Richard Heene calls himself an amateur scientist and storm chaser.
But his passion to become an actor and launch a thrill-seeking science TV show has churned up a stormy life, marked by domestic disturbances and fistfights, legal battles and tax debts.
Neighbors describe Heene as an unconventional, but devoted, dad who was always with his wife and children, tinkering on a science project in the back yard.
The public furor over Thursday's "Balloon Boy" drama, when Heene and his wife alerted authorities that their 6-year-old son was adrift in a runaway balloon, has 7NEWS looking deeper into the background of a man friends dub a creative "Mad Scientist."
After four hours of a frantic search in the sky and on the ground, Young Falcon Heene was later found to be hiding in the attic of the family garage. The boy said he was frightened because his father yelled at him for trying to climb into the saucer-shaped balloon.
The relieved father apologized in front of TV cameras for yelling as he hugged the boy. But this isn't the first time the 48-year-old Heene's quick temper has been questioned.
Last February, a Larimer County deputy was sent to the Heenes' home near Fort Collins after a 911 hang-up call.
"As I approached the front door, I heard a male voice yelling quite loudly. I heard a female voice that sounded like a scream or a squeal," Deputy Stephen Wicker stated in his report.
When Heene's wife, Mayumi, let the deputy in, he saw apparent injuries to her face.
"Mayumi had a mark in her cheek and broken blood vessels in her left eye. When asked what happened, she said, 'I had a problem with my contacts,'" the deputy's report stated.
"She stated that nothing happened. As I continued to talk to her I noticed that it began to swell and turn a little bit more red. Mayumi would not look me in the eye and she tried to stay busy in the kitchen," the deputy wrote.
The Larimer County District Attorney's Office declined to pursue charges because of a lack of evidence.
Perry Caravello, a former business assistant, told Foxnews.com that Heene slugged him when the two argued while chasing a tornado in Diamondville, Wyo., in 2006.
Heene, who was struggling to create a "Psyience Detectives" TV show, created the Web site ThePsyienceDetectives.com
"He punched me in Wyoming," Caravello said. "That was the last time I spoke to him."
During a 1997 clash in Los Angeles, Heene was charged with fighting in public, damaging someone's car and vandalism, according to court records. He was convicted of vandalizing property and the other charges were dropped.
Heene lived for many years in Southern California, where he and his future wife met as aspiring actors at the Lee Strasberg acting school and launched a production company.
But Heene appeared to have little Hollywood success until he and his wife, Mayumi, and their three young sons appeared in two episodes of the realty TV show, "Wife Swap," earlier this year. They moved to the Fort Collins area in 2007, where Heene continued his day job as a self-employed general contractor.
Los Angeles court records show the would-be actor had trouble paying the bills and clashed in court with business associates.
Heene was hit with a $5,000 judgment in Los Angeles small claims in 2006 and the state of California filed a $5,812 tax lien against him in 1993.
His firm that plays on his wife Mayumi's name, My You Me Productions, wracked up $2,191 in Los Angeles County tax liens between 2003 and 2006.
In 2007, Heene sold the production firm, which made promotion reels of actor's work, to former employee Vince LeGrow.
"He always had some show idea he was trying to pitch somewhere," LeGrow said.
His fertile ideas included selling his "Science Detectives" show to the Discovery Channel or TLC. There was also a kids show dubbed "Box Time," where adult hosts dressed in box costumes would help create and paint cardboard box houses and crafts. The plan was to sell and license the box craft products, too.
"He had his ups and downs," LeGrow said of his mercurial former boss. "If he's upset about something he can get really upset. But when he's happy about something, he's super happy, does cartwheels."
Caravello said Heene would take dangerous risks during his stormchasing projects.
"He was totally bizarre with all that garbage," Caravello told Foxnews.com.
"We were like science detectives and storm chasers. Actually, it was very deadly, the storm-chasing stuff. He'd drive a motorcycle into the center of a tornado to get his readings. He would get on this itty-bitty motorcycle and just go," the former assistant said.
Caravello said he's confident Thursday's "Balloon Boy" incident was rooted in Heene's hunger to make it in Hollywood.
"It was a publicity stunt because Richard is not in the limelight like he used to be," Caravello told Foxnews.com. "He wants to be in the entertainment field. What will this guy go through or put up with to become a celebrity?"
Barbara Slusser-Adams, a former business partner of Heene, said she broke with him last fall partly because of the danger he exposed his three young boys to chasing storms like Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
"I had some problems with that," Slusser-Adams told Foxnews.com, referring to Heene's willingness to take his boys toward the Texas coastline to hunt Gustav. "I did not feel I wanted to join them on that venture."
The ex-partner lauded Heene's knowledge of storm chasing but she stressed that Heene's personal pursuit always involved publicly exposing his young family, including young Falcon.
"He's grown up in this type of atmosphere where things are a show," Slusser-Adams told Foxnews.com. "This business is about publicity, it truly is."
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