Lane Frost is as famous and popular today, perhaps even more so, than he was at any point in his illustrious career that was cut so tragically short or as Michael Gaffney said, “He’s been immortalized.”
Not entirely happy with the word cheated, but unsure of another word to use in its place, Gaffney said, “I hate to using it, but I feel cheated that I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked to have.”
Gaffney added, “I wanted to know him because of what he was and what he stood for.”
There have been many tributes to Frost in the days leading up to yesterday’s 25th anniversary of his untimely death in Cheyenne, Wyoming – HERE and HERE – however, going forward there’s the proverbial what-if gamesmanship.
Had he lived how many world titles would he have won to go along with the gold buckle he won in 1987?
How would his large-than-life presence have changed the early-years of the PBR?
Would Frost have been as popular today had he survived?
What is it about this young man – etched in our minds as forever 25 – that has allowed his name, his image, his accomplishments and his spirit to withstand the test of time?
Because he died so young and, at 25, in the prime of his career, those who have discovered him in the years since, have discovered the same 25-year-old Frost everyone else had come to love and admire 25 years ago.
In a Podcast recorded three years ago for PBR.com, his mother Elsie remarked, “I’m always just amazed that people are that interested in Lane’s story.”
Lane traveled as part of an elite group that included the likes of Cody Lambert and Tuff Hedeman as well as Jim Sharp and Clint Branger. Adding to the lore and legend was the fact that many will argue the mid- 1980’s would have been the golden era of bull riding—when talent and popularity intersected.
Frosts’ personality and charisma resonated well beyond the Western culture.
He was tough.
Not only was he tough in the eyes of fans, but Frost was regarded as tough by his fellow riders.
Although, in many ways, the movie was a Hollywood work of fiction – the cruel portrayal of Clyde Frost as well as the absence of Sharp, Branger and, most notably, Frosts’ faith in God – there’s no denying the impact “8 Seconds” has had since being released 20 years ago.
Lambert, who himself was mischaracterized in the film, feels badly for Sharp, who was excluded from the storyline all together.
“Jim Sharp was just as close a friend to Lane as any of us were and he got screwed,” Lambert said. “Jim lost just as much as any of us did and he meant just as much to Lane as any of us did.”
Asked if he felt left out, Sharp replied, “I don’t worry about shit like that.”
Only later did he offer, “I mean, yeah, I thought it was kind of weird that I had been traveling with him for, well, I was with him every day for the last three years – just about – and they didn’t put me in there. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I don’t worry about.”
However, like Lambert, Sharp and Branger remain equally upset over director John G. Avildsen’s (who most famously directed “Rocky”) decision to portray Clyde as being unsatisfied with his son—a fact that could not have been further from the truth.
“I never seen anything like that,” said Sharp, who described Clyde as “kind of quiet and reminds me of an old-timey kind of cowboy.”
Elsie humbly described her son and their family as “nothing real extraordinary,” but has come to realize people have received the film adaptation of Lane “very well.”
“It’s kind of piqued their curiosity,” said Elsie, who admits that upon its initial release “8 Seconds” was “emotionally disturbing” and a long process to heal from the fresh wounds. “You just wanted to scream at them, ‘This isn’t right. It’s not the way Lane would have done it,’ but that just not the way things are done in the movie business.”
She added, “One thing the movie did do and, I think, Lane would be proud, it made some bull riding fans. I think Lane would be proud of that.”
In fact, bull riding schools were never more popular than they were following the release of the movie. And there’s no telling how many mothers named their sons Lane.
Even in death, the unyielding spirit of Frost’s presence has had a profound impact well-beyond the sport and that partly had to do with his close ties and friendship to George Michael.
In an era predating “SportsCenter” and other ESPN programs along with other competing 24-hour sports programming that has come along in recent years, Michael hosted a weekly sports recap series syndicated nationwide on Sunday nights. The Washington, D.C. based broadcaster was a longtime rodeo fan.
He favored Frost.
Michael, who made a habit of vacationing in Cheyenne during Frontier Days, was at the event on the afternoon Frost was killed.
He produced a tribute to Frost that aired the following Sunday.
At its peak “George Michael Sports Machine” reached more than 200 stations nationwide and was viewed in 10 countries. At the time of Michael’s death, former PBR CEO Randy Bernard said, “He was one of the first mainstream sportscasters to recognize and promote the competition of bull riding.”
Over the years, Frost has been honored with bronze statues in both Cheyenne and Clovis, California, along with inductions into several halls of fame, including the PBR Ring of Honor, each year the PBR recognizes the highest scored ride of the World Finals with the annual Lane Frost/Brent Thurman Award.
No rider has won it more than J.B. Mauney, who earned the honor in 2007, 2008, 2009 and again in 2013.
Frost is not only remembered by fans and riders alike. Even stock contractors like Chad Berger fondly recall the golden boy of bull riding.
“How good he was with people, kids more than anything,” Berger said. “As great a bull rider as he was, he was such a great person. He had a gift. He was a people guy, you know? I didn’t know him that well personally, but, just seeing him around, he always had a big grin on his face and whenever somebody wanted an autograph he never turned them down.”
“Much like Denny Flynn you knew he was a guy who cared about you,” said Cody Custer, who qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo, in 1987, the same year Frost won the world title. “It wasn’t just a—like, he remembered my mom and dad’s name and stuff like that. He would ask about them. It was a personal deal and that’s just the kind of guy he was.”
“He was real,” Gaffney said. “In his mind he was going to make a difference. What little bit I knew him he was truly a great guy. He really was. He truly believed in making a difference."
Throughout his career Frost would often quote Freckles Brown: “It’s just as easy to make someone feel good about themselves as it is to make them feel bad.” Freckles, who was in his last 60s by the time Frost turned 20, meant the world to the impressionable teen and he hung on his mentor’s every word.
Brown was a hero.
Wherever he happened to be Frost valued the lessons he learned from Brown. The elder statesman treated those he met with respect and kindness and, in turn, that was how Frost wanted to be perceived by those he met along the rodeo trail or at home.
Mike White put it best when said he didn’t know anybody in the world who dislikes Lane Frost.
Women adored him, men respected him and youngsters aspired to be like him.
He was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime figure in and out of the arena.
Frost meant something different to everybody, but it’s important to note that his legend didn’t grow after he passed. He was every bit of what he was made out to be while he was still alive.
Back in July 1981, Lambert had just finished second in Cheyenne and was a shoo-in to qualify for the NFR. He was en route to Casper, Wyoming, when he stopped in nearby Douglas to meet up with his brother Casey and Tuff Hedeman at the National High School Finals. Despite his recent success, Lambert, who was 19, went virtually unnoticed, while 17-year-old Lane Frost was the most popular cowboy there.
It was the first time Lambert, who was “pretty high on myself” after placing second at ‘The Daddy of ‘em All,’ had even seen Frost in person and clearly remembers everyone gravitating to the high school sensation.
Lambert concluded, “When people die it seems like things are blown out of proportion and they’re seen as larger than life, but they were never perceived that way when they were still around. Lane was and it felt that way with him from a very early age.”
Photographs by Sue Rosoff’s Rodeo Photographs. Visit on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/SueRosoffsRodeoPhotography?ref=hl, and visit the Lane Frost Remembrances Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/LaneFrostRemembrances?ref=hl
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