LOS ANGELES — The volcano dragon from popular 1998 Marine Corps recruiting commercial "Rite of Passage" was found living on skid row by two Marines who took a wrong turn Friday night.
Gunnery Sgts. Victor Rodriguez and Kevin O'Donnell had gotten lost on South San Pedro Street looking for parking near Sam's Hofbrau Strip Club when they saw smoke coming from the back of a parked vehicle.
"Half price lap dances for military didn't start for another twenty minutes so we stopped to check it out," said Rodriguez.
When they opened the rear doors they say they were "shocked" to discover famous volcano dragon and USMC legend, Doug Swanson, 47. Unable to stay in local shelters due to fire codes, he was living inside the smoldering, hollowed out 1982 Chevrolet Starcraft.
"We couldn't believe it was him," O'Donnell said. "We'd thought he was dead because that Devil Dog from the commercial really jacked him up. Went through the obstacles and across the laser beam bridge swingin' his sword like a straight up p-i-m-p."
"Hell, it was the reason I enlisted," he added.
The Office of Marine Corps Recruiting estimates "Rite of Passage" accounted for 92 percent of enlistments in 1998 alone. Swanson claims he was not compensated fairly for his contribution regarding the success of the commercial.
"They praised my theatrics and promised they'd take care of any injuries I got on set during filming," Swanson said. "Next thing you know both my hands are chopped off, there's a stab-hole in my heart and all they do is give me a number for the VA Hospital. Thank God my own heat cauterized the wounds because the wait was unbearable. It was all downhill from there."
Full of resentment and anger, he had trouble landing acting gigs and holding a steady job in the years that followed. As an added insult, Marines unhappy with their enlistments often sought him out to blame him, feeling deceived.
"They thought they'd be fighting dragons but they just ended up cleaning shitters or trying to build a corrupt third world country's infrastructure without the proper resources or a sustainable, logical plan," said Swanson. "I'm just a volcano dragon, who had a job to do."
By 2003 he'd been evicted from his home and his wife left him for Falkor from "The NeverEnding Story."
"She said he was a dignified luck-dragon with a strong portfolio and I was just a broken loser-dragon with a bad attitude," Swanson said. "That's when I got a little carried away with the speed balls and cough syrup. You know how it is."
Soon afterwards Swanson linked up with the notoriously evil wizard from the Marine's 1986 "Chess" commercial, Ken Johnson. High on meth, they began driving to the San Onofre gate of Camp Pendleton, demanding to see Oprah or the President of the United States to request compensation.
On their eighth trip in February of 2004 they began bumping the gate and ran over an MP's foot breaking multiple toes, consequently receiving jail time.
Now out since January of this year, Swanson claims to be steering clear of both Johnson and drugs. Sober and reflecting on his choices, he's forgiven the Marine Corps and hopes for a brighter future.
Rodriguez and O'Donnell offered him support and plan on bringing their Marines by his van on skid row for their next safety brief.
"Maybe telling these young Leathernecks what can happen when you start puffin' on Spice and such — maybe that can be his dragon tale, his path to redemption," said O'Donnell.