By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY and DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Jerry Blavat was a Philly guy, but the Jersey Shore also seemed to be his hometown.
Although he grew up in South Philadelphia, the famously hard-working music impresario, disc jockey and nightclub owner spent decades playing music, making special appearances and cultivating friendships in Margate, Sea Isle City, Atlantic City and other shore towns.
Legions of fans packed the shore clubs for his dance parties and to have their picture taken with the music icon who dubbed himself “The Geator With the Heater” and “The Boss With the Hot Sauce.”
Blavat died Friday at a Philadelphia hospital at the age of 82, prompting an outpouring of love that included some of his biggest fans paying their respects and laying flowers at the front entrance of his Memories in Margate nightclub.
“Whenever you think of Margate, you think of Lucy the Elephant and Memories in Margate,” said Bill Palet of Margate. “He was a living legend, just like Lucy.”
Bill Palet, who, along with his wife, Robyn, walked past Memories after learning of Blavat’s death, called the Geator a “fixture in Margate” and an “iconic individual.”
Memories was one of the places at the shore that Blavat called home, especially during the summer and on weekends.
In Sea Isle City, crowds would jam the Oar House Pub and the old LaCosta Lounge for his high-energy dance parties.
“He brought star power to Sea Isle,” said Jimmy Bennett, owner of Oar House Pub and LaCosta Lounge.
Bennett, who formed a close friendship with Blavat over the years, was always amazed by the Geator’s work ethic, even as he entered his 80s.
Blavat would work seven days a week as a DJ, doing his radio show and running Memories, Bennett pointed out.
“We just hit it off,” Bennett said of their friendship. “We had the same type of personal work ethic.”
Blavat also served as Bennett’s mentor, teaching him how to work with the public as a nightclub and restaurant owner and how to speak on stage, Bennett noted.
“I’m going to miss my friend, the Geator,” Bennett said. “We had a relationship where we would do anything for each other.”
In a 2017 interview with SeaIsleNews.com, Blavat said he admired Bennett’s devotion to his customers as well as his contributions to Sea Isle.
“Jimmy Bennett is the real deal,” Blavat said then. “He loves what he does. He enjoys seeing people happy. He is a doer. He actually loves the people in that community. He gives to the community.”
What separates Bennett from some other nightclub operators, Blavat said, is that he relishes mingling with the customers instead of acting like some haughty owner.
“He’s a good guy. He’s the same as his customers,” Blavat said. “He never forgot where he came from.”
Bennett recalled that he first got to know Blavat when Blavat made an appearance in 1997 during a fundraiser for the Sea Isle City Tourism Commission. Bennett is the chairman of the Tourism Commission, which serves as Sea Isle’s tourism marketing arm.
Starting in 1998, Blavat took up residence entertaining the crowds on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day at LaCosta Lounge. He also had a huge following at the Oar House Pub during his appearances on Wednesday nights.
“He filled that place on Sunday. He also had good crowds on Wednesday,” Sea Isle Councilman J.B. Feeley said of Blavat’s stints at LaCosta Lounge and the Oar House.
Blavat was just as popular in other shore towns, particularly in Margate at his Memories nightclub.
Drexel Hill, Pa., residents Joe and Debbie DiFrancesco, who also have a home in Ventnor, stopped by at Memories on Friday to pay their respects to the Geator.
“It’s so sad. We met at Caesars (casino) in the 1980s and started coming here, especially on holiday weekends. He always made you feel good, even on a bad day. If you were ever feeling down, you just came to Memories and Jerry got you dancing and made you feel better. He was always so upbeat,” Joe DiFrancesco said.
DiFrancesco said he and his wife also went to see the Geator at Anthony’s restaurant in Drexel Hill.
“It was always a great place to go and meet up with friends,” he said.
Margate resident Kathy Heitzmann, who is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., and is not accustomed to the Philly scene, went to Memories and the Oar House to see Blavat, listen to the music and dance with friends.
“He never stopped, and he was the size of a 12-year-old,” Heitzmann said. “He was obsessed with doing, doing, doing. Every night, he entertained crowds in a different place.”
Dawn Ranieri visited Memories with her friend Debbie Tamburri to leave flowers in tribute to Blavat.
“South Jersey will never be the same without him,” Ranieri said. “I’ve been dancing on this floor since I was 18 and now, I’m in my 50s. I don’t know how we will survive this summer without his music playing in the background. He brought so much joy to the world. I feel like I lost an uncle. When he opened the doors to Memories, he opened his heart.”
Margate Mayor Michael Becker said the city would miss Blavat’s high energy.
“He was a good man. Very unusual, but really an ordinary guy with great talent and energy,” Becker said
Becker added that any time the two crossed paths, Blavat always went out of his way to greet him enthusiastically.
“He was good for Margate, and always drew a big crowd at Memories,” Becker said. “His passing is a loss to the town, and we will miss him.”
A funeral Mass will be held at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Saturday Jan. 28. A viewing will begin at 9 a.m. and Mass follows at 11:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Jerry Blavat Endowed Fund, kimmelculturalcampus.org.
Statement from Jerry Blavat’s family and funeral arrangement details: