Danny Finegood, former CSUN student, artist and prankster behind the “Hollyweed” sign, died Jan. 22 at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital due to complications of multiple myeloma. He was 52.
Bemused residents and tourists were treated to Finegood’s first transformation spectacle of the Hollywood sign on New Year’s Day in 1976.
As an art student at CSUN that year, he created the illusion of the “Hollyweed” sign for a class project.
Less restrictive marijuana laws had taken effect that year, making possession of the drug a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Finegood and a few friends decided to climb up Mount Lee in order to create the satirical art. He received an A on the assignment.
Finegood graduated from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and took over his father’s furniture business.
According to his wife, Bonnie, he had always thought he could alter the sign with just a few adjustments. All he used were four six-by-twelve foot sheets, stones, and rope to construct the alterations.
On the day before the unveiling of the adjusted sign, the group alerted the press so that they were sure to get coverage in the news. Consequently, photos of the changed sign were placed in newspapers around the world.
Over the years, Finegood altered the sign three more times. For Easter 1977, he changed the hillside landmark to read “Holywood,” and in 1986, he made it read “Ollywood” in protest of Lt. Col. Oliver North, who was an important official under President Ronald Reagan’s administration during the Iran-Contra hearings.
The last of his statements was made in 1990. As an open opponent of the Gulf War, he placed plastic sheets over the sign to make it read “Oil War.” But by sunrise, park officials took down the sheets, and virtually no one was able to see the artist’s final political declaration.
In 1983, Finegood defended his art in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, which criticized him by calling him a vandal. Finegood claimed it was a harmless act and that he had not committed any crimes. Most city officials, however, did not agree. A fence was constructed around the area and surveillance cameras and alarms were installed.
Though he made history by changing one of America’s most famous landmarks, Finegood still had more plans to make the sign appear differently. He had also wanted it to read “Hollyween” on Oct. 31.
He also had aspirations of making the sign seem to disappear on April Fool’s Day through camouflage.
He is survived by his wife and two children, Matthew and Natalie, his mother Rachel, and sister Freddi Sue Finegood.