David Hampton, Con-Man Whose Exploits Inspired Six Degrees, Dead at 39

By Kenneth Jones
20 Jul 2003

David Hampton, the inpiration for the young black con-man who fools white New York society in John Guare's popular play, Six Degrees of Separation, died at New York's Beth Israel Hospital, a friend told newspapers and wire services.



Mr. Hampton was 39 and the cause of death was apparently complications from AIDS. As a young man in 1983, the teen-aged Mr. Hampton passed himself off as the son of Sidney Poitier and a Harvard grad student, and was welcomed by leaders of the community.

When he was found out, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison for attempted burglary.

"David, like many of us, had a real need to be somebody important and special," attorney and close friend Susan Tipograph told the Associated Press. "He did stuff to be somebody in his mind somebody important, somebody fabulous. To me, he was fabulous."

Guare's play, a sensation for a time in New York and later a film that earned Stockard Channing an Academy Award nomination, directly references Mr. Hampton's experiences with the upper crust.

Mr. Hampton unsuccessfully sued Guare for profits from the play (hoping to snag $100 million).The work ultimately paints the Poitier wannabe as a screwed up but sympathetic character. The Stockard Channing character, Ouisa, touched by the needy kid, ultimately admonishes others to not trivialize the pain of the young man, not to make him an anecdote.

Mr. Hampton was also charged with threatening Guare. A jury acquitted him of an harrassment charge.

Wanting to reinvent himself and plunge into a more glamorous world, Mr. Hampton made a career of charming people over the years, often profiting from his encounters. After his adventures with the New Yorkers who took him into their homes, it was learned he had six previous arrests in New York and his home town of Buffalo.

The 1990 play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, an Obie and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It was nominated for four Tony Awards.

Six Degrees of Separation is now a staple of resident theatres around the country.

Tipograph told AP Mr. Hampton had been living in a small room at an AIDS residence, and wanted to write a book about his life.