Rick Newman’s Legacy Will Live on in Boca Raton
No matter how many lights get put up for Christmas this year, the city is going to be a little dimmer.
After thrilling crowds and sometimes annoying city code enforcement officials for nine years with grand displays of smoke, snow, and robots for Halloween and Christmas, sound and light show extraordinaire Rick Newman died Monday. He was 60 years old.
His wife, Jeanne, said she’s going to try to keep her husband’s Christmas tradition alive at 699 Northwest Ninth Ave. and has put out a call for volunteers.
“After all, the show must go on,” she wrote on Facebook.
As word of Newman’s death spread, tributes to the thrills he brought area residents have been pouring in on Facebook.
“Our community has lost a treasure who brought joy to so many with his Halloween and Christmas displays and his robotics,” Boca Mayor Susan Haynie said. “He will be truly missed.”
City Council member Jeremy Rodgers seconded: “Rick brought so much joy to our community!”
Newman, who came to this area after producing shows in the Catskills for names like Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis, wanted his displays of robots and lights to spark the same love of science among new generations that began when he first saw “Lost in Space.”
He had a smoking cauldron for Halloween. “Snow” flurries filled the air for Christmas. And all was made merry and bright with tens of thousands of lights around his property.
“It was spectacular,” said Monica Valdes, a Miami teacher who brought her students every year so they could see his latest addition to the Halloween and Christmas shows. She recalled his talking head, Mortimer, who greeted Halloween revelers and Santa on a segway zipping around the scene.
Participants were encouraged to support the display with donations to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Officials there estimated that Newman raised enough to grant the wishes of two dying children with his efforts.
Sometimes his shows were so epic, it brought the city of Boca Raton’s wrath, along with the crowds. One 2011 Halloween show featuring dancers the city deemed a “commercial activity” prohibited in the neighborhood, but the show went on – and received national exposure.
Newman’s showbiz connections allowed him to acquire celebrity robots like R2-D2 and Robby the Robot that were loaned around the community. There were also real robots that moved and spoke at his behest. When he wasn’t putting up displays, he was finding venues to loan his robots, such as the Children’s Science Explorium at Sugar Sand Community Center.
Miami’s Valdes, who teaches at West Miami Middle School, has written to City Council members and started a petition at Change.org, asking the city to rename Ninth Avenue Rick Newman Avenue. She recalled, also, how Newman arranged for a new school in Africa to get the needed materials.
“Now that he’s gone, we should honor him – he was always trying to make the world a better place,” Valdes said.
No memorial service is planned, but a celebration of his life is planned for his 61st birthday March 11, his wife said. Make-A-Wish is suggested for memorial donations in his name.