The drivers who passed through Lackwanna at South Park Avenue and Ridge Road called him “Mr. Hollywood.” His real name was Barry Meadows.
And like Our Lady of Victory Basilica, the windmills along Lake Erie or the burnt-orange throwback Lackawanna City Hall, Meadows became a familiar fixture for the daily commuters traveling through the steel city as he stood at that busy crossroad.
Meadows was there every day, dancing, waving, singing – often with a box radio. Sometimes he escorted women across the street.
“Probably everybody in Lackawanna knew him,” said Fred K. Heinle, Lackawanna’s director of planning. “He hung at the corner. He was out there just like he was on stage, a very giving person who wanted to spread good cheer and brotherhood.”
But two weeks ago, people noticed Meadows was not at his familiar post. When friends found he had taken ill, they organized a prayer circle at his corner in front of the basilica.
“I was surprised to hear he was sick,” said Larry Connors, a 22-year employee with the Diocese of Buffalo. “It caught me off guard because we didn’t see him dancing. He had become a part of Lackawanna. If I was having a bad day he would be outside smiling and make me feel better.”
Meadows died Wednesday. Friends said he had been battling cancer.
This video, shared on a Facebook memorial page to Barry Meadows, has been viewed more than 51,000 times.
Commutes through Lackawanna won’t be the same.
Anything, it seemed, could trigger his dance, a shuffle of sorts that focused on the human parade. Meadows was a man of all seasons, strutting his stuff at all times of day and even into the night.
“My wife and I would drive by here on a Saturday evening coming home from going out, and we’d see him here doing his thing at 10 at night,” said Connors of West Seneca. “He’d be out there in snowstorms.”
Camouflage pants were Meadows’ favorite. In colder weather, he brought out the black leather. You knew he was dressing up when Meadows appeared in a jogging suit. Meadows sometimes brought out his box radio with WBLK-FM tuned in.
Though Meadows was well-known, he rarely engaged people in conversation, Connors said. But Meadows got a kick when people waved back.
For Lackawanna’s “shortest parades” – St. Patrick’s Day and Dyngus Day – Meadows typically brought up the rear.
Street characters can enrich the urban fabric, but not all bystanders are charmed. Even Elmwood Avenue’s “Lady in White” had her detractors.
The Bubble Man, who showers wands of bubbles on Allen Street and Elmwood from his third-floor apartment window, sometimes catches a curse thrown his way.
Mr. Hollywood was no different. His frisky greetings sometimes scared elderly people who stayed off his corner. Restaurateurs, too, were less than happy when Meadows popped up outside their eateries.
“He was who he was,” said Heinle, the city planning director. “If I was out walking, he would engage me in conversation about a development idea. He knew 85 percent of what we were planning.
“One day, we were having a problem with a water main break at Electric and Ridge. I knew we had to take care of it, because on the way to work that morning, here’s Barry with his shoes and socks off splashing in the puddles.”
Tom Lucia, director of public relations for Our Lady of Victory Services, said that talk around the office on this week was about Meadows.
“So many people know about him, but few people really knew him,” he said.
Friends say he had two children. But they don’t know how old he was.
About 40 to 50 fans gathered at the busy corner a couple weeks ago carrying “Barry” signs. They chanted, cheered and prayed. A memorial Facebook page post late this week has 5,000 likes.
A film was taken of the prayer circle conducted. Friends took a copy to the hospital so Meadows would know people cared.
“He looked astonished,” one friend said.