By 6:30 p.m., he's usually done ten or 12 portraits and bikes home for supper, picking up vegetables at the grocery store on the way. By 8, he's back down at the beach, making his same loop over and over. By 11 p.m., he's swaying and slurring and has beer stains on his shorts, but he still keeps most of the drunken bar patrons amused. By midnight, he looks something akin to a cartoon mouse that's fallen into a beer. On a slow night, Mickey might collect other people's half-finished, left-behind draft beers into a single cup, then down it in one swig.

One night at the Pirate Bar, Chrys the bartender and a pair of yacht salesmen try to estimate how much he earns. "He works from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. sometimes," Chrys says. "You figure three or four dollars per picture. Sometimes double on weekends. He does at least 20 or 30 a day."

One of the salesmen does the math in his head. "I wish I made that kind of money."

A teenaged Mickey poses next to a wall of skulls during a trip behind the Iron Curtain.
Photo courtesy of Mickey Clean
A teenaged Mickey poses next to a wall of skulls during a trip behind the Iron Curtain.

Mickey, however, won't discuss numbers. He says he doesn't consider himself a caricature artist. "I'm more of a comedian or a philosopher," he says.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of Mickey's crayon drawings dot the walls of bars up and down the beach. On a windy day, his sketches blow around sidewalks and onto the floors of beachfront stores.

But Mickey has ambitions well beyond this place. He has ideas. He has a CD he recorded nine years ago. He wants to play music again. He wants to sell a comic strip character he created — named Rodney the Rodent, it's a vulgar, crudely drawn, standup comedian version of Mickey Mouse.

"It's not too late for me to make it big," he declares, stopping to add the word "again."


Fort Lauderdale's Victoria Park is a quaint, picturesque neighborhood just a mile or two west of the beach. Its blend of unique and historic architecture attracts young professionals, well-heeled families, doctors, and lawyers. The home next door to Mickey Clean's is a massive, multimillion-dollar mansion. Comparatively, Mickey's house is modest: a single-story turquoise structure with white trim and a lush yard. The paint on the picket fence is chipping, and the ornate tiles in the front yard are faded and dirty.

He lives with his wife, Cathy, a former model and actress. They've been together for four years, but she's known him for decades. "I'm his biggest fan," she says one afternoon at their house.

In the living room, a ray of sunlight shines over a flickering black-and-white TV, old Christmas lights, a ruffled sofa, and dusty photos on the mantel. The house smells a little like cats.

If Mickey Clean is to be believed, 40 years ago, he was an art prodigy in Boston. Then he fronted one of the first punk bands, rocking audiences, owning the stage like nobody had before, inspiring the likes of Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop. "They know who I am," he says. (Neither musician's representatives could confirm this.) To hear him tell it, he was a pioneer of punk.

"I was big," he says. "I was huge. We were headlining at the Rat in Boston — that's the birthplace of punk in America." His words come out in a swaying, manic procession as he leans over a dirty canvas with a broken frame sprawled out in the backyard near five empty beer cans and a blooming tomato plant.

Born 60 years ago in the Bronx, Michael Cleanthes was the youngest of four siblings, eight years younger than the next oldest. His father, a Greek real estate magnate who had a lot of government contracts in New York, and his mother, the daughter of Greek immigrants, divorced when he was young. Mickey could barely read or write, but he could draw and paint better than any kid in school.

As a teenager, he fell into the drug scene in New York, doing more acid than pot, he says. At 15, he ran away to live in an ashram in Greenwich Village. When Mickey was 16, his father sent him to live with his mother in Greece. He says he took a school trip into the Soviet Union, where he was nearly detained by Soviet soldiers with machine guns. He says he even handed out American rock 'n' roll albums to some of the Russian kids when the guards weren't watching. The entire story sounds like a typical bullshitter's yarn — but then Mickey produces a few old photos of his teenaged self with friends and a teacher, standing next to murals of Soviet propaganda and young soldiers holding Kalashnikovs.

After high school, he says, he studied art at the prestigious School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and graduated the five-year program in less than three years. (The school confirmed his attendance in the late '60s.) Then he says he taught at Harvard University. (A university representative confirmed he was once an adjunct instructor.) He was offered an artist's grant to tour Europe, but instead, he used the money to buy instruments.

"I had just got back from Europe," he says. "So I started a band with my friends."

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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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