I found his number through dialing Utah information. I found it unbelievable that someone with celebrity status like that would have a published phone number. His wife worked for some government office there (can't recall which one) and perhaps that is the reason. In any case, I found it and called it.
When I first talked to him, I asked what he would charge for a commissioned drawing of a Cobra in his famous Rat Fink or Monster driver style. I was hoping that he would offer his service for free since it was for charity but I could not bring myself to ask him to do so. He quoted me $5,000. I was a little surprised that he would charge that much for a charity design or that little for a regular commission. I explained that while any piece of art from him would be worth every bit of that and more, that I was going to have to pay for this out of my pocket as a donation to our charity event and I could not handle that much money. I then quickly moved him off subject in an effort to try to build some kind of relationship with him. Frankly, I am not sure if I did that just so I could say I know Ed Roth, to divert his attention and then hopefully get a better price or just because I was somewhat star-struck. In any event, I mentioned that I had met him just a few months earlier in Indianapolis where he was signing some of his shirts and other artwork at a car event. Of course, he recalled the event but not me.
After a brief off the subject chat, I went back to the shirt design and asked if he might consider doing something on a royalty basis even though I knew we would be lucky to sell a few hundred shirts. Of course, this was of no interest to him and it would not have been to me either if I was in his shoes. The sales would be impossible for him to trace and would surely way underpay him. However, he did say that he THOUGHT he might have drawn a Cobra in the past and IF he did and IF he could find it that perhaps he could give me that design at the more modest price of $500. That sounded awesome to me because the idea of having something exclusive to the DVSF carried very little value. The Cobra fans and other Roth fans would be happy with any Cobra design. So we said our goodbyes and he said he would look around and get back to me.
I was on pins and needles and hoped that he would contact me in the next few days. That never happened. A good month went by and I heard nothing from my new found friend. I was out in California on some business which made the time zones work to my benefit and so while we were on a break, I decided to give him a call. His wife answered this time but she quickly got him on the phone and I reminded him of our conversation. Ed told me that he "had not come across it yet and maybe his memory was paling tricks on him and he never drew one in the first place. Now, just among us, I doubt he even ever looked for it. I certainly cannot say for sure. But he gave me no hope that he was going to locate it if he had not come up with it in a month. He either was not motivated to do it or he looked and things were so cluttered and unorganized that he would never ever find it if it did exist. I have to say, I was very disappointed…..not surprised….but disappointed. At least I had the privilege of speaking to him directly and that alone was a win for me.
I told him how wonderful it was for him to at least look and how deeply I appreciated him trying to help me out regardless of the outcome. It was then he began to tell me how busy he had been over the last month. They used to have an annual party for him out in CA where people would come to pay tribute to his genius and he would raise money for HIS favorite charity…..his own support of young underprivileged men and women. He had an art school where he taught young people how to draw in hopes of giving them an appreciation for art as well as give them a sense of direction through exploring their talents, whatever they may be. As he spoke of this school he held annually it was obvious that he had a clear and deep passion for it and these kids. We had a great conversation.
I was about to hang up and begin to explore other avenues for a design when he asked me what I did for a living. I laughed and told him I was in the cemetery and funeral business. I laughed because I know what the common reaction to my answer was and it was particularly distasteful to intellectuals and creative liberals….of which he was both. Oddly, he sounded interested in my life. He began asking questions and then launched into a story of some of his past projects….one of which was building a hotrod with a baby casket on the car which was used as a gas tank. I remembered that car and we had a fun conversation about it. In it he mentioned that he had wanted to do another project for years that required a full-sized casket but his local undertakers (his description for the profession) said it was illegal to sell him a casket before he was dead. He was obviously disappointed.
Bull I said. I told Ed that his "undertakers" did not know what they were talking about and if he wanted a casket, I could get him a casket. Ed was genuinely surprised and maybe even a little skeptical. I asked him what kind of a casket he wanted. His response was that it needed to be metal but other than that he did not care. He did not care what color or what kind of interior it had or even whether or not it had rounded corners or sharp corners, etc. He just wanted an adult-sized casket. "Give me ten minutes and I will call you back, Ed" I replied and we hung up.
At the time, I was the vice president of sales for a large international company in the cemetery and funeral business. We had over 3000 cemeteries and funeral homes in the USA alone as well as large presences in South America, Australia, the UK, and France just to mention a few foreign countries. I pulled up my list of funeral homes in Utah and found a few all of which were run by one man. I called him and told him I had a friend who needed a casket and described a specific model and told him the guy would be coming by to pick it up. I wanted it at my cost (which was basically the company cost and being the largest customer in the world for caskets, we got HUGE discounts. We were the Walmart of our industry. I asked him the price and it was $375. Now granted, this was a cheap casket but that is what Ed said he wanted since he was going to take it apart and put it back together "Roth Style" anyway.
I called Ed back and when he answered the phone the first words out my mouth were "Your casket is waiting for you but you have to pick it up or pay for shipping…. what do you want to do"? Ed was shocked and excited. I don't think he believed me at first. I told him what town it was in and that it was in stock and waiting for him. He said he would be there the next day with his pickup truck to pick it up. Then he said – “I found that Cobra print.” Where do you want me to mail it? I gave him my address and he said he would put an invoice in the shipping and I could just send him a check.
A few weeks later a long cardboard tube comes to my door and in it is the drawing that is on my office wall to this day. It was a black and white line drawing of a Cobra with one of his Monsters at the wheel. Above the picture were the words "Hot 1" and below was "Very Rare and Very Fast". That drawing became our design. In the packing was an invoice with some very kind words of appreciation for the casket and a bill for $375.
Now that alone makes for a great story. But here is the rest of the story. I found it odd that he could not find a drawing of a Cobra in the month that I gave him before calling him back however in the ten minutes I had to locate and arrange for his casket, he also found the drawing. Perhaps he knew where it was all along and he did not want to give it to me for the poultry sum of $500. Perhaps he was more organized than I thought and he knew right where to pull it from. However, as I scanned the drawing, it was dated 2000. I cannot say for sure but I sincerely believe that he drew it as a way of thanking me for my help when I asked for nothing in return….even after being told he could not help me. But there is even more to the story.
Two weeks after the drawing arrived and only four weeks after him getting his casket, Ed died. Maybe he knew his time on earth was short and he wanted a custom casket to be buried in. Maybe it was a total coincidence. I don't suppose it even matters. But the other thing is that IF Ed actually drew the 2000 dated Cobra picture for us, and then it was likely the very last work of art he ever created. I have no idea what the drawing is worth or when it was drawn or for whom. Yet, I know what it is worth to me…..maybe less than the experience itself but more than any other artwork I own and I have quite a bit.
And THAT is how the first DVSF art was created.
By Gary Osborne