Don “Waldo” Autry, a Long Beach native and local hairstylist, who passed away last Tuesday, Jan. 22, is remembered by friends, family and patrons as an old-school skateboarding “legend” and “super-nice guy.” He was 55.
Autry was scheduled to attend a private screening of the new documentary The Signal Hill Speed Run, in which he was featured for competing in the 1976 downhill skateboarding speed contest in Signal Hill. However, he died just days before the film’s debut.
According to Gail Krause, spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Autry was found dead in his van on the 200 block of Main Street in Seal Beach, nearby where he worked as a hair stylist at Upstairs Downstairs Beauty Salon.
Although an autopsy of the body has been conducted, Krause said his cause of death is still pending toxicology reports and biological studies. She said results aren’t expected to be released for several weeks. The coroner concluded that he actually died the day before his body was found, Krause added.
With a more than 25-year skateboarding career, Autry was featured on the cover of skateboarding magazines and revered for inventing signature moves riding in riverbeds, pools, pipes and tunnels. He was also featured in the 1972 surf film 5 Summer Stories. Customers noted online that he used to tell skateboarding stories while styling hair.
Mike Horelick, co-director of the Signal Hill documentary, stated in a message on Facebook that Autry was respected as a “fantastic skateboarder and a legend in the sport.” Autry was a “true character, who had a warm heart and a great sense of humor,” Horelick added. “As a kid, he walked around town with a pet raccoon on his shoulder. As an adult, he continued to compete in street luge, beating out others less than half his age.”
During the documentary screening last week, skateboarding colleagues paid tribute to Autry with a moment of silence.
Herb Spitzer, a fellow skateboarding competitor in the Signal Hill Speed Run, said he recalled Autry as a “wild man,” who “belonged in Cajun country.” He added that Autry was a skateboarding innovator and “had a really outgoing personality.”
Ed Economy, also a fellow old-school skateboarder, said he met Autry while skateboarding in riverbeds as a teenager and they stayed close friends for 30 years. Economy said he remembered Autry disappearing for months at a time and people would say, “Where’s Waldo?” One time they went down the hill in Signal Hill on a bike together and ended up in the hospital, he said. Afterwards, he recollected Autry saying, “Wasn’t that rad?” Economy said, “I always called him Waldo Knievel. He was afraid of nothing,” adding that Autry was “one of the best skaters of the time,” who was “doing things nobody else ever did.”