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A sobering last call for alcoholic

After 520 local arrests and a documentary about his battle with the bottle, Mark David Allen, 50, 'lived and died so that others could live and learn.'

February 02, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Mark David Allen is the subject of a documentary, titled "Drunk in Public," by Newport Beach Police Custody Officer David J. Sperling. The film chronicled Allen's many arrests and long struggle with alcoholism. Allen was found dead Wednesday. He was 50.
Mark David Allen is the subject of a documentary, titled…

The numbers are mind-boggling.

About 520 arrests in Newport Beach. At least 277 cases filed against him by prosecutors in Orange County. Plus an unknown amount in Hawaii, Los Angeles or any of the other places he landed after a stint in jail or rehab.

But the number that's most important to those who knew Mark David Allen, or felt they knew him, is somewhere in the thousands.

That's how many lives Allen touched through his documented story of a decades-long battle with alcoholism.

He died Wednesday at 50 years old. He was found lying face down in the street near 43rd Street and Seashore Drive about 5 a.m. His cause of death was inconclusive following an autopsy, so the county coroner will perform a toxicology screening. Results are expected in six to eight weeks.

His death was expected but surprising at the same time, said Newport Beach Police Custody Officer David J. Sperling. For more than 10 years, Sperling has recorded Allen's frequent — sometimes twice-daily — visits into the city jail. He recorded Allen's 500th arrest last summer.

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Sperling got Allen's permission to film him and create a movie out of it years ago, and has kept in touch with Allen ever since. "Drunk in Public" has won awards at film festivals across the country.

Allen's death spread like wildfire across the recovery community, particularly those who were moved by his struggles shown in "Drunk in Public."

"I was in my office when I heard," said Kelly Borski, a chemical dependency counselor in Houston. "I had to take a couple of minutes. I could believe it because it was expected, but I couldn't believe it. He's gone. He's lost to alcoholism."

In Sperling's film, Allen's addiction to alcohol changes him from a tan, handsome Southern California surfer with sun-bleached hair in his 20s to a swollen, unshaven homeless man who speaks nonsensically between singing classic rock and reggae songs.

Alcohol poisoned his memory, and sometimes he couldn't remember Sperling's name even though the part-time filmmaker would occasionally find him, bring him food and take time to catch up.

Allen was arrested for various violations, from the obvious — drunk in public — to trespassing when he violated local businesses' restraining orders.

He had stretches of sobriety in recent years, including when he was sentenced to six months in jail in March 2010.

But no matter how often Sperling, Allen's family and others tried to help him, it never worked. Allen's life was addiction personified.

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