maintained that Humphrey was the LAFD contact who led them through the fire scene. I saw no reason to do this at the time and neither did Jim Thornton, who responded instantly in anger at the very mention of Humphrey’s name. Other details of my conversation with Thornton I did not write up as they were off the record. Humphrey went into a long, protracted series of ridiculous rants (on LAFD company time I might add) that you can read in detail in the comments section beneath my story on Rikki. I answered his questions in detail each and every time. This minor issue has nothing to do with the overall content and vetting of the story. It is just more of our obsession in today’s society to fixate on small details and ignore the larger picture: that this case remains an open arson investigation and somewhat of an embarrassment.

  9. Wow, the comments section of Brian Bentley’s story definitely answered the questions and curiosities I posed above. And how!

    What I’d hoped was simply an oversight in not including Brian Humphrey in his piece is now much worse: a gross factual error that’s defamatory, even if not intentionally so. And regretably one that could have been prevented entirely had Bentley contacted Humphrey for a response.

    What’s even more regretable is that despite Bentley being proven wrong (and to his adamant stance to the contrary) he can’t manage to fathom either what the big deal is or why Humphrey would object to the degree he did. Instead Bentley becomes increasing belligerent, combative and insulting in replies, which does great disservice to his credibility. And what little of that is left in my eyes just atomized with his dive off the deep end asserting that Mr. Humphrey and I are the same person.

  10. Not really picking up on any “spin” in this story- sounds like a complicated person who lived a complicated life, and suffered a possibly complicated death. I knew her casually over about 20 years, and had ample opportunities to observe both the kind, generous, on-fire-with-the-love-of-music Rikki, and the stumbling Trainwreck Rikki, and thought the article did a great job of capturing both sides. And a really lovely intro here.

  11. Imagine a world where Will Campbell, and Brian Humphrey are the same person! Wow. I understand Mr. Campbell is a very productive individual, but to also be the spokesperson for the LAFD. That would be amazing!

    Thanks Lucinda Michele for posting the story on Rikki. Ironically, I read it just after leaving the house following an argument with my significant other. If anything is learned from Rikki’s fate (besides the dangers of smoking in bed) it is not to part from your loved-one in an argument over petty shit. We really don’t know what may happen, and how much we can regret our last goodbye.

    Coincidentally, just yesterday I came across a
    photo of Rikki I didn’t realize I had.

  12. It’s my belief that the writer who identifies himself above as William Campbell is, in fact, Brian Humphrey.

    You just shot yourself in the foot big time, Brian. Will Campbell is a regular poster here at Met Blogs L.A. I read your story when it first appeared online (the only appropriate venue for it) and I left two comments in the midst of your debate (a polite way to put it) with Brian Humphrey of the LAFD. The conflicting LAFD comments about the fire are probably the reason your story was axed for publication — you attempted, ironically, to create smoke where there was no fire. Rikki was a violent, fucked-up, drug-addled, confused loser who died the way she lived … in a conflagration of her own making. I still fail to see, as the LAT editors must agree, how that elicits anything even remotely approaching empathy. Social outcasts and misfits aren’t always heroes and I resent your attempt to paint Rikki in that role and I further resent your retarded attempts (as stated above) to cry conspiracy against Humphrey, who has served his city well as an LAFD PIO.

    Perhaps Will Campbell is on the LAFD payroll.


  13. Further, you have no credibility as a journalist, Bentley. Are you familiar with the term “due diligence”? Had you simply clicked on Will’s handle you would have seen that he is a regular Met Blogs contributor. But, no, you labeled him as Brian Humphrey without doing the least bit of research. You’re as shallow and vapid as the subject of your article. You deserve each other. My cigarette needs a light. Got a match?

  14. Oh man. I am NOT touching this with a ten foot pole.

    For the record, Brian’s story meant a great deal to me personally, which is why I posted it. And I hoped to do right by Rikki and by anyone else who might benefit from reading her story.

    I don’t for a minute believe Humphrey did anything suspect or inappropriate in any way. His character is, IMO, unimpeachable.

    I also want to make it very, very clear that I don’t believe, nor will I ever (unless presented with some sort of Hail-Mary evidence) believe this was anything but a horrible self-inflicted accident that was a long time coming. Your life gets that chaotic & entropy begins to take its own toll. What happened to Rikki was the timing-out of a ninth life. You can only push so much, so far, before it’s too late.

  15. To: Rodger and Will Campbell,

    If Rikki was still alive, she would make sure that you two pricks got what you deserved. The way that you just disrespected Rikki in your posting above, Rodger, proves to me and others on here that you’re nothing more than a wimpy-assed wuss hiding behind a computer screen. Why don’t you, Humphrey and Will all get a nice big room so that you can all figure out who you’re gonna fuck tonight? Huh? I think that Rodger and Will would be a fantastic coupling and Humphrey could just jerk off to the whole event. How does that sound?

