Reggie Wortham, a 65-year-old panhandler and military veteran known as a local celebrity in Sacramento, died on Thursday, his family announced.
Wortham was known for his infectious personality and presence on the corner of Howe Ave and the Alta Arden Expressway, where he would stand for sometimes hours at a time in hopes to raise money for himself. He became a familiar face at locations such as the Mercedes-Benz dealership, the Circle Six food store, and Chick-fil-A.
“Reggie is a one of a kind man,” a GoFundMe memorial in his honor read. “There is no words to the depth of the loss of such an inspirational person has brought his family, friends and community.”
A family friend of Wortham’s of over 30 years wrote on Facebook that Reggie died after a blood vessel burst in his leg. He reportedly bled out before paramedics could come to his aid.
Wortham, who was born in Del Paso Heights, served in the military for several years, getting married and eventually departing from the service with an honorable discharge.
“I did a couple years of college and then I went to the military. I was good in [the] military,” Wortham said in a 2015 interview with photographer Sasha Leahovcenco.
After his time in the service, Wortham was scheduled to move to Virginia, but came back to Sacramento after learning his wife was pregnant with his child. The pair raised several children together as Wortham struggled with his life.
“After I got out of the military, I just turned into a different person,” Wortham told Leahovcenco. “I just did people wrong. Especially my kids.”
Wortham said he was able to hold down steady jobs, however, did not get along with others well enough to keep the jobs. Wortham would get divorced from his first wife after 5 years, marrying another woman who he would father two children with. Records held by the Sacramento County Coroner show he fathered 7 children in total, 5 sons and 2 daughters.
Wortham said he lived a playboy lifestyle of sorts, often doing drugs and partying with his second wife, who he would stay married to for just over a decade. As Reggie’s lifestyle grew more chaotic, his mental state began to decline.
“I got tired of being that person,” Reggie said. “On that day, July 23rd, I got tired of being the person I was.”
Wortham would later pour a jar filled with gasoline over his body, purposely lighting himself aflame, running through his house and driveway.
“I stood in the mirror in the bathroom and my head just swelled,” he recalled. “I said ‘I can see the fire on my back! It’s burning,’ and my head just started swelling.”
Wortham would later collapse on the concrete outside of his home before being airlifted to a local hospital, suffering third degree burns across his entire body that would dramatically change the course of his life, putting an end to his Casanova lifestyle.
Wortham said in the hospital he felt his skin peeling back and was only able to see vague shadows of the doctors, who would inform his loved ones that he “wasn’t gonna make it.”
Wortham described feeling a “cold wind” come through his ears, before hearing a voice.
“He said Reggie’s gonna make it,” he recalled. “And that’s all I remember.”
Wortham was in a coma for 3 months and had countless surgeries performed on him, some doctors believing he would never be able to walk on his own again. Doctors performed skin grafts on him, moving skin from his chest to his back, his legs to his arms, and his thighs to his eyelids.
After Wortham’s wife of 11 years died, he began raising money on the streets of Sacramento. Wortham would keep that up for over 6 years, making a lasting impact on thousands of people he met over the years.
Commenters on a memorial post for Wortham on Facebook recalled their memorable exchanges with him, which included trick-or-treating at local homes and dropping by friend’s workplaces to give them hugs, seeking to create a lasting connection and friendship with everyone he met.
“I don’t care what the nationality is, where you came from, whatever the case may be,” Wortham said. “We all are God’s children. All of us. Let’s all be friends.”