WINTER HAVEN – Standing alongside the road, next to a hearse, a tombstone that reads R.I.P., and a gray-faced ghoul, chances are you’re going to be nothing if not eye-catching for the motorists.
But if you also happen to be Dr. Paul Bearer II, those friendly waves made to the cars passing by on Cypress Gardens Boulevard serves a dual purpose — starting with a desire to add a little bit of ghoulish humor to folks’ daily lives.
“If I can put a smile on people’s faces, I’ll do that,” he said.
Dr. Bearer and his eerie sidekick, Hearsul the hearse driver, chose a strategic location on the highway that leads either to downtown Winter Haven or the new Legoland Florida theme park: right outside the fence that now blocks off the dilapidated and shelled out Orange Dome.
This Polk County landmark is heading for the wrecking ball. On Monday, crews began demolishing the large orange dome at the Citrus Festival grounds, and the property will be used for a new development called The Landings, which is expected to offer hotels, restaurants, shopping and a movie theater.
Dr. Bearer said he’s one of those who looks on the Orange Dome with great nostalgia and affection, and is sorry to see it go.
“We’re very sad to see our lady go down, and we hope to provide her with a proper burial,” Dr. Bearer said. As he and Hearsul stood in front of the entrance to the Orange Dome, there was a hearse by their side – although not nearly large enough to fit the dome inside it, obviously. It was the thought that counts, Dr. Bearer added.
“A lot of people are sad to see this thing go down, and my heart is in it, too,” he said.
The doctor – better known when not wearing creepy makeup and dark clothes as performer Richard Coon – said he spent a lot of happy days inside the Orange Dome, and felt the property should be given its due.
“It was 1964 when they started it, and 1965 is when it was completed,” he said. “It’s not being used any more, and it’s got structural problems. But I personally have a lot of fond memories of her and past Citrus Festivals. But all good t
hings must come to an end.”
And with the new options that The Landings promises to bring, Coon said, the transition could be summed up in one word: “progress.”
Coon had a second motive for his appearance this morning as Dr. Paul Bearer II: to let area residents know that he was reviving the character, and that his alter ego was here to stay.
“I’ve been playing Dr. Paul Bearer II for three and a half years now,” he said. “I am a remade kookie horror host from the 1970s.”
The original Dr. Paul Bearer was a minor pop icon from the 1970s and 1980s, whose career could easily be summed up in two words: “Creature Feature.”
That horror movie series ran on TV Station WTOG in St. Petersburg from 1971 to 1995, featuring cheap horror flicks hosted by Dick Bennick Sr., who played the original Dr. Paul Bearer, a character with a vintage tuxedo who spoke in a gravelly voice and couldn’t resist tossing out plenty of puns and bad-jokes before the start of each movie.
Coon said he, too, was a fan of the original Dr. Paul Bearer, and his decision to don a similar outfit at a Halloween party proved to be a turning point for him.
“I did a tribute to him one Halloween, and a lot of people thought I was him,” Coon said. “I’ve taken it on, and I’m making a lot of public appearances as Dr. Paul Bearer II. I’ve been doing videos on YouTube and have been on a fishing show, ‘Average Angler Adventures.’ I’m bringing it back.”
Coon has already played the macabre master of ceremonies in two recent Christmas parades, and he’ll also be at the upcoming Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City next month.
“I’m out letting people know he’s back,” he said.
Hearsul – better known without his makeup as Robb Ragan – said he was also happy to take part in a tribute to the Orange Dome.
“It’s a part of Winter Haven’s history,” he said. “It’s sad to see it go, but it’s good to see there’s progress in the city.”
As for the reappearance of Dr. Paul Bearer and Hearsul, Ragan said they’d gotten a very good response from motorists since they pulled up the hearse and started waving.
“A lot of people are glad to see us bring it back, and they say ‘Bring it back, bring it back,’ “ he said. “A lot of people who grew up in the 1980s remember Dr. Paul Bearer.”
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