Orlando people who died in 2011 

Local notables we lost

  • Illustrations by Andew Spear

John “Tweeka Weed” Barber

Local hairstylist, drag persona and philanthropist

2011 was always going to be a year of reckoning for John Barber, and from the get-go, before anyone else was willing to admit it, John – or “Tweeka Weed,” as his be-wigged drag persona came to be known – knew how it would end. Barber’s diagnosis at 38 years old with an aggressive form of cancer known as sinonasal carcinoma didn’t hobble his stellar ambitions; rather, it only made his star burn brighter and his laugh that much louder. After all, the longtime entertainer and hairdresser was already far more than the stereotypical sum of his gay parts by that point. His appearances in dark bar corners and on black-tie fundraiser stages from Atlanta to Orlando were the stuff of legend – though his appearance next to you on the sidewalk, cackling and jeering, could be just as illuminating. He took no bullshit. He held no illusions. He was the embodiment of underground honesty achieving the ultimate in mainstream acceptance. He was, indeed, special.

With his companion-in-mischief, Baby Blue, by his side until the bitter end on Oct. 17, Barber spent the year punctuating grueling bouts of chemotherapy, hospital-hopping and, ultimately, hospice, reaching out to the community, gay and straight. His Barber Fund – a charity set up not just to aid his expensive treatment, but the future medical needs of others – spawned raucous fundraising parties, some with funny brownies included, all drenched with tears of joy. It’s no irony that this son of former Winter Garden Mayor Robert Barber would be joined onstage by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer – Barber was, after all, a living anachronism: one part political, a million parts bizarre. (He also did Karen Dyer’s hair, of course.) Also not surprising was the outpouring of emotion at his passing, both on Facebook and at various memorials. Anybody who met Tweeka loved Tweeka, and to this day, people still flock to his Facebook page to tell him hello like he’s still there, just waiting for a call. “One Love” was Barber’s slogan in life, and that love is his legacy. “And then,” he would always say, presumably anticipating absurdity. And then he was gone. – Billy Manes

Ralph Ameduri

Local musician

It was early Saturday morning when the phone started ringing. Musicians never call each other before noon unless it’s critically important – or indescribably horrible.

“Ralph’s gone.”

Orlando musicians can tell you exactly where they were on Sept. 10, 2011, when they heard the news that Ralph Ameduri was shot and killed. He was such a vital and beloved part of the creative community, it seemed impossible that he could be taken from us so suddenly – and so brutally.

He was filling in as bassist for Thomas Wynn & the Believers that night – a pick-up gig. During a set break, Ralph and other members of the group were approached outside the club by an armed thug bent on robbery. A shot was fired; Ralph was killed.

As a bassist, guitarist, producer and all-around artist, Ralph had few equals. The man was a catalyst for some of the best music to ever come out of Central Florida. He was the sort of artist who elevated those that played with him – you didn’t want to fuck up when you played with Ralph, didn’t want to disappoint him. His sly smile and approving nod were tokens of validation for other musicians. If Ralph dug what you were doing, you knew it was good.

When musicians die young, it’s often due to their own misadventures and we’re allowed to ease our grief by harboring some anger towards them, but with Ralph, we didn’t even get that small consolation. He was simply taken from us – abruptly and inexplicably. Four months later, it still doesn’t seem real.

In life, Ralph brought out the best in his fellow musicians, but in death he galvanized the entire music scene. The RalphFest tribute concert was easily the musical highlight of the year. More than 2,000 people crowded onto Pine Street to play, eat, drink, laugh and share stories of the quick-witted and charming man who had touched many of our lives. Farewell, Ralph. The pain of your loss is only surpassed by the joy of having known you. – Jeff Nolan

Kelly Fitzpatrick

Orlando Sentinel nightlife columnist

The hip peg in the Orlando Sentinel’s square hole, nightlife columnist Kelly Fitzpatrick died suddenly at age 36 on September 23. Her career in journalism spanned 15 years; starting as a copy clerk she rose to become one of the most recognizable voices at the paper.

One of her most under-appreciated roles was as an advocate for the future of journalism. A passionate writer from a young age, Fitzpatrick helped push the Sentinel into modernity, fighting for more online content and becoming an editor for the paper’s entertainment website, Orlando CityBeat, which earned two EPPY awards from Editor & Publisher magazine (for media-affiliated websites) in its first year.

Kelly was instrumental in shepherding original voices and topics. She served as editor to both this writer and OW’s Bao Le-Huu before CityBeat became Orlando Metromix. She believed strongly in the written word’s power to persuade and engage, and thought that newspapers should be a forum for their communities, rather than a stodgy formality.

And it was as much this belief as it was her love of quality boozing that led to her most prominent post as spokesperson for good times in Orlando. At a paper eager to Disney-fy this whole town, she stood for the reality of what Orlando is and could be. Her column in the paper’s calendar section and her blog, Last Call, was frequently a coded lament for the days of innovative, independent bars and clubs the likes of the Kit Kat Club and Go Lounge. Her writing on the closing of the first Will’s Pub was as passionate as coverage of a shuttle disaster.

More a social animal than party girl, Fitzpatrick was able to accurately identify the audience for every gin joint she visited, whether it was her speed or not. Just as accurately, her praise and criticisms could often predict the likely success of a venture within a rent payment or two. She wasn’t above vociferously attacking inattentive waitstaff and overpriced anything. Alternately, she was vocal and generous in her support of the places she did enjoy. Chances are, if you’ve set foot in any of the watering holes that have survived in the last 10 years, you’ve heard her laugh and that last fading trace of the Bronx/New Jersey accent she carried from childhood. It’s a sound whose absence will be missed for years to come. – Trevor Fraser



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