Are Benny and Kathy Cross Based on Real People? Where Are They Now?

Benny and Kathy Cross are the protagonists of Jeff Nichols’ crime drama film ‘The Bikeriders.’ Kathy becomes a part of an extensive biker culture when she unexpectedly starts to go out with Benny. Their marriage makes her an unignorable part of the group. Even though she is not a biker herself, Kathy accompanies Benny to the clubhouse. On the other hand, Benny is a dashing young man who doesn’t mind putting his life on the line for his club. Both of them are inspired by real-life figures met by Danny Lyon, a renowned photographer. However, it doesn’t mean that their saga is free from fictional details!

The Inspirations Behind Benny and Kathy

Even though Benny and Kathy Cross are based on real people, Jeff Nichols wrote ‘The Bikeriders’ as a fictional film. To craft the film’s screenplay, he deviated extensively from the reality behind the characters and the source material, Danny Lyon’s photobook of the same name. The major differences include Benny and Kathy’s age difference. When Lyon was talking to Benny and other members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, the inspiration behind the Vandals Chicago in the movie, the biker was only nineteen. Kathy was twenty-five at the time and six years older than her partner. Interestingly, she also had three children at the time, a significant detail Nichols omitted.

“We had scenes of [Kathy] talking about her kids, but we only had one shot of them. And when I first started showing people the film, it was really distracting. I hadn’t involved that family enough to make it integral to the film. It was really distracting and it made people really not like her,” Nichols told EW. The decision to eliminate the character’s children from the narrative haunted the filmmaker. “[The children] brought up all these questions, which in the book, when you’re reading it, makes her really fascinating, and it is my biggest regret that as a storyteller, I didn’t craft that in a way that it could stay,” he added.

Several of the pivotal incidents that unravel in Benny and Kathy’s shared life are based on what the latter talked about with Lyon while the photographer was interviewing her. Her accounts include two local men beating up Benny for refusing to remove his club jacket. “In one of the interviews that Kathy gives, she talks about how Benny was at this bar and got beaten up by a couple of locals — they didn’t like that he was wearing his colors, and he wouldn’t take his colors off. And Johnny, they talked about burning a bar down. So that’s a good example of me taking something that’s mentioned in the book, but only as an idea, and I turned it into an actual scene that affected this character,” Nichols told Rolling Stone.

The prominence of fiction in the narrative piques when Kathy confronts Johnny Davis, the founder of the Vandals, about being a third man in her marriage with Benny. “I made up this love triangle between Johnny, Benny, and Kathy. I took a lot of liberties, making amalgams of characters and other things,” Nichols added. Along with these fictitious details, there are real-life-based events in the film as well. The meeting of Benny and Kathy for the first time is depicted in the crime drama very much like how it happened in reality. Furthermore, Benny and Kathy left for Florida from Chicago, as the movie depicts, for the former to work as a mechanic.

Benny and Kathy’s Lives in Florida

After moving from Chicago to Florida, Benny and Kathy remained away from the spotlight. Both Lyon and Nichols tried to track them down without any leads about their current life. The filmmaker couldn’t even find a photograph of Benny with his face visible to help Austin Butler tweak his appearance according to his character’s real-life counterpart. However, the predicament changed after the release of ‘The Bikeriders.’ The couple’s son, Kirk, reached out to Nichols. “Kathy and Benny had a son, and he showed up at the box office when we were going to premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival and gave us a letter. We gave that to Danny Lyon, and he’s gone to interview him,” the filmmaker said during the same EW interview.

Through Kirk, Lyon learned that Kathy had died by then. Her cause of death hasn’t been publicized. On the other hand, Benny is still alive. When the photographer called the former biker, he stunned the writer with a revelation: the man who is featured in one of Lyon’s iconic photographs as Benny is not really him. “So, I call Benny up. We have a great talk. He’s totally upbeat. And then he says, ‘Hey, you know the picture of me at the pool hall?’ I said, yeah. He says, ‘It’s not me.’ What? ‘Check out the tattoos. It’s not me,’” Lyon told The Telegraph.

Read More: Is Johnny Davis Based on a Real Biker? Who Killed Him?