Oliver X departed for arts unknown on Aug. 13. A trail of tears and heartfelt tributes followed.
The tenacious champion of the arts in Reno died at Renown Regional Medical Center, 12 days after suffering a stroke. His partner, Shelly Brown, shared the solemn news on the GoFundMe page set up on his behalf.
“He is now soaring through the galaxy onto his next adventure,” she wrote.
The response to his passing was widespread and heartfelt.
“This is a huge loss for our community,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. “He had this unbelievable energy and genuine character about him. He really opened a lot of people’s eyes to the arts through his friendship, and once you were friends with Oliver X, you were friends forever.”
Oliver X—he had his last name legally changed to X while living in California—was the marketing director for Artown. His ability to build relationships was invaluable, executive director Beth MacMillan said.
“Oliver was very close to many artists in many genres,” she said. “He attended their events and gave advice to these performers. He had close ties with venues around town and had experience booking shows in Southern California. He really saw the good in people, was able to recognize talent and was the consummate connector and convener.
“His memory will live on in this community for a long, long time.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Oliver X said in a 2017 interview with artist and author Ellen Palestrant that his mother, an opera singer, sang to him “in her belly,” and after he was born, played Disney music as he slept in his crib. He grew up on the radio program CBS Mystery Theater and reruns of The Twilight Zone on television, and said he constantly created worlds of his own.
“The impossible and the invisible were my bedfellows, and reality felt like it was mine for the shaping,” he said.
He loved music, played the drums and piano, he was a street dancer in Los Angeles before going to college at UC Berkeley. His favorite place to street dance was the corner of Hollywood and Highland, which he described as a magnet for hip-hop dancers back in the day.
He had career in civil engineering and construction management, and also as a music promoter, producer and talent booker before moving to Reno in 2008, where he made promoting the arts his life’s work.
He was the editor-publisher of Reno Tahoe Tonight magazine, an events promoter, radio personality, wearer of many hats and enthusiastic advocate for artists of all genres.
“He had a saying that ‘we should give people their flowers while they’re here,’” said longtime friend Steve Funk, who described him a powerhouse of energy and passion for the things and people he believed in. “It was his very distinct way of saying that we have to care for each other. He didn’t just say that thing. He lived that thing.”
Scores of friends and collaborators filled social media with tributes to X, citing his ever-present smile, his unique sense of humor, his variety of hats and his unwavering support of people and causes.
Reno Little Theater: “Oliver X was a fierce advocate for the arts and helped make our city a better place to live, work, and play. Our little theater was directly impacted by his generosity, enthusiasm, and kindness many times over the years and for that, we are so grateful.”
PBS Reno: “All of us at PBS Reno are saddened by the loss of Oliver X, a true friend of the community and fierce advocate of the arts.”
Washoe County: We feel this loss across our region today and join in honoring Oliver X and the contributions he made not only to the arts but also to the vitality of our community.”
Stefani Leota, artist: “Oliver IS Artown.”
A community tribute to Oliver X that was originally scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 20, has been postponed due to weather and will be rescheduled at a later date.
Guy Clifton is a longtime local journalist, author and Nevada history buff.
This story was edited on Aug. 20 to mention the postponement of the tribute.