NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Tributes to a notorious Tompkins Square Park street figure have been appearing on social media, amid reports that he was found dead this weekend.
Joel Pakela, known locally as “LES Jewels” was reportedly found unconscious and pronounced dead Saturday morning at Avenue A and East 9th Street in the East Village, according to the EV Grieve blog.
Police have not issued a statement on Pakela’s death. The blog did not specify a cause for his death, but said some residents believed a drug overdose might have been to blame.
Pakela was a fixture in the section of Tompkins Square Park known as “Crusty Row,” a group of benches near the Temperance Fountain where nomads and self-described “gutter punks” congregated. Pakela described himself in some published reports as a “gutter pirate.”
The late Bob Arihood’s blog “Neither More Nor Less” documented “LES Jewels’” colorful behavior, from alcohol-fueled fights in and around Tompkins Square Park to “playing in traffic.” He was also quoted in the New York Times in 2005 about his open use of heroin, saying he “died four times in one day” as a result of using the drug.
In a 2007 article, The Villager quoted neighbors who said Pakela sometimes led poetry readings in the park while sober, but could become dangerous, unsanitary and violent when drunk.
At the time, he was facing a robbery charge, the publication reported. It was one of many arrests documented in various published reports about Pakela over the past several years.
Pakela was also participated in protests against gentrification in the area and participated in was involved in a Tompkins Square Park offshoot of the Occupy Movement, according to published reports.
And multiple sources said despite his reputation, Pakela was beloved within the neighborhood.
“Lots of drunken love for LES Jewels on Avenue A. Someone has a cane and is smacking cars with it. Now that’s a fitting tribute!” tweeted Eden Brower.
“The East Village has lost its idiot,” tweeted Chris Faile.
Numerous tributes have also appeared on Pakela’s own Facebook page.
“Rest in peace, pal. This guy was one of a kind. Joel Pakela, you lasted far longer than anyone would have bet! 9 lives, soundly used, for sure,” one man wrote.
Meanwhile, local activist John Penley announced plans on Facebook for a “howl” in honor of Pakela at 8 p.m. Friday.
“He was both an angel and a devil but he was also an incredible poet and in a way he was probably the last of the Beat Poets to HOWL on the streets of the Lower East Side,” Penley wrote.
A memorial to Pakela also has been set up in the park.
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