Robert Opel: The Apex Streaker


Apparently streaking has a long history. Photo by Steve Barker via Unsplash

Never underestimate the lengths humans will go in their misguided efforts to please their particular curious gods. The Adamians, an early offshoot of Christianity, were active in North Africa in the second century. This motley mob actually hailed from the Carpocratian Gnostics, an eclectic religious sect that practiced a type of sensual mysticism by declaring their utter freedom from any moral law. The Adamians strived to recreate the idyllic milieu of the Garden of Eden.

The Adamians practiced “holy nudism” wherein they conducted their religious services entirely in the buff. Attendance waxed and waned, though I suspect there was no shortage of teenaged boys clamoring to demonstrate their coeducational piety. During the Middle Ages the cult experienced a resurgence with the fascinating title Neo-Adamites. Oddly, this seemed to be most popular where it was warm. For obvious reasons, nude churches never quite took hold in places like Alaska and Greenland.

By the 1960s public nudity had taken on a decidedly non-religious connotation. That’s a shame. I rather suspect going to church naked would have been a powerful evangelistic draw during that particularly bizarre period in American history. By the 1970s crashing formal activities while naked was done for its shock value and as a form of political protest. The colloquial term was streaking.

David Niven remained cool while hosting the Oscars, even
as a naked man ran past him unexpectedly.

Streaking Finds Its Legs

The 1970s represented the golden age of streaking. In May of 1974 the Ray Stevens classic “The Streak” hit number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart. One memorable line from this novelty song described an adherent who was, “Always making the news, wearing just his tennis shoes.” Popular music has obviously been on a steady downhill slide ever since.

For a time streakers seemed to be everywhere. Cricket matches, English football games, the Augusta National Golf Course, and the Olympics were all visited at various times. One adherent at Augusta caught a little buckshot from police for his trouble but nonetheless survived. Per the Guinness book, the largest number of streakers to exercise their art simultaneously was 1,543 on March 7, 1974, at the University of Georgia.

In what was likely the most famous example of streaking in modern history, the 46th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles got crashed in 1974. David Niven was the host. The torrid details were just too weird to make up

The 1974 Academy Awards show was unusually memorable. Photo by Mirko Fabian via Unsplash

The Alpha Streaker

Robert Opel was born Robert Oppel in East Orange, New Jersey in 1939. Once he nominally became an adult, he deleted one of the “Ps” in an effort at distancing himself from his family. For a time, Mr. Opel worked as a speechwriter for then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. He taught English as a second language for the Los Angeles City Unified School District.

David Niven was no stranger to the Oscars. He is the only person to have won a Best Actor award at a ceremony he was hosting (1958 for Major Angus Pollock in “Separate Tables”). In 1974, while Niven was getting ready to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Opel was hastily disrobing backstage.

Opel bluffed his way behind the scenes at the ceremony by claiming to be a journalist. He then cut through an expensive seamless curtain to gain access to the stage. As Niven was welcoming Elizabeth Taylor onstage, Robert Opel jogged by in the buff flashing a peace sign and a smile. In what has since gone down in Oscars lore as one of the most legendary off-the-cuff comments ever, Niven wryly observed, “Well, ladies and gentlemen … isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

The Rest of the Story

Robert Opel did indeed earn his fifteen minutes of fame. TV producer Alan Carr subsequently hired him to streak in a pseudo-professional capacity at a lavish party for the esteemed Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Thankfully, I never seem to get invited to those sorts of parties myself.

Sadly, Robert Opel’s story did not end well. In 1976 he announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. His slogans were, “Nothing to Hide” and “Not Just Another Crooked Dick,” a thinly-veiled double entendre referencing the recently-disgraced Richard Nixon. Despite his obvious qualifications, Opel inexplicably lost the election.

In 1978, Opel opened Fey Way Studios — a San Francisco gallery specializing in gay male art. The following year Maurice Keenan and Robert Kelley attempted to rob the studio, murdering Opel in the process. He was 39. Kelley and Keenan were both sentenced to life in prison and remain incarcerated today. It was a particularly ignoble end for the undisputed king of streakers.

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