Omar, a neighborhood fixture beloved by many and despised by others, passed away last week (updated)

June 12, 2017

This photo portrait of Omar was made by well-known West Philly photographer Kyle Cassidy.

The news has spread very fast – Omar, a controversial, but undoubtedly iconic Spruce Hill individual, has passed away. Although we couldn’t confirm the details, he reportedly died suddenly last week in Long Beach Island, N.J.

A vigil for Omar was held Thursday night at 45th and Locust (photo by Kyle Cassidy).

Many folks who knew him gathered at 45th and Locust Thursday night for a vigil (see more photos below).

Omar was known by many as simultaneously a neighborhood eccentric, dangerous aggressor (sometimes violently so) and idiosyncratic barfly. He showed up in the Spruce Hill neighborhood in the early 2000s, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time to “the burbs” (his words).

Omar made some people in the neighborhood angry by his erratic and often aggressive behavior (especially toward young women), but he was “a staple of the neighborhood,” as one neighbor put it. 

Here’s what a neighbor, Madeline, wrote in an e-mail:

“I met Omar the night I moved to Philly six years ago. My boyfriend and I retreated for the night and said to each other, ‘that was one weird dude.’ Hours later, we were woken up by the sounds of Omar hollering in street crossing below our window. Over the years, he’s been a great buddy to us. He called me ‘Tiger’ exclusively. One day I opened my grill, holding a plate of raw meat in one hand, and there was a stuffed tiger staring up at me. This year for my birthday he gave me tiny figurine of George Washington that he just happened to be carrying around in his pocket because that’s the kind of motherf***** Omar was. At this point, he’d probably be like ENOUGH OF YOUR BLAH BLAH BLAH so I’m gonna wrap this up…

He will be missed.”

UPDATE: Two citywide publications, and Philadephia Weekly, covered Omar’s death, his enigmatic personality and how memories of him have divided the neighborhood.

A vigil for Omar at 45th and Locust (Photo by Madeline Birkner).

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Here’s what Omar’s stoop at 45th and Locust looked like on Monday (Photos by West Philly Local).

13 Comments For This Post

  1. Tessa Says:

    There was more to his magic than what’s identified here.

  2. Jenna Says:

    Omar was a human being unlike any other. An addicted, labile, and at times tortured soul; but also a person who saw the world for what it was. Broken, beautiful, scared, joyful, black, white, good and bad. He was a man with many demons, yet was the most enlightened person I’ve ever met. During his highest highs, and lowest lows, Omar always spoke the truth. Sometimes too loudly and at odd hours of the night, but never to harm or hurt the neighborhood. To call him a dangerous aggressor is no way to remember him. While treated as a novelty by some, and a castaway by others, he was a staple around the streets of West Philly. He annoyed the shit out of us, he lended a helping hand (for a beer or a shot in return), he made us laugh, he made us think, and he made us see the beauty in the breakdown. And he struggled. My god did he struggle, but underneath the drugs, the drunken soapbox speeches, the euphemisms, and the uncoordinated dance moves, was just a man who saw others without judgement and loved every person the same. To know Omar, and I mean to really know Omar, was to love him and he will certainly be missed.

  3. TR Says:

    I really just wish this article honored his magic over and beyond the VERY darker side he struggled with…

    The light he brought to our community in the surrounding blocks in which he lived was so uniquely special. There are SO many more wildly incredible adjectives that could have been used to help write his story…beyond aggressor, violent, etc. It may be worth your while and do some “boots on the ground” Outreach and write a story actually worthy of Omar’s true representation and influence in our community!!

    I’d be happy to share some real perspective, and I’m sure my 9 years old son could offer the most genuine of any perpective. Today was a hard walk to school for us…

  4. J Says:

    This article certainly doesn’t capture the Omar I knew, but I don’t suppose anything quite could. I fall in line with the other commenters in feeling there should have been more of the magic memorialized here.

  5. JJ Says:

    I disagree with the comments that the article did not give an accurate picture of Omar. Omar definitely was special, but his erratic behavior was disturbing to both adults and children. He was scary sometimes! He struggled with serious mental health issues. I mourn Omar’s death, but I hope that his struggles will influence people who had a connection with him to focus on the lack of mental health and substance abuse support that are available to those in need.

  6. Larry Stevens Says:

    Sorry to hear of Omar’s death. I ran into him from time to time, sometimes almost literally on 45th St. when he jumped off the curb with bizarre behavior. It’s also sad that for whatever reason he didn’t get the help he really needed. He “entertained” the community but in the end he missed out on life and real relationships. @ Jenna who considers him the most enlightened individual she ever met, you need to expand your circle of relationships. There was nothing enlightened about him. There was more darkness than light. To “honor his magic” (whatever that means), his influence on the community, and his enlightened state is more the stuff of hagiography than reality. He will be missed. He will be mourned. And then he will be forgotten. There are many “Omars” out there. they need more than a wink, a wave, and a handout.They need help.

  7. Larry Stevens Says:

    Perhaps WPL might actually read and edit quoted emails before publishing vulgarity in articles.

  8. huge bummer Says:

    We just talked about him 2 weeks ago after he told me to “hey f*ck off man” when i was leaving a bar, completely randomly. I absolutely loved it

    With all sincerity, we need more of this in west philly. Be sure to say something cryptic and hostile to a stranger in his honor.

  9. Susan Says:

    I used to be friendly towards Omar, but one time he was so rude and angry to me that after that I no longer spoke with him, because I could not trust him to react in a sane manner. Omar’s drinking problem was off the scale. I feel sorry he never got it together in that regard.

  10. Ninar Says:

    RIP Omar – you will be missed so much! <3

  11. Mugwort Says:

    Wonder if a mental health professional could of helped make his depressive mood . I don’t want to presume since many of those pyschiatric drugs come with many harmful side effects including ones that can make one’s mood worse. Who knows. Maybe merely a kind voice. Omar did get many people willing to help him. It looks to me kindess from good hearted neightbors wasn’t enough. Conversely couldn’t begin to know what he most needed I wish I knew what the solution was. Its certainly is academic now RIP Omar.

  12. LP Says:

    Omar, I witnessed all of your sides, as many did here, and more than anything else, you showed me the full range of bliss and terror of being completely out of control. Thank you for that.

    You were very kind, sweet and funny to me whenever I’ve interacted with you. Thank you for that too.

    Thank you for listening when I asked you not to lay on Barn’s stoop because I didn’t want your head to be hit when someone came out. Thank you for saying you were sorry to have accidentally spit when you spoke and admitting, “it’s true, I am drunk beyond coherence!”

    Thank you for letting us see you and for seeing us. Thank you for being yourself. Rest easy, now and forever, young man.

    @LarryStevens please try to remember that your way of grieving is not everyone else’s. Being dismissive of others’ experiences with Omar is very unkind and inconsiderate of you. Mental illness is a problem, yes, but so is cruelty towards others.

  13. Larry Stevens Says:

    @LP. In no way dismissive. Cruelty toward others? Spare me the hyperbole. He needed help but was treated like a neighborhood sideshow. Each mourns in his/her own way. But along the way but there is little to celebrate in spite of the attempts to find something in erratic behavior, vulgarity, drunkenness, etc. He was no neighborhood hero.

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