ST. PETERSBURG — T.W. Curtis knew hundreds of people in Pinellas County and beyond, but far fewer of those acquaintances really knew him.
A frequent and distinctive presence with shoulder-length blond hair who often dressed in black, Mr. Curtis played golf tournaments named after celebrities such as golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez and country musician Charlie Daniels, whose portraits he painted to benefit charities.
His paintings and sculptures have hung in banks, corporate headquarters and even embassies, according to his website. He had exhibited in several states.
He greeted a tide of restaurant patrons from his happy-hour perch, an outside table by the front door of Cassis American Brasserie on Beach Drive.
"Every person on our staff said hi to him every time he came in," said Elliot Gunther, 25, the restaurant's general manager.
His notoriety among the well-heeled led to customers.
"You could find him many nights walking down Beach Drive," said Aaron Fodiman, a co-publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine. "Anyone who walked Beach Drive knew T.W."
Facebook photos show Mr. Curtis mingling at social events, one glamorous woman or another draped on his arm.
He had donated his abstract art work and portraits to the Angelus, a cluster of Pasco County group homes for people with disabilities, the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation and the Abilities Foundation, among others.
Beneath the black hats he favored and the swagger some resented lurked a private soul, one who was happiest working alone and who rarely discussed his past.
Mr. Curtis didn't just appear at fundraisers, he performed at them. A warm fall sun burned him raw in 2000, as Mr. Curtis painted shirtless for hours for an NFL alumni event in Coachman Park before an appreciative crowd.
When he had finished, Mr. Curtis invited Alan White, drummer for the 1970s rock band Yes, to jam his drumsticks into the painting.
"If I recall, it (sold for) around $8,500," said Michael Vandiver, 60, who owns Razor Golf.
Mr. Curtis gave away more art at the Charlie Daniels Celebrity Golf Classic (started by Vandiver), including a portrait of Daniels embedded with a violin Daniels had supplied.
Terry Wayne Curtis was born in Morehead, Ky., in 1951. He grew up around Ohio as his father, a Church of the Nazarene minister, moved from church to church.
He attended a couple of art institutes, married and moved to Pinellas County. By the 1980s, he was selling his work, which won popular but not critical acclaim.
"I think T.W.'s gotten a bad rap the whole time he was here," said Diane Gugliotta, 69, an artist and instructor with wins in more than 200 shows. "He's devoted his whole life to being an artist, and I think there's almost a jealousy because he didn't do what younger artists were doing from the universities. He just did his own thing."
His childless marriage ended in the early 1990s. According to brother Barry G. Curtis, 65, Mr. Curtis pretty much "lived in the present" after that and seldom saw his family. He told Gugliotta, a friend of 25 years, only that he was "from the Midwest."
In recent years, Gugliotta said, the quality of Mr. Curtis' art had declined from its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. She and other friends believed he was drinking too much.
"He did the typical, 'Oh, I can just drink wine and not vodka and I'll be okay,'" said Connie Young, another friend.
A recent move of his studio brought Mr. Curtis closer to other artists. He opened a studio Dec. 14 at the Five Deuces Gallery in St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District.
Sometime after Christmas, his Facebook postings came to a halt. Young texted and emailed without a reply.
"My alarm bells started going off," said Young, 53.
On Jan. 2, Young asked St. Petersburg police to come to Mr. Curtis' loft and former studio at 1663 First Ave. S. They found him upstairs. He was declared dead at the scene.
Mr. Curtis was 62.
His last outgoing cellphone call, according to the police report, had been made at 2:40 p.m. on Dec. 28.
A Facebook posting assured friends that Mr. Curtis had died "peacefully in his sleep."
The District Six Medical Examiner's Office attributed his death to suspected gastrointestinal bleeding caused by "chronic ethanolism," a synonym for alcoholism.
The wall outside Mr. Curtis' mostly barren studio still bears his hand-painted signature.
Staff writer Lennie Bennett and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.