"Amen's" Clifton Davis: a reverend for real.
Clifton Davis is sitting across the table from me in Indianapolis. He has flown himself in (yes, he's an amateur pilot too) to host the Angel Awards, a presentation put on by Excellence in Media, an organization that toasts outstanding media personalities.
But let's back up a little and take the journey from the beginning.
At 18 Davis had dropped out of college to enlist in the Air Force. He had scored high on the Air Force exam and had chosen to attend officer candidate school. The Air Force, however, was not too keen on an 18-year-old kid who was discovered to have a heart murmur flying an expensive military plane and, as Davis says, "getting veteran's compensation for the rest of my life and never serving." He was therefore booted out. "I felt like a failure," Davis says.
Lacking the money to go back to school, young Davis swallowed his disappointment and enlisted in the Peace Corps. His suitcase was packed and tagged to go to India when his medical record caught up with him. That noble adventure also crash-landed without ever leaving the ground. So then what?
Davis leans back in his chair while searching his memory. "Dad [a Seventh-Day Adventist preacher] wanted me to go into the ministry, but my motivation wasn't right," he says. "And also I was kind of depressed. So I went to party with friends in Philadelphia. Got a job there. Drank myself into the hospital. Had open eart surgery. Finally picked my spirits up. Had a bad marriage. Got into show business."
Not so fast, fella. Luckily, we could fill in some of the details. Broadway stints included Guys and Dolls; Hello, Dolly!; and the very successful Two Gentlemen of Verona. The latter went on tour, taking him to San Francisco and a Tony nomination, which he celebrated by hitting the cocaine trail.
"Actually, I started using cocaine before I left Broadway," Davis recalls. "The hype, you see, was so much, and the peer pressure....
"I didn't feel I was that talented. I compensated for this inferiority complex by making myself feel like I was everything I read in the reviews."
"And drugs can do that?"
[Cocaine] seemed to, but it's a lie. It's a pervasive, insidious, chemical lie!"
Around this time, Davis was raking in about $250,000 a year and still having trouble paying for his escalating drug habit.
"Yes, I would sometimes take a $2,000 check, buy $1,000 worth of cocaine, and with the rest try to pay my bills," he says.
"You later overdosed and eventually became suicidal?"
"That's right. I had reached the classic stage of depression."
"You weren't working?"
"No ... we're talking the last year [of cocaine addiction]. I got so strung out that after That's My Mama' went off the air I began feeling like I'd never work again. That isn't uncommon for an actor. Actors often think that this last job is their last job. By substituting drugs for food, my body weight went down from 200 pounds to 100 pounds."
The bottom was not far behind.
"You are now approaching your sixth year of Amen,' and you carry the titles of minister, evangelist, producer, airplane pilot, singer, and songwriter. The obvious question is: what happened?" we ask him.
"What happened was, I found God," Davis says. "It began in my little penthouse apartment in Los Angeles. I had exhausted all my resources, driven away all my friends, alienated all my business connections. I had become blacklisted by major producers in Hollywood. The word had gone out that Clifton Davis is strung out. I couldn't get a job. I hated the business. I hated myself. I resented what I'd gotten myself into and how I'd treated people. And into that bitter despair came the light of the love of God."
Davis talks on. Of how his younger brother, pastoring in New York, phoned him and said, "The Lord told me you were strung out on drugs and you are about to die unless you turn to the Lord." Of how his brother couldn't have known this in any other way. Of how his mother had a dream that Christ was outside his door, weeping, and that Satan was inside playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse, and laughing. Of how with his last bit of faith he had said, "Lord, I've tried other ways to quit this thing, and they've never worked. So if you'll help me through this one night, then maybe I'll leave it alone tomorrow. No promises, you know."
"And you quit?"
"Cold turkey. It wasn't easy. I wanted some coke every day, every hour, every minute. But by the grace of God and my family's prayers, in two weeks I was free of the habit. The power that God exhibited in my life at that time was just amazing!"
That still wasn't enough, Davis says. He still felt a void. There were too many memories, too many years of wrong thinking to atone for.
