Willard Blevins saw Caldwell County as his stage.
Along its roads and sidewalks he played many parts.
Blevins, who died July 1 at 68, might be dressed up elaborately as Dracula one day and Elvis Presley the next. Sometimes he appeared as Batman, a cowboy or gorilla, Johnny Cash, Santa Claus or Zorro.
Often, his pets came along – an iguana on his head, a monkey perched on his shoulder.
Jayne Hall remembers Blevins wore an Indian outfit the day she handed him an order at Northside Barbecue and noticed something around his neck.
“It was a real live snake,” said Hall, 57, of Lenoir. “I screamed and jumped back. He said, ‘Yes, it’s a snake.’ Then he sat down and started eating.”
Like many others in Caldwell County, Hall regarded Blevins as “something of a character.”
“Some thought he was crazy, but he was so harmless,” she said. “Everybody loved him.”
More than 100 people signed the online guest book at Greer-McElveen Funeral Home & Crematory, which is handling Blevins’ funeral arrangements.
“I have memories of you as a child and have thought of you often through the years,” one woman wrote.
“We will miss you, Willard,” wrote another. “Your crazy costumes were the best. Rest in peace.”
A man logged in this message: “Willard, you were a local celebrity recognized by thousands on a daily basis as Batman, Superman, etc. or whatever creative costume you donned. You will be missed. You brought smiles to a lot of people.”
Even the dark cloud that descended on Blevins in the 1990s apparently didn’t tarnish his image for many.
According to N.C. Department of Justice records, Blevins was convicted of four counts of taking indecent liberties with a child in 1996 and was released in 2001 after serving three years in prison.
His longtime friend and caretaker in his later years, Mary Greene, said Willard always maintained he was innocent, and she believed him.
“He was a good guy,” she said. “He just wanted to be somebody and make people happy.”
Greene said Blevins’ wife, Gloria, who worked at Broyhill Furniture, brought costumes for her husband, and sometimes his mother, Virginia Hargett Blevins, pitched in.
Once, when Greene asked Blevins why he dressed up, he replied that he thought it might make him rich.
“He was kind of like a kid,” Greene said. “When we’d go to a dollar store, he’d run straight to the toys.”
In 2011, Blevins was struck by a car while walking along a road and seriously injured. He ended up in a nursing home, where Greene visited him regularly. She saw him for the last time about a week ago.
“I brought him a hot dog and milkshake,” she said. “I’ll miss him.”
Blevins was in first grade when Gary James first met him. James remembers him as a “friendly little kid.”
“He said he wanted to sit and think about his plans for the future,” said James, 71. “He was planning to have more friends than anybody in the world – that caught my attention. And he said he also might want to be a movie star.”
A few years ago, James bumped into Blevins, who announced he’d achieved both goals.
“He’d been in a video,” said James. “And he said he had more friends than he ever thought he’d have.”
Blevins died at Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care in Lenoir. A graveside service will be held Saturday at Laurel Haven Cemetery. He had no survivors, and the service will be conducted by Joey Hoyle, who remembers as a child seeing Blevins at the Hoyle family’s dry cleaning business in Lenoir.
“Willard was an article,” said Hoyle, 54. “I never knew him to be mean or aggressive.”
Hoyle also never knew Blevins to have a steady job, although he’d been hired to dress up like an Indian and stand on a Tweetsie billboard on U.S. 321. Sometimes Blevins was hired to dress up in costumes and stand outside furniture shows to drum up business, Hoyle said.
Townspeople helped Blevins buy costumes, Hoyle said, “and he had one of just about everything.”
Looking back on Blevins’ life, Hoyle said “he made some wrong turns, but he paid his debt. He was homeless for a while. He got stabbed and was left for dead. He was robbed, beaten and run over by cars three times.”
But Hoyle said Blevins remained “a pretty popular guy. Like a rock star. He had a good time, I think, everywhere he went. He ended up being one of the better known people in town for his antics.”