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Live, and Still From L.A.--A Victim, Garrett Morris : Crime: Recuperating from a street shooting while getting his car detailed, the actor scoffs at people who urge him to leave the city.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

So what if Garrett Morris never achieved the same commercial superstardom bestowed upon Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and others from the original “Saturday Night Live” cast? For a minute there, it looked as if he might end up in the ranks of his more ill-fated colleagues--the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner.

“If I’m alive, I’m way ahead of the game,” he says laughing, “considering what might have been.”

The 57-year-old actor was yet another victim of Los Angeles street violence on Feb. 24, while standing on 10th Avenue near 67th Street. Shortly after noon, a couple grabbed him from behind and he whirled around to face a man with a gun. The bullet ripped through his left forearm--he fingers the dark round scar--then traveled through his abdomen and intestines and lodged near his spine.

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As Morris slumped to the street, he assumed he was going to die. Minutes later, he woke up in the back seat of his red Cadillac to the sound of the panicked voice of his friend, Bob Rhoden, who was driving him furiously to the hospital and calling out, “Talk to me, buddy! Talk to me!”

“I thought, oh, so that’s not going to be it, huh?” Morris recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, sir, I am talking to you!’ ”

Now recuperating on a chaise lounge hot tub-side at his North Hollywood apartment complex, Morris looks remarkably well and fit, though he is a long way from returning to his daily three- to eight-mile runs. He walks with a cane and has a shunt--a channel for administering medication that has been surgically inserted in his upper chest. He also is wearing a colostomy bag while he heals.

“A lot of people ask, ‘What was he doing in that part of the city?’ ” Morris says, “which really makes me mad. It makes me fume.” He was getting his car detailed, he says. He has always gone to South-Central, whether it’s to shop for crawfish reminiscent of his native New Orleans or get his hair styled or visit friends.

“It’s a relatively good neighborhood,” says Rhoden, who runs marathons with Morris, details his car and allows the actor to teasingly call him ‘Bobby Lee.’ Rhoden lives in a small apartment building on the modest block in Hyde Park where Morris was shot after arriving to let Rhoden work on his car.

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“We’ve got the young, hip-hop gangland-age kids, then the rest of the people are hard-working folks,” Rhoden says. “On the street perpendicular to mine, there are nothing but homeowners. I do their cars.”

Morris vows that his brush with violence there won’t change his routines. “L.A. is a place where you can get killed anywhere,” he says.

“Where am I to go where I can’t meet up with a bullet?”

Like other Angelenos, he gets grief from people who want him to leave altogether.

“When the drought was happening, my father-in-law said, ‘Why don’t you guys move back to New Jersey?’ ” he says. “Then when the fire happened, my father-in-law said move back to New Jersey. Then when the earthquake happened, my father-in-law said move back to New Jersey. And then when I got shot, my father-in-law said I told you so.”

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He doesn’t know who shot him but he has some thoughts on his mumbling assailant. “My wife says what happened to me is a good case for teaching better English in school. See, if this guy could have spoken clear English and just said, ‘Give me your money’. . .” he says, trailing off chuckling.

Morris’ salt-and-pepper hair and beard are neatly trimmed, his denim shirt unbuttoned enough to reveal the bandage over the shunt. He spent a month in Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital and credits several doctors there with saving his life. He weathered two operations, a week in the intensive care unit, and eventually became strong enough to tape an episode of the Fox television comedy, “Martin.”

He tires easily, he says. “Every movement, everything you do seems to require every bit of energy,” he says. He is surrounded by things with which to amuse himself: two books and a stack of CDs for his portable CD player. He uses meditation and self-hypnosis to relax. His wife, Freda, a dancer who has worked on Broadway, comes out briefly to see if he needs anything.

Morris has lived in this quiet apartment complex for all of his 12 years in Los Angeles, eschewing the calamities that so often plague homeowners.

“Anybody who owns their own home and and pays all the things attendant to it and lives in Malibu and gets their house swept into the river or burned down or earthquaked apart can have that,” he says, laughing. “I mean, I’m not putting that down. As a matter of fact, we do have in mind getting a house. We just tried a couple of times and it hasn’t worked out. Banks, approvals, stuff like that.”

During his five years on “Saturday Night Live” from 1975 to 1980, Morris created memorable character such as Chico Escuela, the Latino baseball player who spoke tortured English (“Base-e-bol been berry berry good to me”) or the guy who interpreted the Weekend Update news for the hearing-impaired by cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting the news briefs.

Since then, Morris has done stage work around the country and showed up here and there in movies and television--he was a quirky street character on “Hunter” and this past season he played a radio station owner on “Martin.”

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While recuperating, he has heard from “Saturday Night Live” alumni Chase, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, among others. “I was totally overwhelmed by the response,” he said. “People that I thought were archenemies were calling and sending flowers. And people who are blood relatives have yet to make a phone call!”

But he’s prickly on the subject of his most famous gig. Ask if he usually stays in touch with the “Saturday Night Live” cast and he shoots back: “If you don’t ask me about the 45 or 50 troupes and casts that I’ve worked with in the 35 years I’ve been in this business, then you shouldn’t ask me about that one group. . . . I don’t keep in contact with anybody I’ve ever worked with,” he says with an edgy jocularity.

“I’m not on the phone with the MCI thing . . . calling Jane and Laraine every week. That’s not me, OK?”

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And he similarly rejects the notion that he was even expecting the mega-stardom that has visited some of the “Saturday Night Live” gang. “I feel that I am supremely successful,” says Morris, a former member of the Harry Belafonte Singers who graduated from Dillard University with a bachelor of arts in music and sang and acted on Broadway.

“So I like my life and considering the fact that I almost died . . . I have absolutely nothing else but happiness in my soul down to my toes abut my life, OK? I have no regrets, so don’t you feel sorry for my life.”


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