The World Without Ted Flicker

Casey St. Charnez - September 15, 2014

So I got up Saturday morning, not knowing that the day no longer contained my dear Ted Flicker. I soon found out that he had died the night before, suddenly, shockingly, but not really surprisingly, as he was 84.

He and his first and only wife, the former Barbara Joyce Perkins, had just attended some Friday evening art openings on Canyon Road, as was their weekly wont. Ted loved to see and be seen. At the Wade Wilson Gallery, where artist Regina Foster was being feted, Guy Cross – editor/publisher of THE Magazine – snapped Ted’s portrait as a matter of course, never knowing it would be the final pictures ever taken of this most photogenic fellow. 

Guy’s best photo from that soiree

Later that night, when they got home, Barbara said she heard a noise from the other room, and upon investigating, found Ted lying on the floor. She said he told her he had slightly injured his leg and back in the fall—two sources of previous discomfiture—and she asked him if he had hit his head.

“No,” he replied. But he was wrong. He had indeed cracked his bean. And within minutes, he had died.

Even then, Barbara said she wasn’t sure he had passed and pressed her ear to his chest to see if she heard a heartbeat. She had done this so many times before that, she said, “it was kind of a family joke.” This time, though, there was no thrum, and she ran to dial 911.     

Within minutes there were 17 people in the house, Barbara said: Paramedics and EMTs, the Medical Examiner and two policemen who emotionlessly grilled her about the possibility of spousal abuse. Though she tried to laugh it off as “Well, that’s what they do, they’re the law,” clearly it was still a terrible ordeal to undergo on top of the death of her husband of nearly 48 years – their wedding anniversary is only a couple of weeks from now.  

Fortunately, others were there as well. Our renowned contemporary art maven Linda Durham showed up almost immediately to stay at Barbara’s side. Linda had been mentoring Ted’s artistic career for some time, offering advice and direction as he sought to become an internationally recognized sculptor. Little did she know, nor did anyone know, that the last time she saw Ted would be the last time she saw Ted. Ruby Trujillo, the Flicker household’s longtime mistress domo, followed closely on Linda’s heels, attending to everyone’s needs, within and without, which Ruby has always done, and pluperfectly.

For Barbara, all this was not undiscovered country. She told me that she had been through the preliminaries many times before, sitting beside Ted in no less than forty intensive care wards as he swam out of the anesthesia following one or another of his many surgeries over the years. Ted and the scalpel were not strangers, nor was the thought of losing Ted at any moment a fear foreign to Barbara’s psyche. After all, there had been so many close calls, like on a movie set where the director calls “Cut!” take after take until finally ordering “Print that!”. 

Eventually, Ted left his home in a body bag, trailed by Bill, his faithful German Shepherd, who kept sniffing at the bag in confusion. Barbara said it was a couple of days before Bill came around and began to be his old self, and only then because Jon and Claudia Richards had brought over their dogs Sam and Bogey, who managed to snap Bill out of his grief.

As I sat there on the expansive Flicker portal this past Sunday afternoon, exchanging Ted stories with other mourners, I wished that Sam and Bogey could do the same for me.

At the gathering, which Barbara called “a kind of combination shiva and wake,” we were all sad, of course, but we also had a lot of laughs. I observed that there would be only one person in the world who would be happy at Ted’s passing, and that was the aforementioned Wade Wilson, who also represented Ted’s artwork. “All gallery owners love a newly dead artist,” I said, “because the prices double overnight.”

The photojournalist Steve Northup, who was there with his wife Martha, and with whom Lisa and I had shared many a table at one of Barbara’s fabled fetes, said, “Well I think Verizon is also going to be happy.” Turns out Ted wasn’t getting the cell service he thought he deserved and was giving the carrier holy bloody hell over it, even to the point of threatening to take out a full-page ad in The New Mexican, denouncing Verizon as “lousy, miserable, lying bastards.” Fortunately, Steve said, a compromise was reached before Ted rained his verbal napalm upon the enemy.

Too, we were all greatly relieved that, cognizant of his checkered medical history, at the end there was no chemo, no radiation, no “Do Not Resuscitate,” no more emergency rooms, no more operating rooms, no more stitches, no more metal replacements, and certainly no hospice. Simply a bump on the noggin and then blackness.

We agreed, we should all be so lucky.

As I was leaving, I wandered through the four-acre sculpture garden to revisit some of Ted’s work. How often he had toodled Lisa and myself around in his golf cart, touring his latest creations, both intimate and monumental.

Over there was a larger-than-lifesize statue of Barbara, beyond that his avenue of the stars consisting of mythologized representations of friends like fellow artists Carol Mothner and Michael Bergt, and then perhaps his best piece, “Joy,” an ecstatic nude perched against the vast expanse of the Jemez to the west behind her. On the way out I saw an early bronze, a triptych called “The Middle Child,” a self-portrait between the busts of his older and younger brothers. I gave his metal beard a tweak, whispered “Be well, buddy, be well,” and then I left.

Ted had been my friend since 1988, when I wrote about him for the Santa Fe Reporter. As a professional movie buff, I was quite familiar with his filmography, being especially fond—as so many were—of his star-crossed 1968 political satire The President’s Analyst, a comedy so subversive that it got the attention of no less than J. Edgar Hoover, incensed that the movie portrayed FBI agents as being short of stature. This really pissed off Hoover, who personally intervened and got Paramount to pull the picture from distribution, promptly putting an end to Ted’s Hollywood career.     

But that week 26 years ago when we first met, he was getting ready to speak at Temple Beth Shalom about the eternal conflict in the Middle East. I began the article by stating that Theodore J. Flicker would not be there, but, rather, “just plain Ted Flicker.” At the time, he confided, “Theodore J. Flicker got me into a lot of trouble, and I don’t want to be him any more.” In fact, he legally changed his name 20 years ago.

Years afterward, I cobbled a biographical Wikipedia entry as a birthday gift, which other hands have since amended, and erroneously. To wit, he did not die “in his sleep [sic] in Sante [sic] Fe.” I will be correcting that later this afternoon. 

More recently, in 2012, I posted a column right here at SantaFe.com, “The Man Who Loved Naked Women.” SantaFe.com chief photographer Andrew Kastner shot a number of characterful pictures, which now I treasure even more.

But it is Guy Cross’ haunting, nearly eulogistic photograph that keeps poking me. I continue to wonder, it was evening, after sunset, so why was Ted wearing sunglasses?

A possible answer materializes…he knew what was ahead and was blinded by the light that was coming, a future so bright that he had to wear shades. You know what I mean, that awfully big adventure, a journey that took him past the second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

I think he’s there by now.