Who's the most famous person you ever punched? Danny O'Connor didn't hesitate when answering. He immediately said "Vince Neil."
O’Connor isn’t proud of slugging Motley Crue's vocalist. He likes those Crue guys and used to hang with drummer Tommy Lee. But Neil took the first swing, according to O’Connor, who felt felt obligated to return serve.
Speaking of punches, it felt like O’Connor pulled none during a two-hour interview that tackled different subject matter than had been covered in many past interviews with the Tulsa World.
Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t require an introduction when coming face to face with O’Connor in July, but in case you need an introduction to the person known as “Danny Boy:”
O’Connor is a music artist from the 1990s hip-hop group House of Pain. The group’s most well-known song, “Jump Around,” is likely playing somewhere at a sporting event right now.
O’Connor loves the 1983 shot-in-Tulsa film “The Outsiders” so much that he purchased a former film site — a decaying greaser home at 731 N. Saint Louis Ave. — and oversaw a restoration of the home into The Outsiders House Museum, an attraction dedicated to the film and its source material, a book by Tulsa author S.E. Hinton.
The Outsiders House has become “the” place in Tulsa for celebrity pop-ins. Actors from “The Outsiders” have returned to the film site in recent years because they have history at the little house, but other visitors from the entertainment world have included DiCaprio, Jack White, Green Day and Soleil Moon Frye, who was shown talking with O’Connor on the porch of the Outsiders House in her 2021 documentary “Kid 90.”
“Kid 90,” executive produced by DiCaprio, revealed that Frye and O’Connor have decades-old history and the documentary showed Tulsans that this guy they knew only as the savior of the Outsiders House had a whole other life before settling in Tulsa.
Danny Boy agreed to talk about that life. Let’s get to it.
The knife story
Six dates. That’s how long House of Pain lasted on its first tour as a support act for the Beastie Boys.
“I’m a Beastie Boy fan to the core,” O’Connor said. “We scared the (heck) out of the Beasties.”
Maybe it was the AK-47 that O’Connor bought during a tour stop in Texas?
There were other factors that led to House of Pain being booted from the tour, but the Jerry Springer-ish final straw came when O’Connor and three family members — sister, brother, mom — tag-teamed a bouncer for daring to lay hands on sis and questioning her backstage credentials after a show. Watching from nearby, Nicolas Cage had a “this is great” smile on his face, according to O’Connor.
“Everybody else is appalled,” he said.
At least it was a family bonding moment for a family that could have used more of them.
O'Connor was 17 when his never-in-the-picture father, described by Danny Boy as a homeless alcoholic, was murdered.
“Someone poured gasoline on him and lit him on fire,” he said, adding later that his stepfather also met a tragic end (died at age 35 due to cirrhosis of the liver).
O’Connor said his mother, who is living, had a good upbringing, but is cursed with a “bad picker.” Translated: She likes tough guys and picked mates accordingly. O’Connor, who "hearts" '80s movies, pulled out a photo to show that his biological father resembles “Urban Cowboy” actor Scott Glenn. One reason Danny Boy didn't see much of his longshoreman father is because dad did things ("I would love to get his criminal record") to wind up behind bars.
O’Connor said he and his mother were always at odds. She saw too much of Danny Boy's father in him. He said she got angry at mannerisms that reminded her of you-know-who. He said he heard this a million times from mom: “You’ll be dead or go to prison by the time you’re 21, just like your father.”
“I didn’t have any problem with that,” O’Connor, said. “And so when I turned 21, would you believe I’m being booked in? The lady says, ‘Damn, it’s your birthday, and you’re being booked into jail.’ I said, ‘No, ma’am my birthday is tomorrow.’” But she was right. The clock had passed midnight.
O’Connor was 17 when he was arrested for the first time. He said he was falsely accused by his mother of brandishing a knife.
Prior to the arrest, he had joined a gang and had been getting into fights, so he had worn out his welcome at home.
The knife story? Danny Boy listened to Wall of Voodoo rehearse at Reseda Country Club, about 10 miles from the place where he lived with his mother in California. His bicycle had a flat tire, so he made a can-you-come-get-me phone call. Mom refused and the conversation got worse from there. She told Danny Boy she wanted him out and said she had been packing up his possessions, including throwing stars and nunchucks, because she didn’t want those things in her home.
O’Connor walked his bike home and, at the door upon arrival, told his mother “you didn’t take everything.” He showed her his knife. He said he did it in a non-threatening way. Regardless, mom told him to get out.
O’Connor took refuge at a Denny’s restaurant, where police officers showed up looking for him. He hid the knife in a seat cushion and told his side of the story to no avail. He was taken to juvenile hall and wound up on probation. The terms of his probation called for him to go to school (he had dropped out and, even when enrolled in school, he preferred to ditch classes) and hold down a job.
