Fort Lauderdale Beach Legend Mickey Clean Really Was a Famous Punk Rocker

To see a video of Mickey Clean's band on an old episode of the cable access show TV Party click here.

A wiry man with tufts of gray hair hanging over his glasses shuffles into the Pirate Republic Bar late one warm Thursday night carrying a cigar box full of worn-down crayons and a stack of ruffled papers. A few of the newer bar patrons wonder aloud if he is yet another Fort Lauderdale vagrant looking for change. But the regulars light up.

Mickey Clean's leather shoes are worn out, his khaki shorts are dirty, and his wrinkled white button-up shirt hangs loosely off his narrow shoulders. He wears a faint cologne of stale beer and cigarette smoke. He has a gentle, Bojangles smile. Some people say he's the happiest man at the beach. Mickey is something of a local legend, a threadbare gypsy soul who's a fixture in the barrooms and drinkeries in this area.

Some people call Mickey Clean "the patron saint of Fort Liquordale."
Photo by Michael McElroy
Some people call Mickey Clean "the patron saint of Fort Liquordale."
For ten years, Mickey Clean has drawn colorful crayon caricatures by the beach.
Photo by Michael McElroy
For ten years, Mickey Clean has drawn colorful crayon caricatures by the beach.

"He's the crayon man," says Chrys, the chatty Brazilian woman behind the bar. "The guy who drew all these." She points to the walls, to the dozens of colorful drawings taped up in every direction.

The Pirate Bar is tucked into the side of an alley just off of A1A, Fort Lauderdale's beachfront strip. It's a cramped, open-air, sand-on-the-floor tavern, a throwback to the old spring break era, when this area earned the nickname "Fort Liquordale." There's a flow of heavy metal in the speakers, dirty limericks scribbled in the bathroom, and pirate skulls painted on the walls. The locals sport tattoos, the tourists sunburns.

Mickey sways as he walks — he's rather drunk by this time of night — but he never drops his box of crayons or his sunny disposition. He approaches three vacationers from New Jersey. They're in their 20s, drinking a bucket of domestics by the dartboards. "Caricature?" he says to air in front of them. "You guys want a crayon caricature? Only a buck a person. And you get a free story."

"A story?" one of the women asks.

"Yeah, yeah, a story," Mickey says. "I've got hundreds of 'em." There's a pause. "And they're all true!" he adds through a grin that's shy a few teeth.

Mickey sets down his box and his papers and gets to work. With a black marker, he outlines three faces. With the nub of a fat brown crayon, he colors in the brunet's hair.

His eyes still fixed on the paper, he begins, "So, uh, here's my story," he says. "I was a rock star once."

The tourists laugh politely. "Oh yeah?"

"Oh yeah," he says. "I'm just doing this to pay my property taxes and feed my cats."

As Mickey tells his tales, his hands work at lightning speed: shading, coloring, switching crayons. By the time he's done, every inch of the paper is covered with bursts of color: the shaded peach sunburns, the green and brown palm trees, a flicker of blue sky, and splashes of at least a dozen other colors.

"Voilà," he says, as he adds his final touches.

"Holy shit," says the man with the Jersey accent, sincerely impressed. "How fucking cool is this? We should frame that shit!" They'll tip him a few bucks.

One of the women looks at other drawings taped up on every wall. "Did you do all of these?"

"Yeah, I'm Mickey Clean," he says, slurring slightly through his smile. "You never heard of me? I'm famous."


There have been Mickey Clean sightings all along Fort Lauderdale beach, from as far north as Commercial Boulevard to as far south as the 17th Street Causeway, but he spends most of his time in the mile-long stretch between Las Olas and Sunrise Boulevards, in the old bars made famous in spring break movies like Where the Boys Are. Here, college kids drink in flip-flops alongside old souls trying to forget about life's troubles. Here, sand and grime, spilled beer and cocaine residue all collect around the bathroom sinks, the way people collect around the places they know.

Nowadays, these time-honored dive bars, populated predominantly by locals, brush up against shiny new ultraluxurious hotels and resorts that have been built over the past decade and attract wealthy, discriminating tourists. The result: a humid, neon-tinged socioeconomic melting pot at the edge of the ocean.

