1979. New York City.
In the midst of the punk movement, and in the middle of what was “a frightening, yet exciting time” for David Patrick Kelly, came one of New York City’s classic films: “The Warriors.”
Kelly is a veteran actor and musician whose on-screen career began as the unforgettable homicidal maniac Luther in the 1979 cult movie. He’s most notably remembered for the moment he began the clanking of the bottles, followed with the demonic chant “Warriors, come out to plaaaayyaaay!”
The character of Luther is filled with intense, maniacal rage, which is strange considering Kelly’s demeanor .“I’m a peaceable character. I absorbed the energy of the culture, the rage of the culture to become Luther. It was the punk movement.” Kelly, then a young actor and musician, was discovered while playing at CBGB’s alongside bands like The Ramones. He worked at the famous Max’s Kansas City in Union Square where he announced and set the stage for artists like Debbie Harry and The New York Dolls. “Johnny Thunders of The New York Dolls was a large influence on the character of Luther, and so was this pretty scary guy named Frenchy. I don’t know him by any other name but Frenchy.”
Based on the novel by Saul Yurick, “The Warriors” was adapted to screen by David Shaber and director Walter Hill. Kelly credits much of “The Warriors” success to Walter Hill and his team. “Walter took some of the more iconic scenes from the novel and improved upon them to create a classic impact.” He also credits Hill with leading him to do the legendary ‘warriors come out to play’ scene. “It was improvised, yes, Walter likes to give me all the credit but it was with his lead that it happened. Walter said, ‘say what you want but make sure Warriors is in it’.”
The inspiration for that haunting high pitch chant came from a wild eyed neighbor where he lived on Spring St. “I’d see this guy all the time and I’d say ‘Hey, How ya doing’ and he would reply ‘Heeeyyy Daaavid, Heeeyyyy’. It was kind of scary but as long as you did your thing and respected the people around you, you were good.” It was this same theme that became the message of the film. “Live by your wits.” Kelly explains. “Respect people. Respect yourself.”
“The Warriors” celebrated its 35th anniversary earlier this month, and when we asked Kelly what how he felt nearly four decades later he replied “ I’m shocked. Man, that went quick. It feels like yesterday.” He remembers being kicked out of his Spring St. apartment during the filming. “I really think its cause I looked and dressed like Luther. I payed $150 a month and after the first month was up the landlord was like ‘you gotta go.’ So I packed up my things and stored them in a friend’s basement, rode around the city on a bike and went from motel to motel.” He stayed briefly across the street from the iconic Chelsea Hotel the same week that Nancy Spungen, girlfriend to Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, was mysteriously murdered.
Thirty five years later Kelly is still beloved for his performance as the crazed Luther. Released alongside Hollywood blockbusters like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and Ridley Scott’s “Alien ” , “The Warriors” carved out its place in cinema history to become one of New York City’s greatest cult films.
David Patrick Kelly’s career spans four decades and his work includes working with directors David Lynch, Spike Lee, Clint Eastwood, Walter Hill and David O. Russel. He is currently on Broadway acting in the musical “ONCE”, which he calls “the longest job he has had in his career.”
As for a remake of “The Warriors:” “I’m fine with it. It’s a classic story. But I’m very proud of what we accomplished.”