The Bikeriders: Is Brucie Inspired by a Real Biker? How Did He Die?

In ‘The Bikeriders,’ Johnny Davis, the leader of the Vandals, is helped in his management of the club’s operations by his trusted right-hand man, Brucie. As his personal aide, the man is often overshadowed by the other characters in the film, including his boss and Benny Cross. However, his invaluable assistance becomes increasingly needed as the gang continues to grow its operation and influence, thereby supporting the eccentricities of the biker group. While each member is not at all concerned about abiding by rules and regulations, Brucie often toes the line, and his impact within the storyline grows as the narrative progresses. A closer examination of his roots reveals that the intriguing character is based on a real person!

Brucie’s Origins

‘The Bikeriders’ is based on the 1968 eponymous photo book by Danny Lyon, which chronicles his time with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club in Chicago. During that period, Lyon interacted with Brucie, the real-life counterpart of the Vandals member who runs the club’s operations under Johnny Davis. Brucie is immortalized in one of Lyon’s photographs titled ‘Brucie, his CH, and Crazy Charlie, McHenry, Illinois.‘ The screenplay, drafted by Jeff Nichols, who also directed the film, describes Brucie as an electrician who joined the Vandals and served as Johnny’s right-hand man from the beginning.

Brucie states that his parents don’t approve of his motorcycle ventures and that society, in general, picks on outlaw culture unfairly. In an interview with Lyon, Funny Sonny, who joined the Outlaws from the Hells Angels, talked about meeting Brucie, also known as Bruce, and his partner, Gail, for the first time. He said, as per the source material, “And Bruce and Gail, you know Bruce and Gail? Gail says, well, what do the Angels look like in California? And Bruce turned around and told her, he pointed at me, he says, figure about 150, 200 of him, and you got that point made out right away.”

After Benny gets attacked by two men in a bar for refusing to take off his jacket, Johnny, Brucie, and the rest of the Outlaws go to the place seeking vengeance for their injured crew member. In Kathy’s interview with Lyon, she said, “Then the Outlaws came down, and they were gonna burn the place out. It was bad. The Outlaws — Corky, Johnny, Wahoo, Bruce, a whole bunch of ’em. They were gonna burn the tavern across the street ’cause that’s where it happened. And Benny wasn’t even in the tavern. He was outside the tavern. Thus, Brucie was always in the thick of the action whenever trouble came knocking due to his role within the club. He was one of the main enforcers within the Outlaws and always relied upon in the face of crisis.

The Reality Behind Brucie’s Untimely Death

In the film’s narrative, tragedy strikes when Brucie is killed in a car accident as his bike slams into a car backing out of its parking space. Due to a prevailing culture within the gang of not wearing helmets while riding, Brucie dies instantaneously when his head smashes into the car. Kathy describes it as a triggering point within the screenplay, talking about how the Vandals changed from a simple haven of bikers to a more sinister organization after Brucie’s passing. However, this part of the narrative combines reality and fiction, as Danny Lyon’s book does not mention Brucie’s death or Kathy’s elaboration on it, as in the movie.

Instead, Johnny’s efforts to send flowers to Brucie’s funeral home are reflected in an unrelated anecdote. When discussing the suicide of an Outlaws member named Paul, the president of the club, Johnny, said, “I finally called up a florist and told him to send the flowers up there, and he said they’re not accepting flowers and I said send them anyway. I says, they can eat ’em if they don’t want to accept [them]. I says it doesn’t make any difference to me. The idea is I want the flowers sent. So, the guys chipped in for a big floral piece. I guess about four feet in diameter, a great huge floral piece like we buy for all the club members that do get killed or die, even if they’re not in the club if they were in good standing when they quit.”

Brucie’s parents despise Johnny for his part in their son’s motorcyclist lifestyle, something that is reflected in Paul’s loved ones’ reaction toward Johnny in Lyon’s book. The exact details regarding the real-life Brucie’s fate are unknown, as Lyon said in an interview with A Rabbit’s Foot, “Most of the bikeriders I knew are dead. Now and then, I hear from their children, often asking about parents that I knew and they didn’t. Due to the passing of time, information regarding members of the Outlaws has become sparse. Even Nichols tried to find the whereabouts of several bikers himself but to no avail.

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