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Danville icon passes away at 57

Original post made on Jun 24, 2009

Phil Hellsten, 57, artist and "Starman," whose daily routine included a lot of walking around downtown Danville, was found dead in his home early Tuesday afternoon, having apparently died in his sleep during his afternoon nap. Artists, friends and friends are mourning him.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 1:21 PM

Comments (33)

Posted by Sandy
a resident of Danville
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I never knew his name but saw him ALL the time walking around town. He always had a smile on his face, like he was having more fun than anyone could imagine. My condolence's to the family.

Posted by Stephen Sanfilippo
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm

For the last three years, I have met Phil for coffee about 3-4 mornings a week. We would sit for hours at Starbucks or Peets to discuss whatever plan he was hatching for changing the world that day. Some days it would be a simple enough goal to get leftover paint at Kelly Moore or Home Depot to work on his rooftop mural. Other days would be a meeting to download photos and video he shot the day before onto my computer. And sometimes he'd pitch proposals for how his ideas would take over Yahoo, Google and the internet at large. They all sounded achievable the way Phil sold them. I did what I could to help him with the paint or downloads each day... but often had to tell him Google would have to wait until tomorrow.

Each day he would chip away at his bigger ideas, one by one, break them down into manageable pieces and attempt to make them a reality. I loved escaping into his world, just as the handful of other people did when they'd join us at our table each day. Phil knew nearly everyone in Danville, so when I couldn't help him with something, there were always lots of other folks who were willing to support him.

Phil was an exceptionally creative, playfully confrontational artist who rallied people to explore their ideas. He enjoyed saying, "it's not done until it's overdone." He really opened my eyes to expect more from myself as an artist, and to be a more optimistic person. He always made me question my work, helped me to see things in new ways, continued to be interested in me and my ideas, and insisted that I put more art out there! And he did this for everyone he came in contact with. Phil owned very few things, he lived very simply -- never afraid of taking risks because he never had anything to lose. I am grateful to have lived simply through him.

What a sense of loss I've felt on this first day without Phil in the world. My daily routine, my outlet for unrestrained creative thought and my source of unconditional inspiration have slipped off the rails. Yet Phil has lost much more... he had so many ideas left on the table, that only he could tap into -- he just needed a bit more time.

Thank you Phil for making the Danville area the most interesting place I've ever lived in.

Posted by Kathy McCartney
a resident of Danville
on Jun 24, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Aloha Phil - aka Starman,

You were the glue that helped us all stick together as artist. The conduit that help create this vibrant art community we all participate in today. Phil, you always had a smile to share and you were always very encouraging about my artwork when I felt too different or insecure at times. He encouraged what is different and found the good in everyone's art. He could see and appreciate the unique talents and gifts that each individual expressed. And thanks Phil for introducing me to my great boyfriend.

Phil you were meant to be here. I see in many ways your "purpose" in how it effected my life and many others in a positive way. Your Starlight is a guiding force in our town today and forever going forward.

I will miss you my gifted talented friend. The entire town of Danville will miss seeing the tall man with the blond pony tail who was a regular fixture strolling along the streets, restaurants and galleries. They say the good die young......I wish it weren't true.

Kathy McCartney

Posted by Catherine Lindberg
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm

I knew Phil as a fellow artist at the Pioneer Art Gallery. I am so stunned by this news. Of all things I am grateful that it appears he went peacefully. No one can explain or understand why some of us leave this earth so young and others live to be centenarians. I for one believe some have duties to fulfill that are not of this world. Now we all know how much Phil wanted Google Earth to photograph his rooftop art at 524 Hartz Ave. Well, you know they say if you want a job done right, sometimes you just have to do it yourself.......

You go Phil! Lets all be pleased to know that Starman is where he really belongs with the stars and the entire galaxy looking down among us and all that he loved, life itself, and of course, his art! I hope he gets his photo.

Go out tonight and look at the stars. Raise your glass to a toast and look closely.......... you may see Phil's twinkling eye smiling back at you.

I am proud to have known such a wonderful, wise, artist.

Catherine Lindberg

Posted by Don Eagling
a resident of Danville
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:09 pm

A very special person was he, courageous in his art, and caring of us all. Like many others in our art community, I feel a deep and personal loss. I was privileged to be his friend.

