Alligator wrestler John Carlos Martinez, a lifelong animal lover, a Marine, and a character on the reality show Gator Boys, died on September 3, New Times has learned. He was 30 years old.
The show focuses on "the only bare-hand nuisance animal trapping company in Florida" -- guys who trap gators with their bare hands and relocate them, typically at Everglades Holiday Park. Martinez, who went by the nickname J-Mart, made his first appearance on the show feeding Cheetos to an alligator.
Martinez's mother, Susan Allen, said that he grew up and went to school in Kissimmee and that his father's family was from Clewiston.
"From the day John was born, he loved animals," Allen said. "He always had some type of animal in his hand, and he was tenderhearted with them. We always lived on acreage, and since he was about 3, I'd always have to stop him at the back door when he was coming inside from playing and make him empty his pockets. He'd say, 'I don't have anything!' But he'd finally empty them and there would be a frog, a lizard, some sticks, some rocks, some roly-polies. He just wanted to take them inside so he could sleep with them."
Allen said that Martinez was never without a dog as a pet and that the family raised deer, which he bottle-fed. "He was just a natural with animals -- a very, very tenderhearted, sweet young man." Allen also recalled him reading Bible verses to his grandfather.
He loved Lion Country Safari, kept pet snakes, and "when we went fishing, he could see a gator a mile away."
After serving as an infantryman in the Marines, Martinez gravitated to South Florida, settling in Hollywood so he could be near the Everglades -- "the raccoons, the snakes, and everything," his mom says. Allen says he worked at Billie Swamp Safari and volunteered at Native Village and "bugged the heck out of" the gator wrestlers until they taught him how to work with the animals too.
Martinez became a regular entertainer at Everglades Holiday Park. Blogger Deb Neumann caught his show in February. She described how he tamed gators by imitating a baby gator sound and held the jaws of a gator shut using only his chin. She described his role on the show as "one of those colorful characters who add fun and interest to a show."
An online obituary mentioned nothing about the TV show.
Allen says, "I just didn't mention it because he was just John to me. I never associated him with the show. I was more proud of him as the type of person he was inside. He was just my baby." She says she watched and enjoyed the show, though. She did not want to talk about how her son died.
A representative at Everglades Holiday Park confirmed the death and said it did not happen at the park but declined to offer further details. Mike Mathis Productions, which produces the show, declined comment and referred calls to Animal Planet. Two spokespeople did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Gator Boys star Andy Riffle tweeted:
RIP J-Mart u will be missed by many people u will always live on pic.twitter.com/okTIBV0ScB— GatorBoys_Andy (@RiffleAndy) September 4, 2013