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Rusty received a modest ,000 for the rights to her story—some of which she promptly spent on a car—but she stands to make much more: Phelan and Bogdanovich each recently gave her a single percentage point, which could bring in millions if the film is a hit.But she is typically pragmatic about the potential windfall.“People I know wouldn’t be surprised at anything [that happens] in my life.” No doubt.The daughter of a Brooklyn truck driver, Rusty rebelled early on.“I was what you call a juvenile delinquent,” she says.At 14, she began smoking pot and riding with motorcycle toughs.Although the two received welfare and state medical benefits, and some of Rocky’s bills were covered by genetic research organizations, Rusty had to work as a go-go dancer and door-to-door saleswoman to pay for her son’s annual week-long examinations at the Medical Genetics Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. Children, Rusty says, weren’t put off by his deformity. One day, lounging in her living room, a biker friend told Rusty that he had been sitting on a park bench, high on acid, when a bizarre-looking kid sat down next to him.It had freaked him out so badly that he renounced drugs on the spot.
Together they constructed a life unimpeded by self-pity. “Do you understand why people sometimes treat you the way they do?
After Rocky’s 1978 death, she moved to San Francisco, took up Buddhism and renounced drugs.
Now her time is spent as a counselor at Narcotics Anonymous, and she plans to work at the Shanti Project, a workshop for the terminally ill, including patients with AIDS.
The uninitiated would exclaim, “How cute, he’s wearing two masks!
Take off your other one, too.” Grinning ear to ear (like Howdy Doody, Rusty says), Rocky would tug playfully at his face and say, “Gee, it must be stuck on.” After his victims saw the joke, his mother says, “Rocky always got lots of candy.” Many parents would have been crushed by such a scenario.
Although Rocky stayed in the first grade for two years, he progressed quickly thereafter. When a circus invited him to become part of its freak show, the boy’s impulse was to accept in order to grab the money.