Today, I am unspeakably injured.
-Bill Russell at Wilt Chamberlain’s funeral, 1999
That is my mood today too, having heard that Bill Sharpe has killed himself. The police have not yet released the bodily details of his death, but we know what finally did him in. He, at last, succumbed to what my good friend and erstwhile Floridian Lindsey once called “the tough as shit fight people put into also making something good happen” here. The fact that he could not prevail despite his best efforts — and they were very good — shows me that it is not altogether a fair one.
Bill embodied that fight. His now-defunct South Tampa Community News was a reliable gem full of common sense and communal concern in a landscape full of slick, essentially commercial publications like South Tampa Magazine. Once the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Party, his most recent endeavor was the Tampa Epoch, a monthly newspaper designed for sale by the homeless. In the face of a wave of anti-homeless ordinances intended to hide the problem of Florida’s masses of bridge dwellers, Bill responded the only way he knew how, with a newspaper and good will.
Faced with foreclosure on his Bayshore condo, Bill Sharpe chose the Epoch and Tampa’s least fortunate over personal comfort: he moved himself and his cat into the newspaper’s offices. His good works earned him little material wealth along with rebukes from the Mayor, the City Council and lots of angry Tribune readers, who objected to his initiatives to keep the homeless alive and making honest money.
He was a good person who cared about this place and his fellow man. Rest easily, Mr. Sharpe.
I just now came across this news item important for those of us post-orthodontic souls who grew up in South Tampa. It seems that Gallagher, Plant High alum and serial torturer of melons and mayonnaise, has had his third heart attack moments before he was to take the stage at Hat Tricks, a comedy club in Lewisville, Texas. In 2011, he collapsed on stage in Minnesota as a result of his second heart attack. Performances scheduled for next week in Oregon and Oklahoma have been postponed indefinitely.
It’s been a rough time these past few years for ol’ Gallagher, but then so has it been for his home state too. Best known for his blend of trenchant social critique and puzzling smashing of fruits and vegetables all over the place with his giant “Sledge-o-matic” hammer, he always had a peculiarly Floridian political bent: cynical, paranoid, not quite right- or left-wing, but almost always convinced that it was all bullshit. He mostly just sounded like a dude who had braved a lot of 98 degree summers and was sick and tired of everything. I can respect that.
I’ll leave you for now with a few words from the Bard of El Prado Boulevard. From a 2005 email he sent to a fan website:
I haven’t been married since 1990. I have two ex-wives and one child by each. I had to sue one of my brothers in Federal court in 2000. My mother lives somewhere in Florida. I was arrested in 1968 for marijuana also and that is what kept me out of the draft until the end of the war. I was Kenny Rogers opening act for 100 dates in 1981 and my manager was Ken Kragen the guy who made everyone hold hands across America. My video tapes have recently been bought to be re-released by Anchor Bay over 20 years after I made them and they are still entertaining.
I think I’m the most famous person from Tampa.
Get well soon, Leo.