Flamboyant, eccentric Willard Blevins dies

'He just had his quirks'
Jul. 03, 2014 @ 08:19 AM

You didn't have to know Willard Lee Blevins' name to know who he was.

Blevins was the person everyone had seen walking local streets dressed as Superman, Batman, a gorilla, Elvis Presley, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Spiderman, an Indian, Johnny Cash or Cher, to name several.

“He was the legend of Caldwell County,” said Mary Greene, Blevins’ lifelong friend, who also was his caretaker in the latter years of his life.

Blevins died Tuesday at Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care. He was 68.

Blevins was seldom, if ever, seen in public without of some kind of costume. Donald McDonald, owner of Highland Coffee House in downtown Lenoir, remembers seeing Blevins for the first time in 1979.

“The first time I ever saw him, he was standing next to a telephone booth at Smith’s Crossroads Shopping Center in a Superman outfit,” he said. “I thought it was a prank. Then I heard plenty about him. He went all the way for authenticity.”

Often, Blevins' pet iguana perched atop his head. Sometimes Blevins would pull a pet snake out of his shirt, startling anyone nearby.

In a video of an impromptu, roadside interview that a local resident posted on YouTube in 2006, Blevins defended his practice of dressing up.

"It’s a free country. You can do whatever you want to. ... I ain’t got nothing else to do,” he said.

Blevins had a limited income but was often hired to appear in costume. Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock hired him to stand next to a large billboard near the park entrance dressed as an Indian chief.

Tom Watson remembers the time he saw Blevins at the Lenoir Walmart 26 years ago.

“Walmart had hired him as a greeter that weekend when the Batman movie starring Michael Keaton came out on VHS,” Watson recalled. “I was up there shopping, and Willard was doing his best to shake hands with shoppers. A man and his son came up to Willard. The man said, ‘Son, I want you to meet Batman.’ The boy said, ‘Dad, that’s not Batman, that’s Willard Blevins.”

Blevins didn’t own a car and walked everywhere. He was walking from his house on Connelly Springs Road to a friend’s house on Mulberry Street one afternoon in May 2011 when he was struck by a station wagon and suffered serious head injuries.

After his release from the hospital, Blevins was never the same, said Joey Hoyle, a friend.

“He never was able to return to his home after that accident,” Hoyle said. “He had to go to the Gateway Nursing Center for several years. He was not able to return to any kind of like he had, walking the streets in his costumes.”

About a week before his death, Blevins quit eating and drinking fluids, Hoyle said.

Blevins was taken to hospice sometime after 11 p.m. Monday. He died a few hours later.

The news of his death renewed memories for those who knew or just knew of him, including Sandra McDonald, Donald McDonald's wife.

“He was a really nice guy,” she said. “He just had his quirks. He just loved to dress up. We kind of missed seeing him.”