This is from the newspaper article from my biological father’s death back in 1987.
By Candy J. Copper – of the Examiner Staff
The distorted harmonica strains of the “Big Sur Bookie” bounced off the painted walls of the Tenderloin’s St Boniface Church, where to long-lost young sisters clutching a bouquet of pink flowers listened curiously in a front pew.
A Catholic priest told them about a man they had never really known –their own father, Charles Blackwell, who lived a life of sorrow, but had somehow found in it moments of joy.
“If you just take the facts of his life, you might say it was a tragic life,” said the Rev. Robery Pfisterer, who presided on crutches over an unusual service attended by about 100 homeless people, muscians and welfare workers.
“He died at 35, he did in a Tenderloin hotel, penniless…after the tragic death of his wife,” Pfisterer said.
He had fought alcohol and at one time heroin, friend said. His beloved wife died one night when Blackwell accidentally shot her in the head at point-blank range. Both the young girls who sat in the front pew had seen that violent death. Heather was 5, Jennifer was just 4 weeks old.
“I think he was just so distraught, he coulnd’t handle his daughters,” said Marcia Ryan, who adopted Blackwell’s two daughters and lives with them in San Diego.
Blackwell disappeared, had himself committed to a mental institution and lived on the streets, where he practiced his harmonica.
But life, as Pfisterer explainted, is composted of contradictions. Within the confines of his impoverished life of tragedy, Blackwell had learned to find some joy.
“He spoke music,” said a good friend and musician, Craig M. “He could weave notes in and around the most complex jazz progressions. He had alot of pain in his life, it would come out and mix with joy. He’d go up high and bend a note, three, four, five notes, then it’d just fall and become a rhythm.
“That’s when he lived, that’s when his eyes lit up, that’s when he really laughted. The rest of it was secondary.”
The self taught musician fished for shark off Pier 39 and cooked it in an electric frying pan in his room at the Riviera Hotel. He built bicycles from scratch. He spoke fondly of his two children, with who he had lost all contact. He loved to stay up nights and play Yahtzee.
It was Blackwell’s love of music that had begun to put his life on a new course. He auditioned for a role in a local musical, “The Forgotten People,” a drama about street people, and got the part, On June, 27, he performed to accolades.
“He was was jubilant,” said Barbara Neal, the play’s producer, who said Blackwell received some job offers. “His whole life had turned around.”
After the play, he went to a casting party, then returned to his Riviera Hotel room.
“His face was real read as usual,” said Dorae Hill, a neighbor. “He’s put his whole heart and soul into it. He was so hyper from playing. I told him to get some rest.”
Blackwell went to his room and two days later was found dead on the floor. The cause of his death has still not been determined, according to the San Francisco medical examiner.
“It’s kinda sad,” said 13-year-old Heather Ryan, who was given her father’s harmonica and a tape of his performance. “All I really remember is he liked archery. He bought me a bow and arrow and I used to shoot it.”
It was later discovered he died of a morphine overdose.