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Larger-than-life Texas artist Bob ‘Daddy-O’ Wade dies

by Michael Barnes,
In 2010, artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade and Ed Bass watch a helicopter position Wade's fanciful 40-foot-long sculpture of an iguana called "Iggy" atop the Fort Worth Zoo administration building. The iguana was once on the Lone Star Cafe in New York, but Lee and Ramona Bass bought it and stored it for several years. The iguana, which weighs 2,600 pounds (including the steel base) is on loan to the zoo. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

Larger-than-life Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade died of heart failure Monday evening at his Austin home. He was 76.

“Just when we're grieving the loss of (writer) Bill Wittliff, I get the call that one of my best friends and a beloved multi-talented Texas character, Bob ‘Daddy-O’ Wade, passed last evening,” Austin civic engagement leader Dan Bullock posted on social media Tuesday afternoon. “I'd just been with him days before, and he complained of not feeling well, but thought it was a matter of tweaking medicine from his recent bypass surgery.”

People across the country, indeed around the world, recognized Wade’s amusingly outrageous public art, sometimes associated with 1970s Cosmic Cowboy culture. That output included 40-foot-tall boots in San Antonio, a 70-foot saxophone in Houston and giant frogs at Carl’s Corner on Interstate 35.

Among his public Austin pieces are a football helmet atop Shoal Creek Saloon and a colorized mural at the Ranch 616 eatery. A retrospective of his work was exhibited at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture in 2009.

One of his most famous projects was a giant iguana that coiled atop the Lone Star Cafe in New York City at the height of “Texas chic” there. The electric green “Iggy” the iguana returned to Texas and was placed atop a building at the Fort Worth Zoo in 2010.

Always wearing a wide grin, Wade never seemed to stop. A new book and a museum solo show were already in the works for 2020. Although best known for his public art, his work can be found in private and museum collections across the country.

Writer Forrest Preece profiled Wade in 2006.

“Well, in his studio, he has a life-sized wire mesh alligator that he’s covering with Altoids boxes for a collector,” Preece wrote. “In his driveway, he has a 1956 Beechcraft which is now a bright blue marlin. ’This thing was supposed to have been hung from that 70-foot saxophone in Houston at Cabo restaurant, but they closed their doors. So it’s available!’”

Wade’s life was full of happy incidents. As a boy, he was visited by his TV hero, Roy Rogers, in Austin because Rogers was first cousin to his mother. In 2016, Wade unveiled a Roy Rogers piece made for Down on Grayson, a San Antonio eatery. Wade used a still of Rogers on his palomino, Trigger, taken during a 1943 movie premiere in that city.

“A true Texas legend has gone on ahead,” advertising executive Tim McClure said. “His ’funk art’ is his everlasting legacy.”

The artist leaves behind his wife, Lisa Wade, who partnered with Bob as his most effective spokeswoman in countless public appearances. Early plans for a memorial are underway.

“Bob remembered when you were hurt, sick or celebrating,” Bullock said. “And he was there for you. Even though he was not feeling well, Lisa reported he was bustling around on his last day, being an ambassador of holiday goodwill to others.”