O’Connor said jobs were not easy to get when you looked and talked like he did. He spent the first six years of his life in New York before moving to California. He said he looked like a New Yorker and talked like a hip-hop guy. When he would visit a suburban kid’s home, there was a 50-50 chance a parent would pull their kid aside and say “why did you bring that person into the house?” They didn’t want their son or daughter associating with Danny Boy.
“Which is ironic,” he said. “The kids that slipped under their radar were like a hundred times worse.”
House of Pain
O’Connor was photographed for this story at Skates Rollertainment, a Sand Springs skating rink. He sometimes posts roller skating photos on social media. Funkytown is integral to his story.
Asked how he got into music, Danny Boy said his mother has a lot of soul. He said she had a great record collection (hello, Motown) and loved disco. He loved disco, too. And when they temporarily relocated from the San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley (“which is like moving one planet over”), the saving grace was a roller rink.
“So I learned to skate and I’m at the rink all the time,” he said.
People called him "Disco Dan." They were fighting words even though he grooved to disco. Know what else got people moving on the rink? “Rapper’s Delight.” It's the song that helped deliver hip-hop to the masses. O’Connor was all in on hip-hop.
“By the time Run-DMC’s first record came out, it was all over but the shouting,” he said.
Danny Boy said the tough kids liked hip-hop. He learned early in high school that he was one of the tough kids.
“I was a b-boy,” he said, using a term that refers to a youth who pursues hip-hop culture. “But I never thought in a million years I would end up making a group and doing that for the next 30 years off and on.”
The story of how House of Pain came to be is a tale for another day. But it’s 100% fair to say House of Pain saved O’Connor from a life of crime. He said he sold cocaine while in high school, but didn’t use drugs at that time. He had no problem putting his hands — and pistol — on people. He took advantage of a clever card scheme to acquire nice possessions (“my house looked like a mansion”) and cash. He didn't invent the scheme (someone else gets credit for that), but he was smart enough never to go after items that would raise suspicion.
Because O’Connor was from New York and had a rep, a group of guys chasing a potential big score in New York decided he could join them for a piece of the action. They visited him the night before they were all supposed to board a plane for New York. One of them brought a girl — and lost her immediately to O'Connor. When Danny Boy woke up with a hangover the next morning, he discovered that he had been left behind. Why? The ringleader was mad about the girl.
So, this is a natural spot to talk about O'Connor receiving three significant phone calls in one day.
The first call was from Monica Lynch of Tommy Boy Records. She congratulated Danny Boy because the label chose to sign House of Pain to a record deal.
The second call — collect — was from a prison in New York. The guys who got mad about the girl and left O’Connor behind got caught and served eight years of a 10-year sentence, according to Danny Boy. If he had gone with them, that presumably would have been his fate, too.
The third call was from O’Connor’s mother, who told him about a brother he didn’t know he had. It was a big news day.
Descent into darkness
Branded as a hard-edged, Irish-American hip-hop group, House of Pain (Danny Boy, DJ Lethal, Everlast) tapped into a vibe.
A 1992 debut album went platinum. At one point, House of Pain and Cypress Hill were the biggest names in hip-hop, according to O’Connor. High times ensued.
“I think it’s never going to end and I’m also making up for lost time,” he said. “I feel like my whole youth was lost time.”
All of a sudden prominent folks were getting out of the way to make room for the House of Pain guys in VIP rooms. Danny Boy began keeping company with Tommy Lee and actor Mickey Rourke. O’Connor said he and Rourke were thick as thieves for four years.
Girls who weren’t allowed to be around Danny Boy in high school because their parents disapproved were going out of their way to be re-introduced. Remember me? How could he — the alleged "loser" — ever forget?
During this overwhelming period, O’Connor was relieved when House of Pain got booed. House of Pain was paired with rock acts on show bills. One of those bands was the Ramones. Initially, the Ramones’ fans booed House of Pain and pelted Danny Boy and his mates with coins and drinks.
O’Connor said there's a “Twilight Zone” episode where a billiards player wins every game he plays in the afterlife and, hey, is this heaven or hell? That’s how he felt when House of Pain was on a winning streak. You’ve been told all your life you’re going to be dead or in prison. And now you can do no wrong?
“It made me question my sanity,” he said.
During the House of Pain glory years, O’Connor became close with Frye, who had been a child star on “Punky Brewster.” O’Connor felt fortunate to be friends with someone who had been on a successful TV show and was navigating life afterward.