The setting is home to a kaleidoscope of colorful characters. There's the self-monikered "Coatman," who runs up and down the beach in a full-length coat, training for marathons and explaining to anyone who'll listen that he is, in fact, an extraterrestrial who doesn't age. There's the chubby, bearded man who wears a thong bikini and dances along the sidewalk in roller skates. There's a hairy guy who sleeps in a van and preaches that he is the "Living Martyr." There's the 400-pound black guy who passes his days sitting across the street from Beach Place, periodically stops traffic on A1A, and has been known to throw feces at police officers.

Perhaps more than anybody, though, Mickey Clean personifies this part of Fort Lauderdale: He's a bit dirty and vulgar but also a special kind of charming, and he's as reliable as the morning tide. He offers his artistic services and a moment of companionship to the happy and the sad alike, to the tourists and the locals, to the drunk and the sober, to the lost and the wayward.

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18 comments
srawapril
srawapril

We just received an honorary Mickey Clean drawing Friday night on our weekend get away to Fort Lauderdale. His presence is priceless and unforgettable. We tip him a $20.00 but would have given a $50.00 if we had not already spent it. The entertainment was worth every cent. And, I'm framing the pic!:) If you ever get this opportunity, don't judge the book by the cover- or, you'll miss an amazing experience!

April & Ajay

Susanne Duell
Susanne Duell

A few years ago when I visited my daughter in Fort Lauderdale we were approached by this Zen like character....outside the kava bar he just rode up on his biycicle with his box of colorful Crayolas and stack of wrinkled plain white paper and asked if we would like a characture drawing....he did an outstanding job of drawing us! I have never forgotten that remarkable meeting*;-)

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

Thanks for the Psychology 101 lesson asdf jkl; but you're way off the mark. Most people are cool. In fact you're probably a pretty nice person yourself. But if you were aware of the history I have with this moron you'd understand. Despite the comments on this page, most people I know feel the same way about him.

Patty
Patty

This is a beautiful story about one of South Florida's beautiful souls. If you love Mickey like the rest of us, join the Facebook group dedicated to him.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/...

Stuart
Stuart

Good reporting but overdone writing. Too many adjectives. Trying too hard. Where's the editor?

asdf jkl;
asdf jkl;

People like Geordie are what's wrong with Fort Lauderdale. Most of the people in these bars are laid back and cool with everyone else. Most people love Mickey. But then there total dicks like this POS who just like bring everyone else down. Sorry your wife left or your parents didn't love you or your boss is an ass. Sorry your life sucks dude, try not taking it out on everyone else.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

I sure did. Why not? It was your sandbox. That wet spot you were rolling around in wasn't from the rain.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

Sure did--why not? It was yours. That wet spot you were rolling around in wasn't from the rain.

Franklyn
Franklyn

Geordie, I bet you pissed in the sandbox a lot as a kid.

Geordie McNeil
Geordie McNeil

The door guys at the Elbo are absolutely right. This moron is an annoying crackhead. He intrudes on people's privacy, interrupting conversations to draw doodles I could have created in kindergarten. His "caricatures" look nothing like the people he's drawing. He once said "If I was a good caricature artist I'd kill myself". I offered to pay for the schooling.

Dave
Dave

I've been hanging out at these bars for the last 8 years and I've always wondered if anyone else saw the magic in this man. He is sweet and funny in a place where you expect people to be cold and mean. I've always wondered if his stories were true. Thank you so much for this great article and all the research! I will never forget this story.

Chrys
Chrys

Great article, I amhappy I could contribute somehow.Love Mickey, just told him last week that all the caricatures up my walls will make me money someday...Chrys - Pirate Bar

AC
AC

Anyone who has met Mickey knows how wonderful he is. Anytime I see him I buy him a beer and ask him to tell me a story. He doesn't have to get bigger. He's great where he is. I hope he sticks around doing exactly what he has been for 40 more years. I have introduced more people to Mickey than I can count and they all love him too.

Jon
Jon

Amazing article! I can't believe Mickey Clean is still alive and doing crayon drawings in South Florida! This is literally the first time my Google Alert on Mickey Clean has gone off for a year!

James Ibber
James Ibber

Beautiful story. He's a very interesting man, maybe the saddest happy guy I've ever met.

Mig
Mig

Mickey was supposed to play a Sailboat Bend block party 2 years ago, and apparently forgot (after multiple reminders). If he wants to make make it big again, I suggest trying to remember dates of gigs. We still love him anyway.

Great article. A lot of stuff I didn't know about him.

 
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