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"Flash Gordon." DESERET MORNING NEWS ARCHIVES (Submission date: 06/30/2005)

Fans flocking to the downtown area for Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience can meet top pop culture icons, including the “King of the Impossible” himself, Sam J. Jones, who portrayed the titular role in the 1980 sci-fi adventure “Flash Gordon.”

Jones returned to Utah’s capital after more than three decades away and will make appearances on both days of the convention, which continues Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

It’s a time for the fans, he said.

“This is an opportunity for the fans to tell their story to me,” Jones said in an telephone interview earlier this month as he took a break from a work project in Tijuana, Mexico.

Jones will participate in a panel discussion on Saturday, fan photo-ops and sign autographs during the Salt Lake City fan event this weekend.

American cartoonist Alex Raymond first created the Flash Gordon character in the 1930s during a time of war and conflict. The 1980 musical film revival featured a soundtrack composed by hit rock band Queen, with lyrics reflecting a spirit of the common person protecting the innocent: “He’s for every one of us, stand for every one of us,” the theme song lyrics read.

Flash Gordon famously has no superpowers. The debonair hero relies solely on his wit and athleticism.

“Flash Gordon is the kind of guy that gives you hope,” said Jones, who was just 24 years old at the time of filming. “He puts himself into a situation where if there is innocence being abused or taken advantage of, he’ll come in and take care of the villain or nemesis, and he’ll do it right. There doesn’t have to be any political correctness attached to it — it’s just back to common-sense stuff.

“If somebody’s in trouble, you stand up and you help. And I think that’s what he represents.”

Jones, who attended boot camp in 1972 at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island located in South Carolina, carried that mantle of protector in real life to the silver screen when he entered the Hollywood scene in late 1977.

“There’s not much difference with me and my life than it is for Flash Gordon, really," Jones said with a laugh. "That’s just how I am; I can’t help it, I can’t.”

The 62-year-old actor continues traveling the globe meeting and mingling with supporters. But it’s the places he has never been before that reminds the comic book icon of the influence a model hero can have in a young person’s life.

“Now I’m arriving in a community where (a) fan that lives there, it’s the first chance to talk to me or see me face-to-face. And now the stories are a little bit more serious, with an incredible ending,” Jones said.

Reflecting on past interactions, Jones said some fans would share how they turned to Flash Gordon instead of turning to harmful substances or causing themselves physical harm.

“They were struggling as a teenager or at a very young age — adolescence,” Jones explained. “They would go into their room and put on the ‘Flash Gordon’ VHS … and I’m hearing these stories now where they say, ‘You know, Sam, when I put your tape in you transported me to another time and place and you gave me value. You gave me hope.’

“That changes the whole dynamic of me being an influencer and having an impact on somebody’s life, rather than just entertaining them,” he said.

Referring to the film, which is billed as a “space opera adventure,” Jones said a first-time viewer could be torn on how to interpret the rich visuals and elaborate costume designs inspired by famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, who fused Baroque-style imagery with fantasy.

“It’s camped, it’s fun, it’s hilarious,” Jones said. “One side of your head is saying, ‘Well, I don’t know, am I supposed to take this serious? The special effects are kind of corny. Are they being serious, or are they making fun of it?’ And then the other side of your head is saying, ‘My gosh! This is a masterpiece!’

“Just sit back and enjoy the ride,” he added. “That’s what I tell people now — just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Jones' panel discussion on Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. will include a question/answer session. See saltlakecomiccon.com.

Casey Adams is a features writer and reporter for Deseret News. Email: cadams@deseretnews.com Twitter: casey907