In the final moments of every mother’s life, her son must waltz into the kitchen before curfew to make a sandwich. But for Vivian Hardman, the sandwiches were not an option.
Four decades before her death, her son Lou emerged from the family basement in Detroit, bought a couple of train tickets, and headed to the west coast with the intent of becoming famous — “an American Elvis,” as he put it. When he arrived at San Francisco’s Chinatown, he was carrying nothing but a guitar. The first American mother to grant an interview after her son’s death, Mrs. Hardman told an Oakland paper years later that she knew that her son was likely to die in police custody. She was not wrong.
Once he arrived in San Francisco, Mr. Hardman started playing music, bringing into the public domain material he’d written in Japanese while serving with the U.S. Army in Tokyo during World War II. He played on nightclub stages and in clubs and sold thousands of records. In 1972, Mr. Hardman left for Hollywood. He made appearances on “The Tonight Show,” but was known more for a 1973 performance with The Beach Boys.
Like so many with their own particular way of doing things, Mr. Hardman was not very well-liked by his acquaintances, particularly a fellow violinist named Johnny Mark, whom he worked with for some time.
In the summer of 1974, Mr. Hardman told his mother that he planned to move to Los Angeles, but had not yet secured a visa. “To be honest, I don’t even know if they approved his visa,” she said later. Two days later, Mr. Hardman was dead. He was 33.
It is not clear what happened that night, though he was found by the police to be unresponsive in his apartment.
On Thursday, a Los Angeles grand jury declined to indict the five police officers, leaving them not culpable for his death. In the wake of the verdict, Mrs. Hardman spoke in private, telling her daughter and grandchildren that “Y’all going to kill me?”
“She was really disappointed and devastated,” said Beth Graham, who represents Ms. Hardman.
The Hardman family has filed an appeal.