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Saying goodbye to ‘Walking Man,’ with a walk

LOS ANGELES – Most people in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles did not know Marc Abrams by name when he died at his home on Wednesday. But by the weekend, news had sped through town that he was the local celebrity dubbed Walking Man, for his daily, often daylong, marches through these hilly streets.

And on Sunday, several hundred people gathered to walk his regular route in honor of the neighborhood fixture.

Abrams, a 58-year-old physician, was a near-daily pedestrian here for decades, his often-shirtless, leathery torso tilted forward, eyes on a neatly folded newspaper. The foot traffic and small-town currents of Silver Lake provided him a rare audience amid a city known for mostly empty sidewalks.

"This part of town is unique because there is a street life and an intellectual and verbal commerce of people," said Dan Koeppel, a local writer. "We bump into each other on Sunset" – the boulevard that crosses Silver Lake’s southern edge. "We get to know each other."

Koeppel was one of several local bloggers who organized the memorial walk on Sunday. At noon, several hundred people gathered on a slope of grass near Silver Lake’s namesake reservoir. After several brief eulogies delivered through a bullhorn by friends, neighbors and a local politician, the crowd embarked with babies and dogs in tow on Abrams’ daily loop. They walked past signs and a few bouquets of flowers for him on the lake path, then set off toward a strip of cafes and boutiques.

"I plan to go as long as I can," said Gamynne Guillotte, 36, an architectural designer who said she got used to seeing Abrams on her way to school in the early 1980s. As a child, she said, she would exchange an occasional "curt nod" with him.

"I definitely had the sense that he was locked into a trip he was taking and didn’t want to be disturbed," she said.

Jason Michaud, 38, who owns Local, a restaurant along Abrams’ route, said diners at sidewalk tables would look up from their plates and pause conversations to watch him pass. Sometimes, Michaud would "walk half a block with him" and strike up a conversation.

"Marc was a hard nut to crack," he said. "He was really focused. His body looked like it was cut out of steel, but also like it was starting to give out. His knees were bowed. You saw the brutality of concrete against his body."

Some who lived or worked along his daily loop could sketch a basic profile of Abrams after years of drive-by small talk. He was a family practitioner originally from Philadelphia. He did not have children. He walked, he told them, to stay fit.

Abrams lived next to the reservoir with his wife, Cindy, who worked with him in his medical office, said Rosalind Blake, 44, a former patient who walked with the crowd on Sunday. Before he closed his North Hollywood practice last year, Abrams saw most of his patients in the evenings, Blake said, sometimes as late as 11 o’clock.

Since retiring, he had been walking even more – 15 miles most weekdays and over 20 a day on weekends, he told people. He seemed more open to conversation this year, said Silver Lake residents interviewed Saturday. But recent events in his life may indicate a personal and professional turmoil.

In 2009, Lori Garcia filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Abrams in Glendale Superior Court after her 25 year-old son, Joseph, died from an overdose of OxyContin, which Abrams had prescribed. The police said the death was part of an investigation last year into prescriptions for painkillers and other drug by Abrams.

Michael A. Zuk, his lawyer, said no charges had been filed against Abrams at his death. The police did not confirm the status of their investigation Saturday. Garcia’s lawsuit is pending.

Last Wednesday evening, paramedics responded to a call from Abrams’ home to find him dead in a backyard hot tub. The cause of death was still unclear on Saturday, said Lt. Brian Elias, an investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, but "suicide is one aspect we’re looking into."

The details emerging about Abrams may complicate an effort by local residents to name the path around Silver Lake reservoir after him, Koeppel said.

Nicholas Gagliarducci, 38, a Silver Lake artist who painted a Walking Man mural last year on a wall outside Local, said Abrams had health problems while it was being painted. "There was a week he didn’t walk by," he said. "When I saw him again, he said he’d been in the hospital for pneumonia. There was another time later he had pneumonia again."

The mural depicts Abrams in his trademark light green shorts, reading a newspaper and headed past historic Los Angeles buildings and parts of the city long-since built over.

"There was a sadness about him that might have triggered the old L.A. scene I painted," Gagliarducci said. "These parts of our city are things that have disappeared, so it’s like he’s there walking through history."


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