    What do ya think? ;)

  16. Regarding the post above –

    I just don’t like it when my friends are attacked and I’m sorry if I came across as a harsh asshole here. I especially want to apologize to Lucinda Michele. Will – I heard that you’re actually a good guy, so I apologize if I put you in the same police lineup as Rodger in my posting. I just don’t appreciate that my friend Brian is being attacked here relentlessly. If Brian received the information from Rikki’s parents regarding Humphrey, then why is he being attacked?

  17. Luce, isn’t it grand when the comments to your blog post spin out of control over a secondary issue and take on a second life of their own? You gotta love the freedom of the blogosphere. If I was still a Washington spin type, I’d emerge from that nice big room and say “the parties had a serious and frank discussion,” LOL.

  18. hahahaha…well, I assumed this post might cause a shitstorm, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take. I have to admit I woke up the morning it went live with some dread in my guts.

  19. Cake, I suppose I could post a comment ripping back at you so vulgarly and then follow up with a sheepish retraction because you’re really a decent person, but let’s just skip all that garbage and consider your apology accepted.

    I know Brian Bentley vested a lot of himself into telling Rikki’s story and it’s very much a personal endeavor for him. As I said in my first comment “sorry to get bogged down on a minor point…” but I had what I felt were legitimate questions in regards to statements made in his story about Brian Humphrey that stood in stark contrast to the professionalism Humphrey has always maintained — and I asked them in a respectfully inquisitive manner. I didn’t attack in the slightest.

    What does Bentley do in response? He accuses my inquiry of being some sort of covert propaganda pitch perpetrated by Brian Humphrey, and when I quit laughing at such a ludicrous assumption I visited the comments section of the story and learned the sordid history of the “Battle of the Brians” as Rodger Jacobs aptly dubbed it. More importantly I learned that the exclusion of Humphrey from the article went far beyond being an oversight.

    Since you ask why Bentley is being attacked because of information he received from Rikki’s parents, allow me to attempt an explanation. He ignored a basic journalistic rule of corroboration, better known as Cover Your Ass. If I’m writing a story and a source gives me information on another person that is in any way derogatory or potentially contradicting or just might be plain incorrect, I have a responsibility to make an effort to contact that party and seek a statement either of denial, verification and or clarification. If a concerted repetitive effor made to reach the person fails I insert something along the lines of “efforts to reach the source for a response were unsuccessful.”

    The ultimate irony is that had Bentley called Humphrey he could have spared himself this mess — one he perpetuates with his staunch unwillingness to provide a correction to the article even though he now knows Rikki’s mom was incorrect and Humphrey wasn’t even there.

  20. Will, whoever you are, here’s my advice to you. Get Katie Couric on the phone, hold a press conference, see if Gloria Allred is available, conduct a national day of mourning, alert PETA, post an “orange alert” with the Dept. of Homeland Security and then throw the word “terrorist” in there just to whip things up some more. You are a perfect product of our modern society: all reaction and opinion with zero forethought before your big mouth starts moving. You are in fact, one of those professional critics who never CREATE or contribute anything to the world — just feed off the work of others to become another windbag, another armchair analyst in the latest CNN poll.

    There were no LESS than THREE copy editors whose job it is all day to vet stories like this, who “missed” the reference to Humphrey and the lack of a response quote from him. Why don’t you contact each and every one of them and defame their integrity as you have mine, and accuse them of deliberately trying to ruin a PR person’s life?

    Did it ever occur to your pompous ass that maybe I quoted Rikki’s mom (and her dad backed it up, btw) correctly and that Humphrey really WAS the guy who led them through and you are just REACTING to his posts with the same knee-jerk stupidity that guides people to think that Obama is a terrorist because he once had a drink with Bill Ayers? How do you know he wasn’t there? Got a time sheet handy for the day in question?

    I didn’t write this story for Humphrey or you, or anyone else. I wrote this for Rikki. She would be the first to jam her shoe up your ass for trying to turn a sincere effort at telling her difficult story into a circus.

  21. Ha! And Cake calls me the prick!

    Bentley, your blowhard insolence is outmatched only by your infantile petulance. Forget where you think Rikki would put her shoes, you’ve got no trouble shoving your own up your own ass first by idiotically presuming me to be Brian Humphrey, then instead of just letting asinine dogs lie you somehow can’t resist the compulsion to come back for another round of Clueless by laying out a definitive personality profile of me.

    You have absolutely and positively no inkling of idea how the more and more you lash out and spew, the bigger and bigger idiot you become.

    Absolutely Amazing!

  22. I agree with Lucinda… A friend who read the story just sent me this. I hope this settles the legal issues for all those out there who have been agonizing so much.

    < Despite what some here feel, it is clear that Mr. Bentley is NOT on the hook for defamation.

    Per Wikipedia:
    “public officials could win a suit for libel only if they could demonstrate publishers ‘knowledge that the information was false’ or that it was published ‘with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.'”

    Mr. Bentley did not know the statement was false, and “reckless disregard” is a very high criterion to meet.>>

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