The Most Interesting Man in the World died on a Friday, which is just another Christian coincidence in the story of Joe Tiberino, whom I spoke to for the last time about a week after he had risen from the dead.
"I was sitting right here when I died the first time," he said from an upholstered armchair in his second-floor bedroom in the family home in West Philadelphia, the heart of a multi-rowhouse enclave that could be called an artists' colony because everyone who lives there becomes an artist sooner or later.
As he told the story of his death, Tiberino no longer bore the uncanny likeness to the character identified in the Dos Equis beer commercials as The Most Interesting Man in the World. That's how I described him in a column two years ago at a moment of personal and family triumph, a well-attended weeks-long art exhibit called "The Unflinching Eye" that filled two full floors of the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
Tiberino's health took a sudden and precipitous turn after a winter vacation in Mexico last year with two of his adult sons, Raphael and Gabriel. There he was the first up each morning, urging his sons to "enjoy the richness" of their day.
When I last saw Joe Tiberino he was half the weight but not half the man he had always been. He was eager to tell me about dying, which everyone, including the paramedics from the Fire Department, thought he had done until they brought him back.
"When we saw you sitting there, we thought you were deceased," an EMT told Joe, who answered almost happily, "Oh, I was." And that's the way he told me the story of his death, happily.
"I saw Ellen," he said of the woman he married in 1967. Ellen Powell Tiberino, who died in 1992 after a 14-year battle with cancer, was the love of Joe's life. She was a distinguished Philadelphia artist, and the first African American woman to show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The Ellen" museum in the Tiberino compound is named for her.
"How did she look?" I asked. "Oh, she looked great," Joe said. "In heaven everyone looks the best they ever looked in their lives."
I couldn't resist. "How did you look?" I asked. Joe smiled, gestured to the tubes in his arms, to the sagging skin on his face, and he said conspiratorially, "Well, there are no mirrors in heaven."
On Feb. 19, Joe Tiberino, 77, died again, and at his March 8 memorial service at St. Agatha and St. James Catholic Church in West Philadelphia, you would have thought there were no mirrors on Earth, either. Rarely do you see a gathering of so many different people, the 50 shades of Philadelphia, under one majestic roof.
From former governors to outlaw bikers they came to pay their respects to the man who had touched their lives and the life of their city, who made them and Philadelphia a better, more human, more joyful place.
Ed Rendell spoke about his "discovery" of the Tiberino family and the open-air artists' working space when he was invited to attend the dedication of the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum of Contemporary Art in 1999.
Rendell spoke of his amazement that, with all the focus of his administration in establishing the Avenue of the Arts on South Broad Street, it was the organic emergence of so much artistic talent and energy from Philadelphia neighborhoods that really defined the city and its unique human wealth.
During his homily about his friend of many decades, Father John Newns spoke with deep affection about Tiberino's devotion to his Catholic faith and his easygoing belief in the goodness of people.
But instead of quoting from Scripture, Newns chose an incongruously reverent scene from a Tom Hanks comedy called Joe Versus the Volcano to illustrate the artist's daily awe in the face of God.
The Joe in the movie is adrift after a shipwreck, without food or water, burnt by the sun and awakened in the chill of the night by the rising of a full moon from the impossibly near horizon of a vast ocean that seemed not nearly as endless as the heavenly orb slowly revealing itself from its depths.
Joe rises to his feet, staggering before the immensity of light glowing before him. Blinking back tears, he attempts to acknowledge its origin. "Dear God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life," he says at last. "I forgot how big. . . . Thank you. Thank you for my life."
The only difference was that for most of his long life, Joe Tiberino knew the name of his God and most days he was awake by dawn to thank Him in person.