Don Eagling

Posted by Angie Lucania
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:26 pm

If you could put a face to optimism.....Phil would definitely fit that frame. Although we lost touch after I graduated....i would always see him around town and make small talk when i could. like at the fine arts faire on saturday. if i knew that would be the last time i would see him i would definitely have given him a hug :-( but that's life i suppose. i will never forget the days when we'd chill at starbucks for hrs and do tarot readings and discuss life and his wordtypes, art and meeting new people and being introduced to new friends through him. it has been fun! and he will be greatly missed especially around town and in the art gallery, etc.

it's been real phil... RIP.

Posted by Jessica
a resident of Danville
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:39 pm

What a loss to our community. What a special soul. Heaven is getting a great new denizen; our loss.

I just saw him at the art fair on Sunday, doing his thing. What a radiant, giving, loving human being. This is such a reminder to give each other appreciation every moment; we never know which will be one of our last.

Rest in peace, Starman. Our love and appreciation goes with you.

Posted by Rock Hendricks
a resident of Montair Elementary School
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:49 pm

My best friend in maui died the same way a few years ago when i lived there,Margaret was loved by everybody she was like the mayor of Maui, like Phil was of Danville,She was on the top of her world,loved by everyone,like Phil
she died in her sleep at one of our posh gigs playing on the island of Lanai at Manele bay hotel ,its allways been my favorite hotel on the planet and i would know..cause ive been to them all,I always said way before Margaret died there that this place was like Heaven and that i hoped Heaven would be so nice,Her passing shocked us all to the core and many peoples lives changed dramaticly after Margarets death mine included,Its the same with Phil,Margaret was a lot like phil to she was a true hippie her nickname was Rainbow she knew every Sea turtle on Maui by name!(she was in Turtle watch) and she was a great piano player and artist she also loved patchuli oil!Like phill and always wore tyedye stuff like Phil
She got into turtles one day scuba diving and a sea turtle actully swam up to her and hugged her!It blew her mind and from that day on she devoted her life to turtles!
Phil the Starman and Margaret the Rainbow, how true is that!
I am sure blessed to have been touched by there souls,We should not be sad but rejoice there lives and be happy
when Margarets funeral came hundreds of friends came to see her off Traditional hawaiian style with her ashes going out on the outriggers and flowers thrown into the sea,
a miracle took place for everyone to see! two sea turtles came up to the canoes and followed them out into the sunset!The whole Island was stunned!
I am sure Phil will be there looking out for us the same way Margaret is for me and her loved ones on Maui
Its heartbreaking I know but dont be to sad ..we were very lucky to have known starman
Hey Starman i know your hangin out with Rainbow say hi to the turtles,I love you both

Posted by Sandi Hunt
a resident of Danville
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Just making eye contact in passing was like a snack to my soul.
there was always a positive sound energy current.
It was nice to see him

Posted by Tom Hamill
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 7:17 am

If it hadn't have been for Phil, The Pioneer Art Gallery would not have existed. There wouldn't have been any Thursday night jams, and I would not have had the catalyst to come out of my shell and start writing and performing songs again.

If it hadn't have been for Phil, I would not have been so delightfully inspired; after all, I first thought of the title "Jesus From Space" after listening to Phil explain that he was going to get Google to use a more current satellite photo (i.e., one showing his depiction of Jesus ) of 524 Hartz Avenue.

So Phil and I are cosmically linked, through space and time. I shall always love and miss Phil, and now I'm crying again.

there's a prophet on the roof of a crooked temple
used to be a fast food place
there's a mankey in the moon, puppets jumping up and down
the look of The Rapture on their face
Jesus From Space

Posted by Carrie
a resident of Danville
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:23 am

We have lost a huge spark, a great person with a big personality, a talented artist and friend. I will miss you greatly Phil. You gave the town of Danville a much needed dose of flair.

Posted by Diana Busse
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:00 am

I first met Phil when he was hanging his one man show at The Pioneer Art Gallery about two years ago. He exuded some kind of inner wisdom and was very encouraging. Not only did we fast become friends but he also grabbed my hand one night when leaving our art salon meeting and whispered "you are my sister in Christ." Much later when my faith was a low ebb, as he was climbing his ladder to put finishing touches on his Jesus roof painting, he looked down from the top and said "nothing is impossible with God." During prayers at his bedside, when we were asked by Pastor Steve to each say something, I repeated what Phil had said -- "nothing is impossible with God."

Diana E. Busse

Posted by yvonne
a resident of Danville
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm

He was such a great guy - I only knew him as Starman, but he was wonderful, warm and generous with his talents.

