Twice in his life, Eric Adam has fallen in love at first sight with women who launched him on crusades that other men would have known were impossible.

His first love was a Montana country girl he met at the Veterans Administration hospital in Prescott, where he was drying out an alcohol problem. She lifted him out of drunkenness and despair, but shortly after they settled into a happily-ever-after existence, she died. She had an artificial valve in her heart, and when it exploded, she left Adam's life as suddenly and dramatically as she had entered it.

So Adam set out on a six-year lobbying campaign against the valve's manufacturer, writing letters and making phone calls. He has become a folk hero to those terrified people who still have the potentially fatal heart valves in their chests--and to the personal-injury lawyers who filed their lawsuits. He counseled the heart-valve recipients and their families, and talked reporters into writing about the problem. He prodded the Department of Veterans Affairs into an investigation of the company that manufactured the prosthesis and shoveled facts and figures into a landslide of federal and private lawsuits against the company that, to date, totals more than $200 million.

The second time Eric Adam fell in love, it was with a woman on television, a runner from war-torn Bosnia who was training for the Olympics despite the shooting and shelling in the streets of Sarajevo.

We all saw the news report: the beautiful young heroine racing nervously past bombed-out buildings while small-arms fire ricocheted off-screen. But Adam was so moved by the report that he traveled to Bosnia to find her. He didn't speak her language--nor she his--but within a year, he had brought her back to Prescott. Then he brilliantly packaged her story--and the story of their love affair--for tabloid TV shows and women's magazines and anyone else who would listen. Last New Year's Day, he married her; network news cameras dutifully recorded the event and beamed the images all over the world. He has already sold the movie rights to their tale. Though the film will be about love, Adam's face could never grace the cover of a romance novel. His looks are too plain, his cheeks too pitted. He is 36, just barely middle-aged, of medium height and medium build, and he holds a medium-income job as an audio-visual specialist for the VA. He lives in a modest apartment down a dirt road in Prescott, and he has never made a penny for any of his humanitarian efforts. Eric Adam started life as a Phoenix screw-up and a drunk and a convicted felon. He has no college education, no high social standing, no establishment connections.

Yet like a mathematical savant who can't do basic arithmetic but who can calculate the speed of thought, Eric Adam can navigate the bureaucracy and stonewalling of governments and corporations. Perhaps when one doesn't know what the accepted boundaries, the expected obstacles, are for a task, one can simply go out of bounds and take the straight-line route.

Adam also knows how to work the press, and he's got a fat packet of newspaper, magazine and video clips to prove it. He markets his various stories separately--the heart valve or the Bosnian runner or his latest crusade--never all at once. He prefers the angle that reads like a fairy tale, and if an interviewer strays from the script, Adam goes distant and dreamy, and the interview dissolves into dead air. In fact, when New Times probed too deeply into his past, Adam fired off an irritated letter taking the newspaper to task, saying the information would interfere with the good works he is doing. Such moral indignation fuels, in large part, his tireless crusading.

Eric Adam's compassion seems boundless, infectious. He can make people give up their time and money for a good cause. He has given up all of his own, but he doesn't know why. His wife can't explain it, nor can his parents, but they admire his drive.

"It's a way to channel the energy I've gained since I quit drinking," he says simply, with a 12-Step serenity that is not entirely convincing.

Eric Adam is a compulsive do-gooder. And whatever his motives, he does good well.

Eric Adam was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1958, though he doesn't know who his biological parents were. Gerda and Carl Adam, a German couple who had immigrated to the United States, adopted him from an orphanage when he was 2 years old and brought him to Phoenix.

"He was an adorable child," his mother says, "very people-oriented, and his teachers loved him to death." But he couldn't sit still, and was always up out of his seat entertaining the other children.

When Eric was 13, he had a paper route, but he never seemed to have all the money he had earned from it. His mother thought people were shortchanging him when he collected his fees. In fact, he was spending his money on parties, and was already learning to drink.

After Eric graduated from Paradise Valley High School in 1976, he joined the Air Force. Two years later, when he finished his tour, he came home drunk to Phoenix.

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