11/07/2013 9:51PM

Goodbye Larry


The two tough old trucks hauling dangerously unstable dynamite in the great William Friedkin movie “Sorcerer” are named Sorcerer and Lazaro. Sorcerer is the one that explodes when a tire blows on a mountain road. Lazaro is the one that survives, after going through all kinds of hell, although it does finally run out of gas.

I thought of this the other day while at the graveside burial service for Lazaro Barrera, better known as Larry, who died on his 54th birthday the week before. Larry was the son of Lazaro Sosa Barrera, the Cuban maestro, a larger-than-life Hall of Fame legend who trained Affirmed, Bold Forbes, J.O. Tobin, Adored, Life’s Hope, Mister Frisky and a ton of others before his death in 1991. On the Mount Rushmore of Thoroughbred racing, through the 1970’s and 1980’s, that is Barrera’s kindly mug up there alongside those of Charlie Whittingham, Wayne Lukas, Woody Stephens and Jack Van Berg.

Larry Barrera tried hard to be someone other than his father’s son, and he did show impressive training chops at various times on his own. But because Larry loved being Laz’s son more than anything in the world, his own life never really seemed to matter as much. A dime’s worth of psychoanalysis paints a picture of a man flummoxed by an ideal he could never attain, which does not exactly explain why Larry used heroin, but it’s a start.

When I wrote this story about him in 2003 I wanted to believe everything was going to be okay, even though I knew the odds were heavily against it, because in every population there always will be a percentage of junkies, misfits and daredevils impervious to the good intentions of those who would set them straight. I prefer to think of Larry and his kind as unluckily annointed creatures, either willing or driven to take the chances no one else will take. For them, mortality becomes more of a guideline than a rule, and there is very little the rest of us can do to talk them back from the edge.

My friend Walon Green wrote “Sorcerer” based on the book “The Wages of Fear.” He also wrote “The Wild Bunch,” which puts him in a league of his own. Green explained to me once that the naming of hard-working vehicles was common in places like the Dominican Republic, where much of the movie was shot, and for such a desperate challenge what better than to name one of them “Lazaro” after the friend of Jesus who was raised from the dead.

Possessed of a sweet, troubled heart, Larry Barrera probably was the kindest, most generous drug addict anyone has ever known, and that’s the way his friends will be remembering him. In the end, that’s at least something to be said for a man whose life could have turned out in so many other ways. April Doornbos, who knew him well for a very long time, took this picture of Barrera on horseback in the surf at Del Mar, way back when. And while Larry does not exactly look the part of a man in perfect sync with his animal, it is hard to believe anyone anywhere could have been having a better day.