PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — Friends of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens fixture Lawrence Cassella are mourning the sudden passing of the popular dog-walker, bartender and dancer last month — while planning a Prospect Park memorial to his “incredible spirit.”
Cassella, 38, died on Jan. 28 after a four-month battle with a rare immune system disease known as HLH, his loved ones said.
His untimely death came as a shock to a large group of friends in the neighborhood where Casella lived for years, once worked as a bartender Cafe Enduro (now Lincoln Park Tavern) and operated a brisk dog-walking business.
“He kind of catapulted the whole dog-walking community in our neighborhood,” said Joyous Gage, whose 10-year-old dog Jeri was Casella’s very first client. “It’s a big loss.”
Gage remembers Cassella as “the light of Lincoln Road,” for his “special walk” and “spring in his step” she attributes to his real passion — modern dance. Just last summer, Cassella toured South America with his dance troupe, Ivy Baldwin Dance, which included a climb of Machu Picchu about a month before he fell ill.
“I’d always hoped they would have done a reality show on ‘Lawrence the dancing dog-walker,’” Gage said with a laugh. “It was a sight to behold when you’d see him from behind, with his pink short-shorts on, and he’d have like six dogs attached to his hip.”
Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Lola Lorraine lived on Cassella’s block for years and remembers her dog, Luna, having “this special craziness just for Lawrence.”
“She would almost pee herself every time we saw him — like he was the most magic person,” she said.
But one of her most vivid memories of Cassella was him behind the bar at Enduro.
“I remember him bartending the night that Obama was elected and it was like New Year’s Eve on the street,” she said. “He was kind of the fixture at the center of it, slinging drinks through the mayhem.”
“He was a truly special person, just one of those people who enjoyed every moment of living and was so vibrant.”
Cassella’s family and long-time boyfriend Billy Clark are planning to plant a tree and dedicate a park bench in his honor in Prospect Park this spring, with a party for all who knew him, Clark said.
“The dance world, the world where he knew people through walking dogs, the neighborhood of PLG and his family and his friends — they’re all going to come together for the planting of this tree,” he said.
To fund the memorial, Clark and Casella’s friends are using an online fundraising campaign previously used to solicit help for his medical bills. They hope to raise about $7,500 for the tree, bench, plaque and “celebration,” he said.
“He was just so unbelievable and a remarkable human being,” Clark said. “I remember walking to that neighborhood with him and everyone was so happy to see him … I’ve never been around someone who had that effect.”
To donate to the fund for Lawrence Cassella, visit the GiveForward campaign page.