Who is that tall man with the gray ponytail and the pleasant smile who's always walking around town? It was Phil Hellsten, artist and "Starman," whose daily routine included walking from his home on Danville Boulevard just north of the high school to Peet's Coffee on Railroad Avenue each morning.
Mr. Hellsten, 57, was found dead in his home early Tuesday afternoon, having apparently died in his sleep during his afternoon nap. An autopsy is being performed.
His business card read, "Cosmic surfer, artist, poet, lover." He had devised a dating system based on elementary astrology, and friends remember him as a matchmaker, both in people's personal and professional lives, "the consummate networker." Artistically he was known as a master of composition and always ready to help his fellow artists with their shows.
Last weekend he was at the Danville Fine Arts Faire, creating a large-scale interactive mosaic "painting" that the public was able to contribute to. His recent art included portraits of famous people done in acrylics in gray squares to create the image, including a large St. Jude/Jesus on the roof above the artist studios at 524 Hartz Ave.
He was born June 14, 1952, in Long Island, N.Y. He moved to California when he was 18, he told the Danville Weekly in a 2006 interview, and was offered a scholarship to play soccer at UC Berkeley. He said instead he took architecture classes at Diablo Valley College and showcased work in local galleries. He also lived in Santa Cruz for awhile.
But for many years he stuck to his routine in Danville: walking each morning to Peet's, then to the library to do his e-mailing, then home for lunch and a nap. He was living with his sister Phyllis, a grown niece and her two daughters in the condo owned by his mother, who passed away in October 2007. They had sold the home and were to vacate it July 1. Friends said he was about to start a new life with his share of the proceeds.
Late each afternoon Mr. Hellsten would meet friends at the artist studios on Hartz Avenue, go to Faz restaurant and then walk up Hartz Avenue to another venue to socialize.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m., Wednesday, July 1, at Peace Lutheran Church in Danville, with Rev. Steve Harms officiating.