Born Bernie Lazar Hoffman aka Tony Alamo (pronounced Uh-LAH-moe) on September 20, 1934 in Joplin, Missouri, Alamo would certainly take misery wherever he would roam and he migrated to the West Coast, arriving in 1960s Los Angeles with plans of becoming a pop star and music promoter.

Rather than becoming famous for the demise of an actress, in 1966, he married one; a bleached blonde bouffant babe named Edith Opal Horn. Their first official duty as a married couple was a name change and they both took on the new titles of Tony and Susan Alamo. Possibly stealing the pages of a pulpit book from Reverend James Warren Jones, the couple ditched the church of Celebrity for the church of Evangelism, and together they became ruthless and cunning Hollywood street preachers using their background as performers to poach those in need for their so-called worthy cause, which, wouldn’t be very worthy at all. 

“We really thought we were making these jackets for God. We did it with zeal,” says Benjamin Risha, who was born into the cult and was abused and enslaved by the Alamo’s, “we really thought we were saving the world by making money for the ministry and spreading its word.”

The couple relocated to the outskirts of Alma, Arkansas in 1976. Here, they opened the Alamo Restaurant, a nightclub where Dolly Parton would perform, and as many as 30 other businesses, but the most important was their fashion empire that was set on their lush 150-acre compound. Their church, the Alamo Christian Foundation,  created a nice little tax haven for them which was handy as their congregation grew with up to 500 children living on the compound. They opened up a flagship store for their flashy denim in Nashville making Tony & Susan superstar preachers with a celebrity client list. What began as a Hollywood mission became a multi-million dollar business, but behind their sharkskin boots, oversized sunglasses, and shimmering rhinestones lay several dark secrets. 

“The clothing is so groovy, everyone wants it no matter what they think I am. No matter what, the superstars are going to want my jackets,” Tony Alamo.


The 300 “volunteers” of his church were told to make the jackets or follow a bedazzled rhinestone path to hell. They were paid as little as $5 per week, working 15-hour days, and were beaten for the smallest infractions. When Susan died of breast cancer in 1982, the church reorganized changing its name to Music Square Church and they could no longer dodge Uncle Sam as the heavy force of the IRS came bearing down.

Years after his wife's death, Alamo began taking child brides as young as 8 years old, and in 2009, he was sentenced to 175 years in prison for transporting young girls across state lines for sex. It would be in federal prison that he would meet his maker’s mark, in 2017 he died at the age of 83 leaving behind a twisted and evil legacy. 

Benjamin Risha who left the cult when he was 17 has a complicated relationship with his past and the garments he helped produce. When asked about them, he says “They do look awesome, right? I guess I would tell people wearing them, once you know where they come from, to try to go out of your way to help people less fortunate. Go to a place where women are battered or children need help. If you can afford the jacket, chances are you can afford to go help somebody.”

We do not condone what Tony and Susan Alamo did, but the bedazzled jackets remain.  We as vintage and resale dealers recycle fashion like fur from decades past regardless of the ugly truth. Alamo was rightfully canceled by a court of law but that doesn’t mean the works of art he created should be canceled alongside him. In our opinion, it’s important to learn and remember the past and it’s also important to separate the art from the artist. No one has ever said you have to like an artist or that even art has to be without controversy.