“You know how we have one person we can trust?" O'Connor said. "For me, at that point, it was Soleil. I could just confide in her and tell her what was going on. ... This was before we were, like, intimate. We were friends like that. I used to bring her to all the spots. She was just like my wing man for a hot minute there.”
O’Connor said he also knew DiCaprio during the '90s. “In Hollywood, we knew everybody,” he said.
The chariot ride ended after three albums.
When House of Pain called it quits in 1996, O’Connor said he had the mental state of a teen with no skills except for crime. He began a descent into darkness that included addiction and no real place to call home. A New York Post story published post-“Kid 90” said that, by 2005, Danny Boy was sleeping on a couch in a warehouse after burning through millions of dollars on drugs.
O’Connor believes karma was paying him back for things he did earlier in life. Now he’s celebrating 16½ years of sobriety, and he said Robert Romanus (a friend who played Mike Damone in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High") is his hero.
Explaining, Danny Boy said acting is a difficult profession and, when hit with career adversity, Romanus responded by taking non-acting jobs to make a living.
“I thought I was too stupid to work at Starbucks,” O’Connor said. “So what I did was I buried my head in drugs and I ran from my life.”
O’Connor said he wishes he had gotten to know Romanus earlier in life. Maybe he would have had a role model to influence him to choose a different path.
Danny Boy said he once applied for a graffiti removal position in a city near Beverly Hills. He figured he would make enough money slinging gray paint to pay the rent while figuring out a next step in life. He said he didn't get the job due to a lack of work history. He hadn’t worked a non-music job since he was a teen.
O’Connor found his next step while on a trip to Tulsa with La Coka Nostra, a hip-hop group which, at times, has included all three House of Pain members.
Isn’t Tulsa where “The Outsiders” was filmed? O’Connor went hunting and was thrilled to see the Outsiders House still standing. In 2016, after checking with Hinton to make sure she had no plans for the home, O’Connor bought the house and saved it from demolition. O’Connor has said that he cried twice — once when he became owner of the home and once when he saw the condition of the home.
Tulsa to the rescue
Danny Boy will tell you the Outsiders House (“it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me”) saved his life and gave him a purpose. He had no real purpose in hip-hop except to get rich or die trying. Now he's the caretaker of something that is important to people, himself included.
Danny Boy feels a kinship with greaser characters in “The Outsiders.” Right about the time he first saw "The Outsiders" as a kid is when he began to realize "we don’t all have the same stuff." The scene in "The Outsiders" where Johnny didn't want to go home because he didn't want to be a witness to what was occurring inside? Been there, done that.
Reactions from Outsiders House visitors remind O'Connor the home is tied to their heartstrings, too. He believes Tulsa needed this to go along with other attractions. And he needed Tulsa, which is why he moved here.
“People say what do you like about Tulsa the most? You left L.A. to be here just because of ‘The Outsiders?’ No. I love ‘The Outsiders’ like the next man. My original intent was to stay in Beverly Hills and maybe get a place here, but I fell in love with the people. It’s the people that make Tulsa great. It’s Okies. It’s Tulsans. It’s the spirit that people bring and it’s infectious and it’s reciprocal.”
O’Connor doesn’t live in the Outsiders House. He has never spent a night there, which is surprising. “Home” is two miles away at the Mayo Hotel.
“I pay the same price for the Mayo that I pay for a little apartment in Beverly Hills,” he said, adding that he likes living at a place where safe deliveries of memorabilia can take place at any time.
“When I got to Tulsa, the insurance for my two cars dropped $300. My health care dropped. The cost of living here is so cheap.”
The personal change: Priceless.
O’Connor watched a video interview of himself that was filmed for an upcoming Outsiders-related project and saw a different man. He seemed — his words — very soft.
“At first I was embarrassed by what I saw because I saw myself with my armor down, and I had never seen myself in an interview like that,” he said. “I was just explaining how magical this (house) has been. And, for the first time, it was like I believed in myself, like there really is a 180 in you, dude. This has softened me in the best possible way.”
The right turn includes taking issue with a lifestyle he once embraced. He feels many improper things are glorified in our culture. As a sober adult, he’ll tell you it all starts at home — or, in this case, a house.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum presented O’Connor with a key to the city during a ceremony at the Outsiders House Museum in 2018. It was a scene that could've been taken straight from “The Outsiders” playbook: It doesn’t matter if you did regrettable things or were stereotyped in the past. You can change the narrative and receive positive recognition for a rescue. Johnny and Ponyboy saved kids from a burning building. Danny Boy saved a Tulsa treasure — and himself.
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I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389
Danny O’Connor received a key to the city from Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum during a special ceremony at the Outsiders House Museum in 2018. Standing at right are actor C. Thomas Howell from “The Outsiders” and “The Outsiders” author S.E. Hinton.