In his 2004 autobiography, former President Bill Clinton remembers how Pastor Tony Alamo kept the body of his wife, Susan, on ice while Clinton was governor of Susan's home state of Arkansas.
We pick up the story in 1975 when Clinton first met the Santa Clarita Valley cult leader and music industry promoter. Bill Clinton had not yet been elected to any office, and his girlfriend,
Hillary Rodham, was teaching criminal law at Fayetteville.
Besides our work and normal social life with friends, Hillary and I had a few adventures in and around Fayetteville [Arkansas]. One night we drove south down Highway 71 to Alma to hear Dolly Parton sing. I was a big Dolly Parton fan, and she was, you might say, in particularly good form that night. But the most enduring impact of the evening was that it was my first exposure to the people who brought her to Alma, Tony and Susan Alamo.
At the time, the Alamos sold fancy performance outfits in Nashville to many of the biggest country music stars. That's not all they did. Tony, who looked like Roy Orbison on speed, had been a promoter of rock-and-roll concerts back in California, when he met Susan, who had grown up near Alma but had moved out west and become a television evangelist. They teamed up, and he promoted her as he had his rock and rollers.
Susan had white-blond hair and often wore floor-length white dresses to preach on TV. She was pretty good at it, and he was great at marketing her. They built a small empire, including a large farming operation manned by devoted young followers as transfixed by them as the young acolytes of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon were by their leader.
When Susan got cancer, she wanted to come home to Arkansas. They bought a big house in Dyer, her hometown, opened the place in Alma, where Dolly Parton sang, as well as a smaller version of their Nashville country outfit store just across the road, and had a big truck-load of food from their California farm delivered each week to feed them and their Arkansas contingent of young laborers. Susan got on TV at home and enjoyed some success until she finally succumbed to her illness.
When she died [in 1982 —Ed.], Tony announced that God had told him he was going to raise her from the dead someday, and he put her body in a glass box in their home to await the blessed day. He tried to keep their empire going with the promise of Susan's return, but a promoter is lost without his product. Things went downhill.
When I was governor, he got into a big fight with the government over taxes and staged a brief, nonviolent standoff of sorts around his house. A couple of years later, he got involved with a younger woman. Lo and behold, God spoke to him again and told him Susan wasn't coming back after all, so he took her out of the glass box and buried her.