Former Highlands Clown chills out, enjoys Aspen
Ask Hinton Harrison if you can do a story on him, and it doesn’t take long for him to agree.
After an interview, the longtime Aspen-area clown leaves a reporter three follow-up voicemail messages expanding on questions already asked and answered, and then he sends three emails jam-packed with pictures and artwork.
No one can say the guy doesn’t like attention.
But of course Harrison likes attention: He’s an actor and an entertainer.
“I’ve been clowning for over 40 years,” he said. “I was in the Ringling Brothers circus. I was on the streets of San Francisco.”
And since 1979, Harrison has been on the streets of Aspen, too, often dressed in wild, foolish costumes and always with a smile and a kind word for those he meets.
“I love it here,” he said. “It’s one of my most favorite places in the world.
“Everything is possible here.”
Harrison’s first job after he wandered into town was portraying the “Highlands Clown” at Aspen Highlands, which paid his $200-a-month rent and gave him a free ski pass.
“I got paid to ski all day dressed as a clown,” he said. “It was the greatest job I ever had.”
That got him lots of jobs playing a clown at private parties around town, Harrison said. He hosted a show on GrassRoots TV in the ’80s and ’90s called “Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.” He also made art and wrote poetry, which he often submitted to local newspapers.
“I wasn’t much of a poet,” he said.
Harrison was an Aspen staple until about 2002, when he burned out on the clowning biz. The final straw was a gig at a big house up the Castle Creek Valley, he said, where he was paid to stand out front and wave at arriving guests.
“I was outside just waving at people, and up comes this group of four or five kids,” he said. “They were probably 8 or 9 years old. And they took my unicycle and all my stuff and they threw it in the river.
“That’s when I said, ‘Enough. I’m going to film school.’”
Harrison said his “passion” has always been filmmaking. He graduated from film school in Sedona, Arizona, in 2005 and moved to Los Angeles to be an actor. He said he’s appeared in shows like “Reno 911,” “Entourage” and others while also finding bit parts in indie films.
Still, he continued to hang out in Aspen during the summer, though he phased out the clown gigs. He still does a show on GrassRoots and reads poetry on Carbondale’s KDNK public radio station.
And while he doesn’t have an official Aspen residence anymore, he invested in a nice, new camper van for himself and his dog, Peewee, and often parks up at Difficult Campground to enjoy the Colorado summer.
“I’m pretty much just chilling out,” he said. “I’m trying to enjoy life now.”
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