Thomas Kinkade is famous for his luminous landscapes and street scenes, those dreamy, deliberately inspirational images he says have brought "God's light" into people's lives, even as they have made him one of America's most collected artists.
A devout Christian who calls himself the "Painter of Light," Kinkade trades heavily on his beliefs and says God has guided his brush -- and his life -- for the last 20 years.
But some former Kinkade employees, gallery operators and others contend that the Painter of Light has a decidedly dark side.
In litigation and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, some former gallery owners depict Kinkade, 48, as a ruthless businessman who drove them to financial ruin at the same time he was fattening his business associates' bank accounts and feathering his nest with tens of millions of dollars.
It's not just Kinkade's business practices that have been called into question. Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others say his personal behavior also belies the wholesome image on which he's built his empire.
In sworn testimony and interviews, they recount incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, cursed a former employee's wife who came to his aid when he fell off a barstool, and palmed a startled woman's breasts at a signing party in South Bend, Ind.
And then there is Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," as he called it, which allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
"This one's for you, Walt," the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade's company, in an interview.
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