The Life, Death, and Legacy of the Oscar Streaker

Robert Opel made history when he ran naked across the Academy Awards stage. Forty years later, two men are working to promote his vibrant life's work and uncover the truth behind his murder.

BY Kevin OKeeffe

March 26 2014 6:00 AM ET

After his sharp left turn, Opel became most well-known for his nudism. In addition to the Oscars, Opel also streaked through a Los Angeles City Council meeting — interrupting a debate on outlawing nudity on public beaches — and even ran for president as a nudist. ("I have nothing to hide," Opel joked of his candidacy on The Mike Douglas Show.)

Streaking the council meeting landed Opel in jail. After his release, he was "disillusioned" with Los Angeles, according to Castro, and went north to San Francisco. There, he created Fey-Way Studios in 1978.

"That’s when I really got more obsessed and started to find out everything about him," Castro says In fact, Fey-Way was the model and inspiration for Castro's own Antebellum Gallery, in Hollywood.

Forty years later after Opel's shocking broadcast moment, Castro is staging "The Res-erection of Fey-Way Studios" in his gallery to display the forgotten artwork of the studio and to illuminate Opel's non-streaking accomplishments. Joining Castro in this venture is Opel’s nephew Robert Oppel. Opel was Oppel’s namesake (the elder Robert dropped the second p from  his last name to distance his family from his crazy antics), but he never knew his uncle, nor did his family speak much of him.

"I grew up in a rather conservative upbringing," says Oppel, who grew up in Pittsburgh. "I was raised by my mom and grandma. So asking them about it ... they couldn’t deal with it.”

Not meeting Opel didn’t stop his nephew from being passionate about him, and after finding a sizable stash of his uncle’s old art in a closet, Oppel embarked on a new adventure.

"I said, ‘This is who my uncle is, I’m gonna find out, damn it,'" Oppel says. "He’s the one I really wanted to understand myself, as well as celebrate his life. … I love him. I’m fascinated by who he was."

That fascination led to a documentary, Uncle Bob, Oppel made about Opel to answer the many questions he and others had about his uncle. He talked to Opel’s friends, including O’Grady, to uncover as much as possible.

After meeting Oppel, Castro worked for some time to get an exhibit together. Oppel said it was clear that Castro couldn’t have been more excited to put the art on display.

"I’ve had it in my family for generations, over 30 years now. It just seemed to make sense," Oppel says, explaining that the where was more important than the when, finally finding a home at Antebellum. “I think it deserves its day in court. I think it should be seen."

The exhibit includes almost all of the artwork that was hanging on the walls of Fey-Way Studios the night of July 7, 1979, plus a few pieces from Antebellum’s own collection.

"No matter what this art is considered, to me it is always dark and mysterious, because it witnessed murder," Oppel says.

Tags: Oscars, Art

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