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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Memorial candles were burning in front of New York University’s Weinstein Hall on University Place last week in impromptu tribute to a man who worked as a desk clerk in the student residence in the early 1970s.
Although he was not a household name, Ric Menello, who died at the age of 60 after a heart attack near his home in Brooklyn on Fri., March 1, was influential in MTV and films. He was a scriptwriter and co-director with Def Jam founder Rick Rubin of the Beastie Boys’ legendary 1984 music video “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).”
Menello’s accomplishments include the script for the 2008 Joaquin Phoenix/Gwyneth Paltrow film “Two Lovers” and the script for another Joaquin Phoenix movie, “Low Life,” due for release soon.
But among N.Y. U. alumni who lived at Weinstein Hall 40 years ago, “Mr. Ric” is remembered as a beloved friend and mentor who presided over the midnight shift of the front desk of the residence on University Place at Eighth St.
Tom Goodkind, a Tribeca resident and Community Board 1 member who shared Weinstein desk duties with Menello from 1972 to 1974, recalled the man who became a beloved legend.
“He managed the crazy goings-on at Weinstein from the desk,” Goodkind recalled. “He got to know residents like Rick Rubin of Def Jam and Chris Columbus, who became a Hollywood star,” said Goodkind, who leads the TriBattery Pop band, which has been giving concerts for the past 10 years. “Mr. Ric was like a Beatnik, 20 or 30 years later. He knew everyone and became sort of a legend,” said Goodkind, a 1976 N.Y.U. graduate.
Scores of friends paid tribute to Mr. Ric on Facebook.
“Even in a bunch of really smart, funny, unique people, Ric stood out. I learned a lot from him just standing in front of the desk listening to him talk. He always made me crack up and he taught me a lot,” wrote Danny Sage.
“I loved him like a dad and he didn’t yell at me when I got in at 3 a.m. xoxo Mr. Ric,” wrote Francesca Ortiz.
Gil Kaufman, in an online MTV News obituary, said Menello was “one of the most influential visionaries behind the emergence of commercial hip hop in the 1980s.” Kaufman went on to say, “Ric was amazing and the kind of insane that we love, the kind of insane that changes the world.”
The Ditmas Park Corner, an online newsletter for the Brooklyn neighborhood where Menello lived for the past decade, said he was raised in Brooklyn, earned a degree from N.Y.U. and became the midnight desk clerk at Weinstein while doing graduate work in cinema studies.
He became a familiar figure in Vox Pop, a Flatbush cafe that closed in 2010, and frequented Sycamore, a Brooklyn florist/bar on Cortelyou Road.
In an interview in the online newsletter The Wandering Corpse, Menello recalled the shooting in a photo studio of the Beastie Boys’ 1984 music video.
“We almost wrecked the place,” Menello said. “Two older Japanese men came to observe and one of the guys came up to me and said, ‘You are a very great director. Do you also do porn?’ I should have said yes. I could have ended up in Japan doing porn films that get respectable notices in the West,” Menello said.
The funeral was on Tues., March 5, at Andrew Torregrossa & Sons, 2265 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn. Friends and neighbors are planning a memorial service at a time and place to be announced.