ST. PETERSBURG — Preston Towriss, who suffered from a terminal illness his whole life, was a man of many dimensions. He decorated his house with images of Scarface and Jesus.
Before he lost his sight within the past year, he rocked his tricked-out Oldsmobile with frame-rattling hip-hop and gospel music.
The diminutive Mr. Towriss, who stood 5 feet 3 and weighed 103 pounds at his healthiest, also kept a life-sized cutout of Shaquille O'Neal, along with 8-by-10 photos representing each phase of the 7-foot-1, 325-pound center's basketball career.
Doctors diagnosed Mr. Towriss at age 2 with cystinosis, a genetic metabolic disease thought to affect as few as 300 people in the United States and 2,000 worldwide. People with cystinosis accumulate cystine, an amino acid, at 50 to 100 times the normal level. The kidneys, eyes, muscles and pancreas can all deteriorate as a result, according to the Cystinosis Foundation. He lived with the symptoms, including curvature of the spine; and he had a kidney transplant at age 12.
His mother, Barbara Brauer, couldn't have slowed Mr. Towriss down if she wanted to. After graduating from Dixie Hollins High School, he moved into an apartment, then a rented home that reminded her of Cracker Barrel for all of the knickknacks everywhere.
He reached out to athletes he admired, who reciprocated the gesture. Former Buccaneer Mike Alstott was a "casual friend," Brauer said. Wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage stopped by Mr. Towriss' house, she said.
All the while, he stocked the dairy shelves at a Publix on 49th Street N, even though he could have decided not to work because of his condition.
"I know the guys kind of helped … him because they knew it wasn't something he was supposed do," Brauer said. "But you couldn't make him stop."
"I love the Lord," Mr. Towriss wrote on Facebook, adding that he also liked women, cars, sports and money.
"Watching him face some of the trials in his life has helped me face mine," said Jing Lou, a close friend.
Mr. Towriss lost his sight over the past year, a result of the cystinosis. Rather than sell his car in the garage, he retreated to it in quiet moments. He sat in the front seat in the dark with his cat, Hank, and prepared to die.
His mother found him dead in his bed Sunday. Mr. Towriss was 25.
"He taught me what it is like to be imperfect and yet perfect at the same time," she said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.