We’re all very sad today to announce the passing of a WOW legend, a longtime friend and mentor to many of us here, Dick Richards.
Dick was the genius behind the iconic Atlantic-based Funtone Records and a champion of all that we do and have done over the past 30 years. It was Dick and Funtone, of course, who gave young artists like RuPaul, Phoebe Legere, Duandra Peek, the Now Explosion, and the Pop Tarts their first big break.
Dick was also the producer and star of the seminal The American Music Show (TAMS), a public access TV show that ran on Atlanta basic cable from 1981-2005
Although not explicitly about queer life, many of the creators of TAMS were LGBT, and they injected into the show a distinctly queer aesthetic. TAMS is not polished or at all fancy; in fact, the creators seemed to revel in the low-budget look they cultivated. Every week Dick Richards, Potsy Duncan, Bud Lowry, and James Bond would gather and write, design, record, and improvise a new TAMS episode—always on a budget of $5. The queer aesthetic comes across in the campiness—think cheap wigs and tacky psychedelic wallpaper—and the subject matter—drag performances and tours of gay cruising trails. TAMS is also distinctly Southern, with Church Lady chic and thick country accents pervading most of the videos.
Although the creators didn’t know it at the time, they were making one of the most thorough archives of queer Atlanta history: RuPaul’s first lip synch. Jayne County when she was just starting in Atlanta punk clubs. Lady Bunny developing some of her signature dance moves… It’s not just the people that TAMS document, but also the places important to queer Atlanta. TAMS provides some of the only glimpses into famous clubs like Backstreet and Weekends, and its clear that this city has been on the forefront of the queer scene for decades. Look through the videos and you’ll see flyers, photos, advertisements, ad other artifacts that may be long gone, but will live on in perpetuity online via TAMS.
Lots of video and pics to explore at the FunTone Museum.
In another bit of iconic intersectionality, Dick was also the childhood best friend of WOW’s spiritual godfather Nelson Sullivan. (There’s a great interview with Dick talking about their friendship here).
Below, Nelson visits Dick “in and obscure structure in a crime-ridden part of Atlanta in the 1980s, home of the Funtone USA World Headquarters…”
Writes Fenton Bailey:
Dick was FunTone through and through. His tone was always fun. He was so positive, nurturing, and always smiling. Nothing bothered him and if it did he he always stayed on the funny side of it. His warmth and humor was an inspiration.
Said Randy Barbato:
“Fenton and I LOVED him. Our hearts are heavy!”
— Randy Barbato (@Randybarbato) September 14, 2018
I’m sorry to report that Dick Richards has passed from leukemia. Dick was a sweet Southern gent who was Nelson Sullivan’s best friend and later became in control of Nelson’s videos of the ’80s downtown scene (which I’m in a lot of). Dick also did Funtone Records. RIP.
— michael musto (@mikeymusto) September 14, 2018
Sad news today: Dick Richards, founder of Fun Tone Records, has passed away after a long battle w/ leukemia. In addition to running Fun Tone, Richards also had an iconic public access show in Atlanta. He was a true original & we’re sad to lose this dear member of the WOW family. pic.twitter.com/riaTLMgis3
— World of Wonder (@WorldOfWonder) September 14, 2018
Writes longtime friend Robert Coddington:
“Dick Richards was a great friend and mentor. Many of you do not know of his influence on culture, but after Warhol, there was only Dick. He knew how to create art with a cacophony of actors and situations for his Atlanta cable show The American Music Show. It was Dick who persuaded Lady Bunny, Flloyd, Larry Tee, RuPaul and many more to leave Atlanta for New York City in the 1980s. He gave them the education to be in front of the camera and it was also their first taste of fame on TAMS. But the real gift he gave everyone in his life was teaching all of us how to be an adult while still experiencing the world with the eyes of a starry-eyed child.”
And Paula Gately-Tillman Hoffberger wrote this…
” Dick Richards, my dear friend whom I met in 1985 through an introduction by Brant Mewborn. A charming, smart, Southern gentleman. His creative vision and instincts unequaled. He was an original. Dick arranged my photo shoots over the years with Ru Paul, Hope Nichols, Larry Tee, Nelson Sullivan, Tish and Snooky, Cocktail Girlz list goes on- over the years I covered and documented the American Music Show 1987-1997.
The distance between us did not deter our friendship. In the last few years months, weeks, we talked more often. I was able to say Thank you to Dick for his support and belief in my work, and our friendship. “
Below, an exclusive interview that our intrepid Manhattan Cable reporter Laurie Pike did with Dick and the whole Funtone family:
Here’s Dick being interviewed about The American Music Show for Canadian TV
And here’s a video compilation of surprising superstar fans of his American Music Show featuring Jane Fonda, President George Bush Sr, The Fat Boys, Barbara Mandrell, Reverend Jesse Jackson, James Brown and more….
Below, a trove of pics from Steve LaFreniere‘s Facebook page:
Rest in Power, Dick Richards. There will never be another like you!
(top photo: Paula Gately Tillman Hoffberger, second photo by Susan Daboll)