Balelo was one of the deep-pocketed buyers featured on the show that depicts storage-unit auctions. The former owner of a chain of thrift stores, Balelo had a knack for bargaining and finding treasure among trash.
Nicknamed “Rico Suave” for his flamboyant style, Balelo once hosted a live auction right before Halloween while dressed as Superman. He carried a “man purse” (or “murse”), which he considered his good-luck bag; the murses became so popular with fans that he later sold them on eBay.
Balelo also was instrumental in helping Nicolas Cage recover a mint-condition copy of a 1938 Action Comics book that was stolen from the actor’s storage locker. The comic book was valued at $1 million.
Balelo owned Balelo Inc., a business that specializes in asset liquidations and closeout sales. Until recently, he ran a gaming store called The Game Exchange. Although Balelo loved working — “My work is my hobby nowadays” — his favorite past-times included flying private planes, listening to music, hanging out with friends and going to Vegas. A strong competitor with a no-holds-barred attitude, he was best known on “Storage Wars” for beating the competition by showing up to auctions carrying more than $50,000 in cash.
Balelo was arrested over the weekend for alleged possession of a controlled substance. He was reportedly distraught after being released from jail.
One of Balelo’s employees found his body inside a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif., on Monday morning. Armando Chavez, senior deputy medical examiner, refused to provide any information as to Balelo’s cause of death. An autopsy will be conducted on Feb. 12.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
[Update - Feb. 13, 2013: Balelo's death has been declared a suicide by the Ventura County medical examiner's office. His body was also found in a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif. An earlier report stated that he was found in his home garage.]
William Emmett Forrest had always been a collector. As a child, he collected the little things that appeal to young boys: rocks, leaves, matchbook covers.
But as an adult, Forrest developed a passion for collecting memorabilia and artifacts about his dear friend, Andy Griffith. Most Americans know Griffith as the actor who played the kind and thoughtful Sheriff Andy Taylor on the 1960s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show.” Others remember him as the cantankerous defense attorney Ben Matlock from the long-running mystery series “Matlock.” To Forrest, Griffith was a childhood pal who grew up to become a pop culture icon and Grammy Award-winning gospel singer, and he wanted to honor the achievements of a hometown boy who did good.
After spending years collecting memorabilia from his friend’s life and career, Forrest founded The Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, N.C., in 2009. Since its opening, the museum has welcomed nearly 200,000 visitors from all over the world. Hundreds of items from Griffith’s career in TV, movies and music, including props from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock,” are collected and displayed inside the 1,500-square-foot building. Many of the items were donated by Griffith himself, including the signs from the Mayberry Courthouse doors and a suit worn by Andy as Matlock.
“Andy wanted me to have this collection because he knew I would never sell it. He knew that it would be available for the public to see,” Forrest said in an interview with the Mount Airy News.
Griffith died on July 3, 2012.
The town of Mount Airy, where Forrest and Griffith grew up, is considered by many to be the inspiration for the fictional Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The two sleepy hamlets even shared similar landmarks, such as the Snappy Lunch Counter, Floyd’s City Barber Shop and Wally’s Service Station. Mount Airy is also home to the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the Andy Griffith and Opie statue, which stands in front of The Andy Griffith Museum.
Life in Mount Airy was idyllic for Forrest and Griffith. Their summer days were often spent playing with friends in the streets and creeks around town. Forrest, who was described by those who knew him as a quiet, humble, friendly and hard-working, left the area during World War II to serve in the U.S. Navy. He returned after the war to raise a family. After his retirement from Pike Electric, Forrest was active in the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the annual Mayberry Days festival each fall. It was this work, along with the launch of the museum, that helped reinvent the town as a tourist destination.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Richard Ben Cramer died Jan. 7 of complications from lung cancer. He was 62.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Cramer studied at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. After working as a political reporter for The Baltimore Sun, Cramer joined The Inquirer in Philadelphia. During his seven years at the paper, he rose from transportation reporter to acclaimed foreign correspondent. In 1979, he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for his masterful coverage of the Middle East.
According to The New York Times, Cramer also wrote for numerous magazines, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Time. However, he was best known for writing the 1992 book, “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” which focused on the 1988 presidential campaign. Although it didn’t sell well and was critically panned, the tome was eventually viewed as one of the greatest books about electoral politics, The Inquirer reported.
“It’s insufficient to say that Cramer’s 1,047-page tour de force on the 1988 presidential race is the best book ever written about a campaign. It is that. But what makes it so valuable, so rewarding, just so much damn fun is that it illustrates why politics and journalism is so much damn fun,” Jonathan Martin of Politico wrote.
Cramer also penned books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bob Dole, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In the last years of his life, Cramer was reportedly working on a book about the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez; however, his publisher sued him in December 2012 for failing to complete the project.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Acclaimed filmmaker and essayist Nora Ephron, who almost singlehandedly defined the romantic comedy genre of the 1980s and 1990s, died on June 26 of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She was 71.
Born in New York and raised in Beverly Hills, Ephron was the daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Desk Set.” Though life at home was often difficult — her father was in and out of mental hospitals and her mother was an alcoholic — writing became the family business. Nora and her sisters, Delia and Amy, all grew up to become screenwriters while her sister Hallie became a journalist and novelist.
After graduating from Wellesley College and working briefly as an intern in the Kennedy White House, Ephron moved back to New York City. There she toiled in the mail room at Newsweek, launched a satirical newspaper and became a reporter for the New York Post. Over the next four decades, Ephron would pen essays for numerous publications — including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine and The Huffington Post — and develop a reputation as one of America’s best known humorists.
