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In Memoriam: The Tall Man Xavier Frétard 

click to enlarge Life was theater and art for Xavier, a magical personality.
  • Life was theater and art for Xavier, a magical personality.
My friend Xavier Frétard was larger than life.

He was affectionately known as the “Tall Man” at the Millibo Art Theatre, says Artistic Director Jim Jackson, who had shared the stage with him since the earliest Circus Millibo shows in 2003. Xavier built a tall bicycle that he rode while wearing 5-foot stilts and a red top hat, creating “a towering yet playful character that audiences loved.”

Back in the MAT’s original location, the stage wasn’t wide enough for Xavier to turn the bike around, so after he pedaled across “like crazy from the stage entrance” the crew would throw open the loading dock doors so he could pop out into the parking lot.

That must have been magical to see as a passerby: the performance spilling into real life, proving “all the world’s a stage.” Indeed it was for Xavier, a constant showman, seen at all of Manitou Springs’ quirky events in goofy costumes.

Our friendship started 15 years ago on a dinner theater stage. He’d just moved from his birth home in France, his accent still thick, his English imperfect. Our whole cast cried laughing every time he destroyed Cinderella’s name.

He and I sweated like pack mules together one summer on a landscaping crew, sucking down junk fast food and sodas from the same cup at lunch to save our boss a buck. Later, he went vegan, unsafe to leave a jar of peanut butter around, though chocolate was fine because it caused him to sneeze. Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was his hero; Xavier cleaned local creeks for the cause.

Despite the tall bike, Xavier was actually scared of heights we learned near our last birthdays, six days apart, during a visit to the high spires of Bishop’s Castle. Still, he fearlessly adventured all over the world during summer breaks from school, where he earned his living as an IT specialist. We’d discuss travel and life’s big questions late into the night, soaking in hot springs or winding a party down.

I flew to Saint Martin with Xavier to see his family one Thanksgiving. He convinced me to swim to a tiny island offshore. Nearly halfway there my snorkel tube kept clogging and I began to tire, treading water goofing with it. So I turned around, against the tide, backstroking to fatigue and finally the shore. Realizing I was gone, Xavier swam all the way back to check on me, then back again as I spent the few bucks we’d tried to save on a water taxi. I saw, as I already knew, that the tireless Tall Man had my back, even if he did have a propensity for mischief that occasionally invited danger.

Of course he ridiculed me for years after that swim, once we realized my snorkel tube had been clipped on backward (always check your gear, kids) so its bobber kept jamming in the valve. What are brothers, kin or assigned, for, if not teasing?

But unlike many brothers, we never fought, and even when life presented inconvenient circumstances where human flaws showed through, we relied on grace and forgiveness and stayed close, even if too much time passed between proper hangouts.

Xavier’s life was taken June 23 on a bicycle in a late night hit-and-run accident, while visiting friends in Denver. (Memorial fund: gofundme.com/mm275.)

As described by a mutual friend, Xavier was a true king of light, passion, love and community, who touched all our souls. In Jackson’s words, “Xavier was the Spirit of Play, his wonderful madness will be missed so much.”

He was charismatic, infectiously funny, poignantly deep, and artful in everything, including a paint job on his car so strangers could leave chalk notes or drawings on it.

We were all theatergoers when it came to sharing life’s stage with him, experiencing his magic. Now, Xavier’s warm spirit lives on in our hearts. I imagine my friend pedaling stylishly across that next great stage. I can see his smile through his beard and that wild look in his eyes as travel calls. Ride on, beloved Tall Man.

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