Our dearly departed: People who died in 2012
Published: December 26, 2012
San Antonio's premiere flamenco guitarist, and one of Texas' first, Willie "El Curro" Champion died August 18 of cancer. He's survived by his wife, Teresa Champion, and daughters Rosalinda ("Chayito") and Elsa, all three of them well-recognized local flamenco symbols in their own right.
A graduate from Fox Tech High School in 1954, he toured with renowned flamenco dancer José Greco for 17 years, appeared in John Wayne's The Alamo, and shared the stage with stars like Tony Bennett and Count Basie. He spent the last years of his life displaying his virtuosity (and his contagious smile) at the River Walk, where he performed for almost 40 years at Las Canarias, the restaurant at La Mansión del Río hotel.
Alex de León
Known for his barrio style, local artist Alex de León was mistaken as a folk artist before gaining critical recognition. The long time SA resident died December 7 at age 53. Born in the Rio Grande Valley, he attended Kansas City Art Institute and exhibited widely at galleries such as La Luz de Jesús, L.A. and Fergus Fernández, Houston. His design work was featured in TV shows and films including Six Degrees of Separation and Madonna's Truth or Dare. De León, known for his dark humor, was a 1996 alumnus of Artpace, which recently exhibited his work.
Felix Louis Stehling Jr.
Taco Cabana founder and "Bean Burger" inventor Felix Louis Stehlin Jr. died December 10 at age 85. Born in Fredericksburg, he was an avid fisherman who ran numerous night clubs and restaurants before founding the original Taco Cabana in 1978, which has since grown to a chain of 150 24-hour eateries.
"I'm gonna sue your ass," is how Richard Gary Griffing began our last conversation this summer, just weeks before his passing from diabetes-related complications at age 61. After a pause, he let out a wheezy laugh. "Callin' me a shit-slinger in print … of course I'm a shit-slinger!"
That he was. Griffing had just picked his final fight with Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz, which fizzled when facts supporting his searing allegations (that Ortiz had been "popped for DWI" then driven home by a cop) never surfaced. With his infamous Drudge Report-esque San Antonio Lightning, Griffing flooded us with flashy headlines and a heavy dose of hard-right commentary.
Griffing also loved to pick fights, either as a long-shot candidate against mayoral candidate or while deriding public officials at the citizens-to-be-heard mic. Last year he shouted down the city's Ethics Review Board before security chased him out of his own hearing.
Easy to deride as part of SA's "fringe" (who the fuck gets to define "fringe"?), Griffing's obsessive picking at an issue could draw results. Without his early reporting of missing animals and unexplained deaths at the local Wild Animal Orphanage, the now-defunct operation may have never closed shop.
Walk into Chris Madrid's Blanco burger joint namesake, and you'll see he left behind a lot more than just delicious burgers. His smile beams through framed family photos scattered near the front of the parlor, his arms wrapped around wife, kids and grandchildren.
Madrid passed away this March at age 61. Known for his warm personality, Madrid took his restaurant from humble beginnings to a San Antonio culinary institution with his signature Tostada, Flaming Jalapeño, and Cheddar Cheezy burgers, which scored numerous awards, including routine nods from the Current.