Posted by John
a resident of Danville
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:11 pm



You were put here as a teacher. I found you a metaphysician. Meta meaning... Healer.
I know you are free now. You did not really complain. You had observations but all for the higher good. I knew you just wanted a fair shake... We have had a close relationship during this last year.
You did add flair to Danville. A peaceful man with a smile…. Trudging your road to happy destiny
I have heard it said that Trudging is “Walking with a purpose”. You found your purpose and lived congruently with that in your 57 years mostly close to home....
That is just my humble observation
Thats Cool....

John Richmond
Your Realtor and friend

Posted by Cathy Preece Patton
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 5:13 am

I first met Phil in high school. We would go to Santa Cruz with another friend, Bill Ecoff, and I would watch in awe as they surfed. Phil was a great surfer. He was fearless. Then we would go to Bill's cabin in Feldon and hang out. As Phil would say, "bliss." In the years passing I ran into Phil every once in a while and always it seemed, at pivotal times. So this Feb., when my marriage of 30 years was ending and I moved home to live with my dad, I just knew I would see Phil again. And I did.
I was coming home from work and there he was, walking down the street. And i said, "are you Phil Hellsten?" And he said,"I used to be!" He immediately took me under his large wing and introduced me to the art community in Danville. He poured love on me in a way I did not deserve. He mad me feel special and beautiful. I was withering on the vine when I saw him and he nurtured me back to blossoming happiness. He was a healer.
I have few regrets in life but I will always regret with all my heart that I did not make time to come be with him this weekend at the fair. I would give anything to time travel back one week and do many things differently.
I was truely blessed to know Philip. I loved him more than any man I have ever known. He was my "enchanter." Thank you Phil for all the love. your c.

Posted by Brenda
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 7:57 am

Phil has impacted so many of us with his optimism, his generosity, and his zest for life! His mind was always churning, he always had a book that he was devouring, and idea that was in process, and he was always ready to gather friends to have fun at the drop of a hat!
He brought people together in a warm and inviting way that only he could do- to rally the community for the arts, to participate and enjoy music, or just to talk and share ideas....there are just so many reasons I miss Phil! I know that many of us will be inspired to live life more positively and see "possibilities" rather than obstacles as we remember Phil...

Posted by B A Elliott
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 8:48 am

I was so sadened to here of Phil's passing; I knew him back in the day (of playing tennis down at the HS). Who knew he'd become such a Danville Icon (I've posted this article on my Danville FaceBook Page); I'd always see him walking - I'll miss that! Rest in pease old friend!

Posted by Sean Jordan and Family
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 8:48 am


My family and I will miss your friendly smile and colorful shirts! You were and still area a blessing to us. Thanks for always taking the time to wave hello and smile.


Posted by Shelley
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 9:06 am

Does anyone remember back in the day when Phil wore his wooden tie?
This was a few years ago when what is now Bagel Street Cafe was a coffee house in the Livery. We did not know his name. He became "Mr. Wooden Tie" to my family. I once told him that story and he got a kick out of it. He will be missed. I do hope someone got photos of his roof top art work so all of us can see it.

Posted by From YouTube
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 10:36 am

Web Link

Posted by Heather Ostrom
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I didn't really get to know Phil that well, but whenever i did see him around town i would say hi. Or would scream his name out the window with Wendy whenever we'd see him walking down town (haha :) ). I remember meeting him at Starbucks where he told me my "colors", followed by stories of his art. He was a very interesting, kind and gentle man who i wish i got to know better. He brought a lot of smiles and joy to this town and he will be greatly missed.

I hope you passed in a glorious dream, Phil.


Posted by Rick Martinez
a resident of Danville
on Jun 26, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Phil was very creative guy who loved music and art. I had the pleasure of being part of the Pioneer Art Gallery Jam Night when it existed and will remember Phil's smile and enthusiasm. I have some great photos of Phil and the group. He was an organizer and a visionary with a big heart. Thanks for some fun and memorable times Phil

Posted by rod
a resident of Danville
on Jun 27, 2009 at 7:10 pm

didnt know him but he always had a smile and always said hi. I cant believe i never stopped to talk

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Danville
on Jun 27, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I never knew him or even his name. I knew he was an artist, I loved his jeans... I saw him every day more than once. I always thought what a "carefree" interesting life he must live. He was always smiling, or in a deep thought. He just seemed to be enjoying himself. Im sad to see he's passed. I wish I'd taken the time to just say HI... My condolences to his family. I hope you find comforate in the memories he's given us all...

Posted by Sue
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Jun 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I met Phil at an arts auction and fundraiser for Stone Valley Middle School. I admired his work. My husband and myself always saw Phil walking around town and it was always nice to see him, almost like he was a representative of the town. My husband said he had just seen him the day before his passing. I will miss seeing him around.