"To be honest, when I left Hollywood I didn't want to be a minister," he says. "I let some guys talk me into it. One of those guys is called the Holy Spirit. The reason I know this is because I have seen His power work through my ministry, Maybe a month after one of my sermons, I look at the videotape, and I am dumbfounded, and even moved, by what this fellow in the pulpit is saying. I go, 'I don't remember saying that!' It's not Clifton Davis, it's the Holy Spirit of God taking control. It just awes me, man, to think that God would use some worthless sinner like me.
"I was in a church in Houston last Saturday, and the pastor asked me to come up and make a few remarks. And, man, I was there on vacation. I had come to worship, not to talk. But I went up and began talking about a visit to Africa for World Vision which I'm getting ready to do-and how we're going to dig wells in the wilderness so water will turn that desert land into patches of fresh green vegetables and fruit. And suddenly the Lord gave me this thing, and I said, You know, that's exactly what God can do in the barren wilderness of our lives. He can take living water and place it in the wasteland that may be your life and cause a garden to grow. May. God bless you.' And my wife just burst into tears. I said, Well, I didn't want to make any remarks.' And she said, You didn't hear what you said!' It was wonderful!"
Davis says prayers kept being answered and miracles continued to happen. Undecided whether to go back to work or return to college, he followed his brother's advice and prayed about it.
"I had no more than got off my knees when the phone rang," Davis recalls with a chuckle. "It was the president of a college looking for me to come and help them raise money for the United Negro College Fund. I told him it was funny he should call because I was just praying about going back to college. He said, You want to come here to college, we'll see that you can make it.' I got a full four-year presidential scholarship."
After graduating in 3'/2 years ("I worked hard," Davis asserts), the newly ordained minister arrived at another decision: would it be show biz or God's biz? In God's camp at this valley of decision, "they wanted to stick me in a particular mountain community with four churches, none with a membership larger than five." Married by that time to Ann ("who was very, very supportive"), Davis says he didn't want to be away from home that much.
"I told my professors at Oakwood College that one of the things I had learned, it's not show business that's the gulf here, sin is the gulf," he says. "Regardless of the industry, we must own up to our own responsibilities; I don't see anything wrong in my going back into show business and being a Christian."
At this, Davis says, the college administrators refreshed his memory that they had invested 3'/2 years in him, and for that investment they expected to get a pastor. They suggested that he go to the seminary and get his master's, and if he felt the same way when he came out....
"They knew you'd be hooked, right?"
"That's what they did. You're telling the truth like it is."
So it was seminary, a master's degree ... and then a phone call from California that was to produce amazing results.
"It was a friend hiring ministers in a California conference, and he gave me a bid to a church out there. Now wait a minute!" Davis says, affecting surprise. "By the time the conference committee finished deliberation, I was called to the largest Seventh-Day Adventist church in the world as their first black associate pastor.
"God works miracles, you understand. I can thank Him for my [former] senior pastor, Dr. Louis Venden, who became m mentor. And thank God for the membership of Loma Linda University Church, because they began loving me. With their help I survived the daily challenges that Amen' soon began to present to me. I didn't win every battle, but I'm winning the war."
Whoa, again! Yes, within two years the Rev. Clifton Davis received a call from Hollywood that announced he was up for a show called "Amen." And with his feet now grounded in Jesus, he says, and his heart firmly planted in Ann, his wife, and his three children, Ryan, Noel, and Holly, Davis took a leave of absence from Loma Linda University ("They wouldn't let me quit!") and turned to spreading the gospel on the tube as the Rev. Reuben Gregory.
The Angel Awards' shepherds having now arrived to escort Davis to the ceremonies, has he time for a final question?
"When you say amen to Amen,' what then?" I ask him.
"When I say amen to Amen,' I would like to have another television series," he says. I'm comfortable in the television media, and in another series I'd be able to call more of the shots. I don't mean I'd want to ' holify' everything, but I think there's a place in a secular lifestyle for moral integrity.
"And I'm also looking forward to producing. I'm trying to produce a special right now, a gospel odyssey, with major Hollywood stars on location in Jerusalem. My co producer [may be the choreographer and Broadway star] Debbie Allen.
"And I've just signed a record deal. And let's see, what else is happening ... ?"
Whatever it is-the shepherds whisking him away at this point-it's a pretty safe guess that the Rev. Clifton Davis' faith will play an important part in calling those shots. A
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|Title Annotation:||television actor|
|Author:||Stoddard, Maynard Good|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1990|
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