Five years ago today, my friend Keith Alexander passed away in a bicycle accident on the Shore Road in Brooklyn. Keith was one of those people that stuck with you after you met him – big in both personality and stature, sometimes brash, heavily tattooed, full of strong opinions about everything from cycling to body modification, he was not someone you’d likely forget. When many of his friends, myself included, found out that he had died, we were shocked, as you might imagine, but not just due to the sudden and tragic nature of his death – because he was almost larger than life, a person who walked into a room and owned it immediately, someone whose flame seemed incapable of ever being snuffed out.
During his life, he was a rock star, playing with Carnivore and Dee Snider’s Sick Motha Fuckers; a piercer and scarification artist, operating Modern American Bodyarts in Brooklyn; a teacher, teaching classes at The New School. He served as an adviser to Dee Snider for his film Strangeland and organized the film’s celebratory opening party, the Night of 1000 Scars. He was interested in martial arts, music, marketing, cycling, body art, technology – he once told me that he could get along with anyone because he could always find some common interest. The sheer diversity of the people who attended his funeral were a testament to the amazing individual that he was: martial arts practitioners, rock stars, heavily tattooed body modification enthusiasts, marketing professionals, little old ladies, you name it, they were there to celebrate his life and mourn his sudden passing.
In the five years since he died, the things we’ve learned about his last moments add to the amazing and sometimes surreal life story of our incredible friend. Each year on this day, several of his friends go to the spot where he died to leave flowers. The first year, we met a couple who had been there and saw what had happened. He was riding down the Shore Road path, which was used by cyclists, runners, and walkers alike, and came up behind a father and son who were cycling together. Keith was coming up fast behind them when the child, who had been riding erratically, swerved in front of him. Keith swerved to avoid hitting the kid, hit a pothole in the bike path, and went full-speed into a guard rail. This man and woman, who were jogging separately on either side of the accident location, went to his aid and stayed with him until help arrived, but his injuries were too severe and he died at the scene. These two people, who had been strangers before that day, went on to become a couple.
In subsequent years, we’ve met many people on whom Keith made an impression, some who knew him from around the neighborhood, and some who were strangers but remembered him from seeing him every day on the bike path. The path has been repaired and the section where he died no longer goes right up next to the highway. Instead, there’s a fence between the path and the highway, and it would be impossible for the scenario in which he died to occur today.
We still go there every year to raise a glass to him and remember his amazing life, and we’ll be there again today. I wonder who we’ll meet this time.