Michael A. DeLuca, 56, a punk rocker, artist, and South Street institution known as "Mikey Wild," died of lung cancer Wednesday, May 25, at Penn Rittenhouse Hospice in Philadelphia.
Mr. DeLuca, who was mentally handicapped, left his residential school at 18, returned home to South Philadelphia, and began to spend his days on South Street. He was soon singing at JC Dobbs Bar with the Magic Lantern, the Mess, and other bands, sometimes jumping onstage when others were performing.
A huge Beatles fan, Mr. DeLuca sang a raucous version of "Day Tripper." Other favorites included "Die, Die, Die," "I was Punk Before You Were a Punk, Punk," and "I Hate New York," which was recorded as a single. He was the subject of several YouTube videos.
Recently, local filmmaker Isaac Williams produced a half-hour movie, Paying the Price, featuring Mr. DeLuca, who played two roles: Vincent Price, his favorite actor, and Price's twin brother, Brandon. "Michael always loved horror movies," said his mother, Gloria DeLuca.
Unlike what happened to others with similarly troubled minds in pop, nobody ever tried to take advantage of him, said A.D. Amorosi, a friend who writes about music for The Inquirer. "Nobody wanted to exploit Mikey. They only sought collaboration. They only wanted to pay respect to the guy they knew from hanging around South Street," Amorosi said.
A heavy smoker, Mr. DeLuca quit when he was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago, his mother said. Though he continued to practice with a band, Scareho, he had less energy for singing and painted more, she said. He used colored markers to draw giant lizards and abstract portraits of a variety of characters, including Vincent Price and Santa Claus.
Brian "Bubonic" Williams, an artist who worked at Wall to Wall Sound & Video on South Street in the late 1980s, said Mr. DeLuca came in daily and asked whether the store had any new Beatles albums.
"I'd also see him every visit to Ishkabibble's getting his coffee or hot chocolate. He always left a tip and said, 'Thanks, honey,' to the waitress. I left Philadelphia 22 years ago, but would always see Mikey either on South Street or near the Italian Market during my return trips. The last time I saw him, he was having a smoke in front of his house. I asked him if he had any art for sale. He went upstairs and returned with an armload of paintings. I asked him how much they were, and he said, 'Ten dollars each, or two for $20.' Of course, I got two."
Mr. DeLuca suffered brain damage at birth. He attended St. Paul's School in South Philadelphia for first grade. When it became apparent he needed special education, his parents enrolled him in the Don Guanella School in Springfield, Delaware County, a residential facility for young men and boys with developmental disabilities.
He was on the basketball and swim teams, and played drums and sang with the school band. He always loved to perform, his mother said.
After earning a high school diploma, he returned home to live. If he was out late, his mother said, she would call his regular hangouts, and friends would send him home. Though he spent time in local bars, he never drank or took illicit drugs because he was on medication, she said.
Twice he was beaten up, and he learned not to carry a radio or anything valuable on the street that might tempt thieves to jump him, his mother said.
"People knew he had a disability and watched out for him," she said.
He could write incredibly clever song lyrics, his brother Ben said, but he had trouble figuring out change to buy a soda.
In addition to his mother and brother, Mr. DeLuca is survived by brothers Joseph and Domenic; a sister, Anna; nieces and nephews; and his mother's longtime companion, Ben Gollotti. Mr. DeLuca's parents divorced years ago; his father, Epiphany "Herbie" DeLuca, died in 2008.
Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m, Tuesday, May 31, and from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 1, at Pennsylvania Burial Co., 1327 S. Broad St. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 1, at St. Paul's Church, 10th and Christian Streets. Burial will be in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.
A celebration of Mr. DeLuca's music and art will be observed from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Pageant: Soloveev Gallery, 607 Bainbridge St.