Boston born April 16, 1937. Boston Latin (2 years), Marine (active duty Japan).Boston University; UNAM; UCLA). Civil Rights activist and photographer for SNCC in Sixties. Endured beatings, stabbings, bayonets and jail while taking extraordinary photos of Southern scenes published in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. Marched with John Lewis. Had MLK's back at Selma. With Julian Bond, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause from Hollywood celebrities.
Worked as on air reporter, KRLA news. Co-owner with Lew Irwin of news service Vaughs/Irwin Productions. Independent Cameraman for networks. Collaborated with Lew Irwin on "What Will the Harvest Be" a controversial documentary about the rise of the Black Panther Party in Lowndes County.
Associate producer, preproduction stages of movie Easy Rider. Designed and built the Easy Rider bikes. Helped develop film's initial concept; suggested title based on Mae West song. Film's ending scene likely inspired by Cliff's experiences being shot at while riding his chopper in Arkansas while working for SNCC in Sixties. Produced and Directed the Motorcycle Safety Film "Not So Easy" narrated by Peter Fonda, featuring Evel Kneivel. Instrumental in forcing the networks to open the local IATSE Cameraman's Union to blacks, women and minorities.
In 1976, tired of living with the constant indignities of racism in America, Cliff took to sea in a 41-ft wooden ketch, spending years as an expatriate seafarer, adventurer, and occasional smuggler, roaming the Caribbean and Pacific. In 1982, spent six months in federal prison on a charge (later dismissed) of smuggling cocaine, marijuana, and Jamaicans into Florida. Released from prison with no boat, no money, and too many burned bridges, he lived "underground" (he never called it "homeless") within the drug culture on the streets of Florida for several years, before returning to California. In 1992, he bought a 44-foot ketch he named Amistad and spent the next twenty years at sea, until losing Amistad to pirates in Honduras in 2012, after which he returned to the United States. He died unexpectedly July 2, 2016, at the home we shared.
His contributions to Easy Rider and the independent film genre had been largely ignored and forgotten for decades, as Peter Fonda and others took credit for designing the bikes and the film's conception. Not until approximately 2010, when journalists seeking to uncover the mystery of the bike's design uncovered the truth and tracked Cliff down to interview him, did the full story of the bikes and the film's conception begin to emerge. Cliff's story is particularly relevant in this moment as our country struggles to reassess our history and address issues of systemic racism and White Supremacy that continue to plague our nation 250 years after its founding.
Freedom Summer Hollywood Easy Rider Seafarer Adventurer PIRATES!
Cliff Vaughs Remembered is my tribute to the man who was my first love (and my first heartbreak) at 18, at UCLA in 1963, and with whom I reconnected 52 years later at 70. We remained inseparable until the day he died, one year later. During that year, we recorded hours of conversation in which he recounted his adventures and reflected on his experiences -- the Civil Rights activities in Mississippi during Freedom Summer; the successes in Hollywood in the Sixties and Seventies; living "underground" within the drug culture on the streets of Florida in the Eighties; and the years at sea. He viewed the highs and the lows as different "experiences" but all part of a rich and meaningful life. Most of all, he loved recounting his seafaring adventures: whether encountering a Russian submarine in Scammon's Lagoon, breaking out of jail in Jamaica, or losing his boat to pirates in Honduras. Although this video is intended as an homage to the man I love and who continues to inspire me to live my life to the fullest, I also hope that, together with the two trailers above, it may inspire a production company to bring Cliff's story to the screen. His life was tailor made for movies!