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'Mayor of Bleecker Street' Dies After Fall at Village Bar, Family Says

By Andrea Swalec | August 13, 2013 7:39am
 The Bleecker Street fixture Kenneth Kelly, a doorman at the music venue The Bitter End for more than 25 years, died Aug. 6, 2013 after an apparent accident at the club, his widow said workers told her.
Kenneth Kelly, Bitter End Doorman
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — A man who worked as a doorman at the iconic Bleecker Street music venue The Bitter End for more than two decades died last week after an apparent accident at the bar.

Kenneth Kelly, 56, died in the early morning of August 6 after he tumbled down a flight of stairs at the 147 Bleecker St. club, his widow said.

Kelly, a Staten Island father of two who began working at the rock club in 1987, was closing the bar around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday when he tripped down a steep staircase from a second-floor office and struck his head, Barbara Kelly said workers told her.

Emergency officials responded to a 4:38 a.m. call and transported Kelly to Bellevue Hospital Center, according to the FDNY. He was pronounced dead there, a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner's office said.

Paul Rizzo — co-owner of the bar famed for hosting Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and Lady Gaga — said Bitter End staff and regulars were in shock about the death of their longtime friend.

"We loved the man," Rizzo said Monday, referring to the incident that occurred while he was away from the club as an "accident."

Friends and family nicknamed Kelly the "Mayor of Bleecker Street," said Barbara Kelly, with whom Kelly has an 18-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. Kelly loved Greenwich Village, she said. 

"It was like Candyland to him," she said. "He was always telling me about all the great things that were going on. He loved the diversity. He loved meeting people."

When Kelly's wife visited him at his workplace — where he began clocking in full-time after more than 30 years as a print shop supervisor for Deloitte LLP — she never expected to be able to speak with him for long. 

"He was like a celebrity," she said. "You couldn't talk with him [at The Bitter End] for five minutes without someone coming up to talk to him."

More than 200 people attended Kelly's wake on Thursday and Friday, from musicians he knew from The Bitter End to the owners of a bagel shop he frequented, Barbara Kelly said.

"Everyone had stories about what a good guy he was," she said. "He looked after people."

Kelly's official cause of death has not been determined, according to the city medical examiner's office, and the NYPD did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the incident.

The Bitter End is in the early stages of planning a memorial concert for Kelly, Rizzo said.

He was "one of the warmest people I've ever met," said friend of six years Richie Cannata, a musician who plays at the club every Monday night. Cannata left The Bitter End less than an hour before Kelly's fall, he said Monday afternoon as he prepared to perform that night.

Cannata said he was planning to perform the Sting song "Fragile" Monday night at The Bitter End in memory of Kelly.

"It's about how delicate life is," he said. "In a heartbeat, everything can change."