When Barnaby Conrad was nearly killed in a 1958 bullfight, his celebrity pals were buzzing about it at Sardi's in New York.
"Did you hear about poor Barnaby?" Eva Gabor asked Noël Coward in her thick Hungarian accent. "He was terribly gored in Spain." Shocked, Coward soon realized he'd misheard.
"Oh, thank heavens," he sighed. "I thought you said he was bored." That would have been a surprise.
Barnaby Conrad Jr. -- bullfighter, bon vivant, portrait artist, saloonkeeper to the stars, author of 36 books, and founder of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, led a life that was anything but boring. Ninety years old, he died Tuesday in his Carpinteria, Calif., home after a battle with congestive heart disease.
"He wasn't necessarily the world's best novelist or the best bullfighter or best artist . . . or best nightclub owner, but he was very good at all of them," said his son Barnaby Conrad III. "He was like a pentathlete."
Conrad's last work of fiction, a novel about presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, was published when he was 88. Months later, he came out with his last work of nonfiction: "101 Best Sex Scenes Ever Written: An Erotic Romp through Literature for Writers and Readers."
While most of his work was nonfiction, Conrad was best known for his 1952 novel "Matador," about bullfighter Manolete. He knew the greatest bullfighters of his day and fought bulls himself at 47 corridas in Spain, Mexico and Peru.
Born into a wealthy family in San Francisco on March 27, 1922, Conrad attended the Taft School in Connecticut and studied art at Yale, where he graduated in 1943. His charcoal portraits of literary friends like Truman Capote and James Michener hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Taking summer art classes in Mexico City, Conrad was swept away by the lure of bullfighting. Instructed by seasoned bullfighters, Conrad was gashed in his right leg and declared unfit for military service. He joined the State Department and was named vice consul in Seville, Spain.
At 30, Conrad opened a glitzy San Francisco nightspot he named "Matador."
He is survived by his wife, Mary Nobles Conrad; four children, authors Barnaby III and Winston S. Conrad; artist Cayetana Conrad, and fashion designer Kendall Conrad Cameron; two stepsons, William A. Slater and Michael Slater; eight grandchildren, and five step-grandchildren.