When he's not bringing happiness to sick kids, the famous doctor-clown remains a savage critic of a system he bucked
Hunter "Patch" Adams arrived at Pochentong airport on October 10 with six clown noses, one oversized baby pacifier and a rubber fish packed into his suitcase. The renowned doctor-clown also brought his surprisingly fierce-and eccentric-beliefs about the human condition.
"Everywhere I go I say that George W Bush is a Nazi-he's worse than [Adolf] Hitler," he stated defiantly in the first five minutes of his interview with the Post. "You can quote me on that."
Best known for the eponymous 1998 film starring Robin Williams, Patch Adams made his second trip to Cambodia with an international troupe of 12 doctors, nurses, and professional clowns. Clown One Italia, an Italian aid organization that melds clowning with financial sponsorship of Cambodian humanitarian projects, arranged his weeklong visit.
Early on in his career, Adams, now 60, eschewed an American medical establishment he deemed profit-driven and heartless. Instead, he started the Gesundheit Institute in West Virginia in 1972 to promote free holistic health care in a compassionate setting.
Adams said he modeled his clown character on an adult with Downs Syndrome.
"I seek out despair and loneliness and then I inject love into that situation," he explained, adding that he particularly enjoys working with older adults. "Their pain is deeper, and they are often more receptive."
By his count, Adams has clowned alongside some 10,000 deathbeds in 55 countries over the past four decades. In Cambodia, the troupe performed for children and adults in hospitals, schools, and clinics in Phnom Penh and Battambang.
On October 11, Adams and the troupe delighted 200 young kids under a red and gold tent on the grounds of Maryknoll, a Catholic NGO that treats children with HIV. Though several clowns sported elaborate costumes in fluorescent colors, Adams wore a simple purple hat in the shape of a bird. His once-red clown nose was grubby with the handprints of many small children.
After performing several songs and balloon tricks from the stage, the clowns climbed down and fanned out into the crowd at Maryknoll. Within seconds they were swarmed by children eager to touch their bright costumes and unusual toys. Adams sat cross-legged on the ground and gently cuddled two laughing toddlers. Several more draped themselves over his 1.93-metre (6ft 4in) frame, occasionally reaching out to honk his nose.
"We clown for humanity," Adams said the next day over lunch. "Clowning is a trick to [draw] love close."
During his trip, he visited a tiny rural shack and was impressed by the closeness of the family and the ability of Cambodians to make the best of their circumstances.
"I find my nation to be a nation of whiners and hard-arses," he said. "I wish the richest nation in the world could enjoy themselves that same way."
Although he was out of character, Adams' look-bold prints, mismatched socks, and a single large earring-remained festive. Without his bird hat, one could see the electric blue streak running lengthwise down his gray ponytail.
But away from his audience, Adams' conversation revealed a deep-seated cynicism.
"Capitalism is the single worst creation of humanity... transnational corporations are evil," he said emphatically, adding that he believes the majority of world leaders are fascists. He even likened George W Bush to Pol Pot, though he changed the subject when pressed to justify the comparison.
"I think Bush is the worst leader in history," he said, adding that he believed the US President was hastening the extinction of the human race.
The anti-Bush sentiment stemmed from a combination of the conflict in Iraq and environmental degradation, although specific justifications for his conversational bombshells were sometimes hard to pin down.
Adams dismissed any suggestion of disharmony between his gentle clown character and his heated rhetoric.
"I'm a political activist committed to nonviolence," he said simply. "My work is peace and justice."
At the end of the day, though, Adams' day-to-day concerns were less existential. "I've gone through four rubber fish in 20 years," he said. "I'm at a crisis because I don't have another fish."