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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Larry Selman, the Greenwich Village legend who collected more than $300,000 for various charities over the years, although he lived at the edge of poverty himself, died Jan. 20 in Beth Israel Hospital at age 70.
He was the subject of an Oscar-nominated 2002 documentary, “The Collector of Bedford Street,” by Alice Elliott, a Village neighbor. As a result of the film, Selman, who weighed 3 pounds at birth and was developmentally disabled, became known far beyond the neighborhood where he had lived since 1968.
His obituary has appeared in The New York Times and The Jew
ish Daily Forward, as well as newspapers in Boston and Houston and on National Public Radio.
Since 1970, Selman had been soliciting contributions, a dollar or so at a time, for causes that included cancer care, disabled firefighters, families of 9/11 victims, The Caring Community, St. Vincent’s Hospital and, most recently, a Jewish Association for Services to the Aged project to provide pets for the elderly.
Larry Selman shared his small Bedford St. apartment with his dog, Penny, and a cat, Happy, the latter who died shortly after Hurricane Sandy. In a conversation before his death, Selman told Jon Kalish, an N.P.R. reporter, that he wanted to get another cat. Saving a cat was a mitzvah (blessing), he told Kalish.
At Selman’s shiva (mourning reception) on Jan. 21, Kalish spoke to firefighters from the firehouse at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. who came by to pay their respects. “Larry the Raffle Guy” was a frequent visitor to the stationhouse to sell raffles benefitting charity, they told Kalish. On a Christmas Day some years ago, Selman appeared at a firehouse in East New York dressed as Santa Claus.
Sally Dill, a neighbor who was a close friend of Larry Selman for the past eight years, told Kalish that Selman loved to travel. At one point in his youth he worked as a package courier from New York to Washington, D.C., and Boston and he was very good at it, Dill told Kalish.
Born in Brooklyn to Minnie and Phillip Selman, Larry survived his precarious infancy and attended public school, but dropped out when he was told at the age of 16 that he would probably not be able to finish high school. He worked as a Parks Department laborer and lived with his parents until they died in 1968.
With the help of an uncle, Murray Schaul, Selman moved into the Bedford St. studio. Schaul, who died in 2005 at age 81, used to visit Selman and helped supplement his S.S.I. income. When Schaul became ill in the 1990s, Selman became depressed and, in despair and loneliness, invited homeless people to stay in his flat.
Some of his neighbors took exception to his open-door ways and tried to get him evicted. But many others rallied to his defense. Selman agreed not to let homeless people use his apartment and his friends established a $30,000 trust fund for him, according to The New York Times obituary.
The film “The Collector of Bedford Street” gave Larry Selman the opportunity to travel. Elliott took him with her to Los Angeles to the Academy Awards in 2003. (A documentary on the World Trade Center towers won that year.) He also went with Elliott to a 2007 showing of the film in Qatar for the opening of a center for children with disabilities.
In 2009, despite being confined to a wheelchair as a result of diabetes, he attended a ceremony on the occasion of his winning The Caring Award for outstanding volunteer work, which he shared with General Colin Powell.
A celebration of his life will be held April 2, his birthday, at Greenwich House Music School, at 46 Barrow St.