Kimball Paul — sword-wielding bouncer on Chicago’s punk, new wave scene of 1980s — dead at 56


August 13, 2014 9:16PM

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Updated: September 15, 2014 5:41PM

Kimball Paul stood out on the dance floors at the punk and new wave bars that dotted the North Side of Chicago in the 1980s.

It wasn’t just his mustache, as luxuriant as Freddy Mercury’s.

Or his shaved head.

Or the muscle packed on his 6-foot-3-inch frame.

It wasn’t just his flowing robes. Or the way he danced, with sweeping movements rooted in his study of tai chi.

It was the martial arts sword — sometimes two — he brandished as he swirled on the dance floor, especially when he heard Roxy Music. He couldn’t resist the velvety vibrato of Bryan Ferry.

Dancing was a break in his workday.

Mr. Paul was a sword-carrying bouncer at Neo, Exit, Avalon and Metro. And when he wasn’t raising an eyebrow at fake IDs, breaking up fights and disarming particularly rowdy customers, he was out there, in the words of Billy Idol, “Dancing with Myself.”

Mr. Paul, 56, a Bridgeport resident, died Tuesday night of liver disease at Rush University Medical Center.

In addition to being a bouncer and martial artist, he was an accomplished painter whose sinuous works were sold at shows and through private commissions. He operated martial arts studios, including the Crossroad at 35th and Halsted. He sang in a punkish band, the Junkies. Some of the members were recovering substance abusers.

His physical prowess was most public in the 1980s.

“Not everybody appreciated the punk rock scene,” said his friend, Michael Kudesh, who bounced with him at Smart Bar. “Sometimes preppies would get drunk at a ballgame at Wrigley and come into Smart Bar and cause trouble, so when they would cross the line and when it was time to remove them from hurting themselves or other people, we would go and have the deejay strike up “Garbageman”by the Cramps, so that we could accompany cleaning house with song.”

“He could move people around as if they were paper,” Kudesh said. “Most people were sensible enough to look at him and change their behavior, and if not, he would whisper in their ear and then they would change their behavior.”

“And if he couldn’t turn their heart, he would turn their arm and use them to open the door — and exit,” Kudesh said.

“I’ve never met someone who was such a physically imposing creature and yet such a kindhearted lamb of a person,” said another friend, Kate Prince, who met him at Alcoholics Anonymous. Mr. Paul was open about the addiction problems he wrestled with in the 1980s, and he often counseled others as they struggled, she said.

He also offered them paychecks. “He gave me employment when I was virtually unemployable,” she said, at a liquor store he managed.

The Niles North High School graduate grew up in Skokie. For years, he studied martial arts with a Chinese master, Hsu Fun-Yuen.

The grown-up club kids of the 1970s and 1980s recall him as a magnetic mix of “total goofball and wiseman,” said a friend, Aldona Urbutis.

He could imitate both Clark Gable and a smoldering star of “Gilligan’s Island.”

“He would smoke a Dunhill Blue [cigarette] and make pouty lips and ask me if he looked like Tina Louise,” Kudesh said.

Mr. Paul was a flirt at the club door, but every woman in the room knew she was safe when he was there, said Urbutis and another friend, Suzanne Shelton.

Decades later, former patrons said they would never forget how he saved them from their younger selves. “When they were drunk and stupid, he made sure they got home safely,” Shelton said.

The bulk of his bouncing — and dancing — was done at Neo, 2350 N. Clark St., from about 1980 to 1989. There people could rock out to punk, new wave, ska and rockabilly that wasn’t widely played on radio: Depeche Mode, Devo, the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kraftwerk, Adam and the Ants, Patti Smith, the Specials, Madness, the Stray Cats.

He also rescued dogs, especially sick ones. “He had this darling dog called Dido who developed a tumor on her head, and she looked like a narwhal,” said Shelton.

Dido’s tumor couldn’t be removed. It was enmeshed with her eyes and brain. But Mr. Paul made sure she got good veterinary care until it was time to let her go.

One of his dogs, a Labrador, lived to be 18, said his son, Leonard Paul. “He was a good dad,” he said. “He took care of me.” Even in his final hours at the hospital, “He asked me how was I doing.”

Mr. Paul is being cremated. Friends are planning a celebration to remember him.


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