Posted by Nancy
a resident of Danville
on Jun 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Our town will sure miss you. I'll speak for all us gals at the
Thrift Shop when I say we'll miss your smile and daily visit.Your
time here made our lives so much more beautiful. Thanks.

Posted by Vic & Laurie Lagorio
a resident of San Ramon
on Jun 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm

We all loved Phil dearly. May all our wonderful memories bring us comfort for all the good times we had to share with Phil. Phil will live in the hearts of everyone who loved him. There is a new star in the sky it"s (Starman-1111) and he is watching over all of us. He will never be forgotten and will always be loved by all. He touched thousands or more peoples lives and made us smile or laugh, even think,so we would say "Thanks Phil)! For all my memories at Peet's Coffee and Tea- Danville and before, I will miss you most of all. I am glad you showed me another side of Art. yes, we did have many good times on my break and lunches. I loved meeting all your many different artist and other friends. You were an inspiration for all of us and will always be appreciated. We will all be here for each other and we all will always have you in our hearts. Our deepest sympathy to your family and all your friends. Thanks, for everything Phil. Laurie Lagorio and Family.

Posted by Leonard Vinci
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 29, 2009 at 11:10 am

I had the pleasure of meeting Phil 2 years ago in front of Uptown Cafe. I saw Phil walking all over Danville and said to myself, I have to stop and talk to this guy. He looked like a professor of something. When I stopped him on the street and introduced myself, it was like he new me for years. Phil was a man every easy to talk to. I was shocked to hear of his passing...he seemed so healthy. My deepest sympathy to your family.
Thank you Phil for allowing me to know you. Leonard Vinci, Alamo

Posted by Alicia
a resident of Danville
on Jun 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I miss you Phil! You are an inspiration! You are forever in my thoughts and prayers!! My heart is broken! :(

Posted by Claudette
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I'm an Artist. Reading about Phill reminds me of so many Artists I know. There are parts of his personality in all of us. All the good parts. He will be missed, even by me who has never met him as I've only met him through these memories.

I believe we are here, even when the time is short, for a purpose and when we have met our purpose we are taken. Of course there are exceptions, but it seems Phill did touch many lives for the good and left in his quake "Stardust."

Posted by Mark Curtis
a resident of Danville
on Jun 30, 2009 at 7:18 pm

God Bless you Phil...

He lobbied me to no end to get the "rooftop Jesus" mural on KTVU, and lo and behold we at least got it on

Phil told me it was a tribute to his mom who had recently died. When my dad died just before Christmas in 2007, I had him take me to the roof so I could see it. I was just drawn there by a strength that just pulled me. It was surreal.

Phil was a huge supporter of my book on Campaign 2008 and followed my travels on line. I even put his McCain mosaic on my website.

I saw Phil two Sunday's ago driving home from church. I honked and we waved at each other I as I past Peet's. Oh how I wished I had stopped that day for coffee and we could have talked.

Watch down upon us, my friend!

God bless....

Mark Curtis

Posted by Dana Guzzetti
a resident of Danville
on Jul 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm

I was saddended by news of Phillip's death. I did not know him well, but liked our brief exchanges. He always struck me as creative, uninhibited and optimistic. He gave Danville something authentic, original and thought provoking. Certainly he will be missed by all who knew him. My condolences to his family.

Posted by "Swampy" Joe Bagley
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I first met my friend Phil in March of 2008. It was the first time that I cam to jam at the Pioneer Art Gallery. I was unsure of myself as to what I was getting into showing up to play with only 4 1/2 years at playing guitar. There he was....Phil was the first one to introduce himself to me and made me feel so welcomed. Everytime that I showed up to jam, when I pulled into the parking lot, Phil was standing at my truck door greeting me as I stepped out. How Cool was that.

He also was the very first person to ever call and introduce me as one of the Musicians' of the Pioneer Jam Session! Being 57 myself, how Cool again. I will never forget that.

Throughout the year of jamming on Thursday nights, Phil would always request that we do a song by "The Monkees". For some reason we never did until the very last night of the Jam, March 5th, 2009. I brought the song "I'm a Beliver" and dedicated it to Phil. There he was, standing at the front door listening and singing along with the biggest smile on his face. You don't know how happy I feel that I was able to at least play one Monkee song for him. That was the last time I saw my new friend and I'll miss him dearly.

Life is too short and I am so happy to have known Phil even if it was for only one year.

Luv Ya Phil
Your Friend "Swampy"

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