Gypsy Boots, known to several generations of Southern Californians as a fig-chomping, garlic-gobbling health food enthusiast who sold organic fruit to celebrities and carried his playful message about wholesome eating to football halftime shows, farmers markets and other venues, died Aug. 8 at a convalescent home in Camarillo, Calif. No cause of death was reported.
He was believed to be 89, said his son Daniel Bootzin. But Boots, reversing a well-worn Hollywood tradition, probably would have added a few more years: Three years ago, he claimed to be 91.
His family viewed the discrepancy as a mild exaggeration that Boots believed "helped his case" that a healthy diet promoted longevity, Bootzin said.
No exaggeration was necessary for the zany zealot who downed watercress and wheatgrass like others gobble M&Ms and chips. In his sixties, Boots could throw a football farther than many men half his age. In his seventies, he had groupies: a band of young fitness-conscious women called the Nature Girls. In his eighties, he was still a joyful nonconformist, ringing his signature cowbell from the sidelines at University of Southern California football games in an outlandish outfit topped with a kooky cardboard crown and chanting his mantra: "Don't panic, go organic; get in cahoots with Gypsy Boots."
Boots lectured at health shows and entertained at health-food emporiums. He was a regular at Lakers, Raiders and Dodgers games, where he waved signs, devoured bananas and pranced with his Nature Girls. It was all done in the service of his philosophy, which involved organic eating, exercise and a lust for life.
"A lot of people see me and say, 'Oh, you're living!' " he told an interviewer in 1986. "Some thought I died, and some thought I went in a nuthouse. And the people who thought I was nuts are in the nuthouse. And me, who acted nutty, I've got to be doing something right."
He was born Robert Bootzin, the child of poor Russian immigrants, in San Francisco. His father was a broom peddler; his mother raised four children in a vegetarian household.
When his older brother John died of tuberculosis as a young man, Boots let his hair grow long and became a devotee of healthful, natural living -- unorthodox for a teenager in the 1940s. He dropped out of high school and left home to wander California.
In 1962, Boots became a regular guest on "The Steve Allen Show," where he would dispense his philosophy, talk Allen into milking a goat on stage or whip up a strange organic brew.
Boots also wrote a book called "Bare Feet and Good Things to Eat."
Survivors include two sons; a sister; and three grandchildren.