Ron Maddox, the colorful co-founder of the Taste of Minnesota festival, died Friday. And a part of old St. Paul died with him. He was 72.
In his younger years, Maddox owned bars, danced on restaurant tables, and hosted wet T-shirt contests in St. Paul. He was elected to the City Council in the late 1970s -- a time when St. Paul teemed with outsized personalities.
St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune says Maddox, as a politician, also fought tirelessly for historic neighborhoods and gay rights.
"He was actually one of the first co-authors of the city's human rights ordinance, which was initially overturned, and in fact it was mentioned in the movie 'Milk,'" said Thune, who was with Maddox' family Friday shortly after his death. "People don't always remember that about him, but Ron was a Democrat from top to bottom and loved the city so much."
Maddox promoted St. Paul with unusual antics over the years -- ranging from a skydiving Santa Claus to challenging politicians to fistfights. He often noted that St. Paul was in the Bible -- but Minneapolis was not.
But Maddox's greatest legacy may be the Taste festival he helped create nearly 30 years ago. He patrolled the festival grounds in a golf cart, armed with a baseball bat that read: "You agree with me, don't you?"
Maddox relished stories of his role as a bruiser and a brawler. And even into his 70s, he tried to maintain that reputation.
He grew prickly when critics lampooned him for the Taste's bland food and musical acts, which included REO Speedwagon, Eddie Money, and even Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on "The Brady Bunch."
Maddox defended his preference for run-of-the-mill standbys of corndogs and classic rock with one of his favorite lines about St. Paul, where he said, "The masses are asses."
On the other hand, he acknowledged in a 2008 interview with MPR News that he felt like a football player reaching the end of his career.
"You're running down the field trying to catch a pass, and the older you get, you start hearing footsteps -- that are not even there, maybe -- 'cause you know you're gonna get hit," he said. "Do I feel like I've been hit? Yeah, maybe. But it's not important how many times you get knocked down. It's more important how many times you get up."
Maddox knew a lot about getting up. He dodged death more times than a cat, suffering from multiple heart attacks, cirrhosis, and knee problems. He often joked about his impending funeral, telling his wife to charge people at the door because people would pay to make sure he was dead.
Last year, the Taste, which Maddox often billed as Minnesota's largest free festival, began charging admission under new ownership.
Some have called Maddox St. Paul's last Chicago-style politician. But in 2007, even Maddox couldn't deliver the community support he promised as a consultant to developer Jerry Trooien on the proposed Bridges of St. Paul mega-project across the river from downtown.
Maddox said that was his first political loss since he left the city council in 1982. "That one hurt," he told MPR News.
Over the past few weeks, Maddox suffered a series of strokes and died around noon Friday, surrounded by friends and family. Plans for services are pending.