Former Denver Center for the Performing Arts Shop Foreman Paul Stone, a. k. a. "The Cannon Guy," is battling ALS. Photo by John Moore.
Only 30,000 Americans may have the debilitating muscle disease ALS at any given time. Far too many, but still few enough that many people who are now joining in on the unprecedented, global campaign to eradicate the disease have no personal connection to it.
Now, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts does.
His name is Paul Stone, and he is a more colorful character in real life than anyone who ever has been portrayed on a Denver Center stage. But Stone is no actor. He is a pyro-technician, fireworks aficionado and the original shop foreman for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company. He worked at theatres across the country as a carpenter and props director before settling in the tiny town of Creede, Colorado, which is nestled in the San Juan Mountains 250 miles southwest of Denver.
In Creede, Stone, 63, is known simply as "The Cannon Guy." Seriously. He amuses himself by firing bowling balls off the mountainside next to the town. He even applied to shoot Hunter S. Thompson's ashes out of a cannon -- and reportedly made it into the top five.
"Paul is a fixture in Creede and the theatre world in general," said Kate Berry, an actor with the Creede Repertory Theatre. "He's kind of a technical theatre god. And his life has been pretty incredible."
ALS -- or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" -- is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
About 20 percent of people with ALS live five years or more, and up to 10 percent survive more than 10 years.
Stone is facing enormous medical bills, and so his friends have started on online fundraising campaign with a $100,000 goal. Click here to go to Stone's GoFundMe page.
To write Stone directly, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is the profile I wrote on Paul Stone for The Denver Post on a visit to Creede in 2010:
His name is Paul Stone. But you can call him "The Cannon Guy."
Stone amuses himself by firing bowling balls off the mountainside next to Creede. He also likes to rocket slabs of ham through a series of blades he's constructed — it's an elaborate cannon accessory that produces perfect sandwich slices in a manner David Letterman would dearly love.
Stone moved here in 1972 to work backstage for the Creede Repertory Theatre. He later went on to become the original shop foreman for the Denver Center Theatre Company, among many other national credits.
He just likes to blow stuff up.
"A lot of people think Americans are just a bunch of gun nuts — but a lot of us are into artillery too," Stone said.
Each May, when Creede Rep's 70 or so seasonal company members arrive in this remote town 250 miles southwest of Denver, they go off into the national forest with Stone on a cannon-shoot pilgrimage. A typical bowling ball travels a half-mile up in the air and lands about a mile away.
"People get scared when they hear the sound of cannon fire in town," Stone said, "but I've gotten pretty good at not endangering people's lives."
This all started 20 years ago as a promotion for a now-defunct local bowling alley. People would drop a ball off a cliff, aiming it at a tiny bowling pin placed all the way at the bottom. "It would bounce like God's Superball — we're talking 1,200 feet in the air," said Stone. He built his cannon as a ball return, "because we got tired of carrying them back up the hill."
Stone, 59, calls what he does performance art. "It's the best street theater you'll ever see — without the street," he said. "Or the theater."
So after working at some of the biggest theaters in the country, why has he called Creede home for 38 years?
"I like the peace and quiet," he said.
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.