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Gary Busey at book signing

Lifelong Impact

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Actor Gary Busey credits OSU professor for his platform of power in the movies

Gary Busey was only a single credit away from graduation when his music dream lured him to California from Oklahoma State University, yet he never forgot the impact OSU had on him.

In Stillwater, he studied theater under Vivia Locke, the legendary head of the Department of Theatre. The 600-seat Vivia Locke Theatre inside the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts bears her name.

“My teacher, Vivia Nail Locke, was instrumental in giving me the platform to stand on to do the motion picture business with power,” he said.

Busey, a Tulsa native, accepted a football scholarship from Kansas State College of Pittsburg, now known as Pittsburg State University, but transferred to OSU after a knee injury. After leaving OSU, he toured with the Rubber Band before transitioning to acting.

He has been in over 150 movies, making his major film debut in 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the title role of 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story and also appeared in Lethal Weapon, Predator 2 and Point Break.

Busey addresses crowd in Student Union Little Theatre

Last November, Busey returned to OSU. He gave talks for both the Department of Theatre and the School of Media and Strategic Communications, as well as one open to the public. He also attended the OSU football game against West Virginia.

It was his first trip to Stillwater since 1966.

“I am regretful of one thing,” Busey said. “When I got nominated for the Academy Award, I didn’t come back here and walk into (Locke’s) class, giving her the honor of my nomination. I give that to you, Vivia. You are the reason I was nominated.”

A severe motorcycle accident in 1988 left Busey with a fractured skull and brain damage, forever changing his life. He had to re-learn how to talk, walk and play the guitar. Busey spent over three months in the hospital.

“I am very spiritual,” Busey said. “After my death during my brain surgery, in 1988, I went to the other side. I was surrounded by angels.”

Busey has returned to the film industry and continued making music. Recently, he broke into the realm of writing, publishing his first book, Buseyisms: Gary Busey’s Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. In it, he talks about his life and his famously unique personality.

“You don’t embrace who you are, you are it,” Busey said. “You don’t think of reasons to hold onto that have nothing to do with your truth. Don’t do that. That will disengage you from your power.”

Busey speaks with student

He wants to inspire others to chase their own dreams, reminding them to have fun in life and enjoy all the little moments.

“We are all human beings,” Busey said. “We are all as simple as we can be and as powerful as we can be. We just need to find out where our power is. I will tell you where it is: It is in your heart. It’s in your spirit. It’s in your behavior. It’s in your love. It’s in your ability to smile, no matter what is going on.”

Busey suggests getting the most out of every situation and following your dreams until they become a reality. That’s how he transitioned from musician to actor.

“Things come to you without warning,” he said. “When those things come to you without warning and you feel good about it, take it. Go with it, grab it, go, run. That is where you belong. That goes for all you folks out there, when you have a desire burning in your heart, follow your heart, go for the desire.”

He remains grateful for everything that OSU has offered him, including an honorary lifetime membership presented to him by the OSU Alumni Association.

“This is the grandest university in the whole country. You have found a great place for yourself here,” Busey said.

Busey will never forget the lasting impact that OSU has had on his life or the people who helped set him on a path of art, creativity and freedom.

“You don’t fail, you just find a better way to do it, and I am living proof of that and Vivia Locke set my compass to success, honor, revelation and art,” Busey said. “And art is only the search; it is not the final form.”  

To watch interviews with Gary Busey, visit and

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