A man who formerly lived on the streets of an east San Diego suburb and was paid to fight with other homeless men in the notorious “BumFights” video of the early-2000s has died.
Rufus Hannah, 63, was killed Wednesday in a head-on car crash with a Freightliner 18-wheeler in his hometown of Swainsboro, Georgia, according to Barry M. Soper, a Rancho Santa Fe real estate investor and philanthropist who befriended Hannah and, at one point, post-"BumFights," employed him.
A Georgia State Patrol official told NBC 7 the deadly crash happened at 3:40 p.m. on State Route 4 at State Route 26, and remains under investigation.
“What a beautiful soul he was. He went through so much, then turned his life completely around,” Soper said. “I helped him stop drinking and he was sober for the past 13 years.”
Soper said Hannah was a passenger in his sister's car at the time of the collision. Hannah's sister remains hospitalized in Georgia with serious injuries.
Hannah was one of three homeless men involved in “BumFights: A Cause for Concern,” an infamous 2002 video shot on the backstreets of La Mesa in San Diego’s East County.
Hannah – known on-screen as “Rufus the Stunt Bum” – was paid around $10 to partake in staged and filmed fights that sometimes included dangerous stunts such as running head-first into walls, crates, and doors. Often, the homeless men featured in “BumFights” – including Hannah and Donnie Brennan – were fueled by alcohol, another payout for their participation. Hannah and the “fighters” suffered bodily injuries such as broken bones and cuts.
“BumFights” was produced by La Mesa-area high school student Ryan McPherson and fellow filmmakers Daniel Tanner, Zack Bubeck and Michael J. Slyman under the Indecline Films label. The video quickly rose to notoriety, with the filmmakers selling more than 300,000 copies online and making millions of dollars.
The four filmmakers were arrested and charged with making “BumFights.” In 2003, they were placed on probation and sentenced to perform community service at a homeless shelter. Two years later, McPherson and one other defendant were sentenced to 180 days in jail for failing to perform that community service.
McPherson and Tanner ran into bizarre legal trouble again in November 2014 when they allegedly tried to ship preserved human parts from Thailand to Las Vegas.
Bangkok police confiscated three packages labeled “toys” from the men that contained an infant’s head, a baby’s foot, and an adult heart. McPherson and Tanner – then 31 and 33 years old, respectively – were ultimately released. The duo said they had planned to send the odd items to friends.
As for Hannah, he spent the last 15 years cleaning up his life, getting sober and getting himself off the streets.
His story – co-written by Soper – was chronicled in the book, “A Bum Deal: An Unlikely Journey from Hopeless to Humanitarian."
Soper said the book is reportedly the basis for a movie that's has been in pre-production for about four years.
Soper first met Hannah in the early 2000s when he noticed him sifting through a dumpster inside a La Mesa apartment complex owned by Soper. In their first exchange, Soper learned of Hannah’s life as “Rufus the Stunt Bum,” and about his involvement in “BumFights.”
With Soper’s support, Hannah eventually turned his life around.
Soper hired Hannah to serve as the assistant manager at his La Mesa apartment complex, a job he held, with pride, for about six years.
"He took care of the complex like it was his place," Soper told NBC 7.
In recent years, Hannah had returned to his hometown in Georgia to reconnect with his adult children. Soper said Hannah had five children, one of whom died, also in a car crash.
Hannah had also been advocating on behalf of the homeless.
“He worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless as an advocate because he had lived that life himself,” said Soper. “He taught me that we all needed to look at the homeless more kindly, that it could’ve been your mother or your brother. It could happen to anyone.”
Soper described his longtime friend as a man with a "soft soul and a huge heart."
"He taught me about kindness, especially with the homeless," Soper said. "He would tell me, 'Don't give them money, just say hello. Don't be afraid of them; they're human beings.'"
Soper said his friendship with Hannah went both ways. He, too, was a pillar of support for Soper, especially after Soper was involved in a car crash that left him with a traumatic brain injury.
"Rufus would call me all the time and encourage me," he said. "It meant so much to me."
Hannah is survived by his wife and children.
Soper, who can't travel to Georgia due to his brain injury, said he plans to cover the funeral expenses for his friend. He hopes the funeral includes a release of doves since Hannah loved the birds.
He’s also going to pay tribute to Hannah at the site in La Mesa where their friendship started.
“I’m going to buy a bouquet of flowers and put them next to the dumpster where we first met,” Soper added.
On Friday, Soper – accompanied by his friend, Inocente Izucar, the former homeless teenager-turned-star of the Oscar-winning documentary short, “Inocente” – made good on that promise. Izucar knew Hannah through Soper.
The duo placed flowers on the dumpster at Soper’s East County complex and said their tearful goodbyes to their friend.
“I love you, Rufus,” Soper sobbed. “I’m so sorry. You had so much more to do to help people. My prayers are with you and I’ll always remember all of the great things you did with me.”
“Rufus was inspirational,” Izucar told NBC 7. “I mean, I was homeless too. It’s just really sad; all you see in the news is good people dying.”