Ephron began working on screenplays in the 1970s after penning a rewrite of William Goldman’s script for “All the President’s Men.” Although her version was not used in the final film, the experience gave her the opportunity to begin writing for the big screen. Concerned that Hollywood wasn’t ready for films by or about women, however, Ephron decided to try her hand at directing as well. Her directorial debut was “This Is My Life,” co-written with her sister Delia, and starring Julie Kavner as a single mom who wants to become a stand-up comedian.
Ephron’s stories featured strong female characters, realistic heroes and a charming blend of humor and romance. Her tales of happily ever after were often scorned by critics, but they found a devoted audience of female moviegoers who were always eager to see the latest Ephron “chick flick.”
Hollywood also honored her creative achievements with three Academy Award nominations for screenwriting (“Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Sleepless In Seattle”). Ephron’s most recent film, “Julie & Julia,” based on the life of Julia Child and a New York-based blogger who aimed to emulate her, garnered Ephron more than a dozen award nominations and earned Meryl Streep a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress.
When she wasn’t toiling on a script or a directing a film, Ephron also wrote several plays and essay collections, including “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” which topped The New York Times bestseller list. In her final years, she continued to publish essays on a variety of subjects, from aging and feminism to politics and food.
“You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can’t put things off thinking you’ll get to them someday,” Ephron told NPR in 2010. “If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.”
Ephron wed three times. Her first marriage to novelist Dan Greenburg ended in divorce. Her second marriage to investigative journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame also ended in divorce after she learned he had cheated on her with a mutual friend. That experience inspired her to write the 1983 novel “Heartburn,” which was later adapted into a feature film starring Streep and Jack Nicholson.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens died on Dec. 15 of pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England in 1949. His father, Ernest, a commander in the British Royal Navy, and his mother, Yvonne, a bookkeeper, scrimped and saved so that he could attend the independent Leys School in Cambridge, and later Balliol College, Oxford. They were determined that he would receive a top-notch education and join the upper class.
During his time at university, Hitchens studied philosophy, politics and economics, but the more he learned, the angrier he became. Hitchens’ disgust with racism and opposition to the Vietnam War led him to the political left. He would eventually join the International Socialists, a faction of the anti-Stalinist left, and participate in political protests against the war.
Attending college in the 1960s introduced Hitchens to a more hedonistic way of life as well. Although he eschewed drugs, Hitchens became both a heavy smoker and hard drinker. He claimed such practices supported his writing efforts. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me. So I was knowingly taking a risk,” he said.
Writing was also the perfect outlet for him to enrage and enlighten. The British monarchy, Henry Kissinger and the Roman Catholic Church were just a few of his favorite targets in the 1970s. Despite being a bon vivant, Hitchens resolved to spend time at least once a year in “a country less fortunate than [his] own.” As such, the early part of his career was dedicated to wandering the globe, reporting on the world’s trouble spots and shining a light on those he considered cruel or evil.
After immigrating to the U.S. in 1981, Hitchens began writing for The Nation magazine. He would later edit and contribute articles to numerous publications, including Vanity Fair, the Atlantic Monthly, Slate, Harper’s, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. His surprising advocacy for the war in Iraq, which was prompted by his growing conviction that radical elements in the Islamic world posed a danger to the West, gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines.
Hitchens penned two dozens books — including “Letters To A Young Contrarian,” “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “Hitch-22: A Memoir” — and frequently made television and radio appearances. He also taught as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and the New School of Social Research.
As a cultural pundit, Hitchens loved picking fights. He offered unsparing insight on a wide range of subjects, from politics to religion to his own his mortality, but was perhaps best known for his criticism of Mother Teresa, both in his 1994 documentary “Hell’s Angel,” and in Vanity Fair.
“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor,” Hitchens said. “She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
His negative portrayal of a woman many considered to be a saint prompted hundreds of readers to cancel their magazine subscriptions. And yet, after word of his death was reported, India’s Missionaries of Charity order said it would pray for Hitchens’ soul, despite his aggressive campaign against its Nobel prize-winning founder.
In 2008, amidst a nationwide discussion of “enhanced interrogation techniques, Hitchens decided to subject himself to a waterboarding treatment to see if it was truly a form of torture. He lasted for 16 seconds.
“It’s annoying to me now to read every time it’s discussed in the press — or in Congress — that it simulates the feeling of drowning,” he said. “It doesn’t simulate the feeling of drowning. You are being drowned, slowly.”
Ever the contrarian, Hitchens adopted the U.S., warts and all, and took an oath of citizenship in 2007 on his 58th birthday. The ceremony was conducted by former President George W. Bush’s homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff.
An outspoken atheist — or as he preferred to be called, an antitheist — Hitchens rallied many to a belief in rational thinking by describing organized religion as the main source of hatred and tyranny in the world. In the final years of his life, he debated both religious and political figures about the nature of faith and the existence of God.
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals,” Hitchens said. “It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”
Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2010, Hitchens refused to turn to a deity or organized religion for comfort. He made it clear that if anyone ever claimed he had converted at the end of his life, it would be either a lie propagated by the religious community or an effect of the cancer and treatment that made him no longer himself.
“The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark,” he said.
“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”
Hitchens is survived by his wife, the writer Carol Blue, and three children.
Listen to an excerpt from “Hitch 22″ by Christopher Hitchens
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post