Turkey Jon

Jon Burt (aka Turkey Jon) rides his bike along the Strand in Hermosa Beach. (Photo by Richard Podgurski Jr.)

The beach cities has lost an unofficial mascot.

Known for cruising a popular bike path from Redondo Beach to Manhattan Beach nearly every day, often wearing too many layers and daring people to go swimming, Jon Burt — known affectionately as Turkey Jon — was a fixture in the South Bay beach community for more than 40 years.

But no more.

Burt died Tuesday morning, Nov. 26, at his Redondo Beach home, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. He was 64.

The cause of death was unknown this week, and Burt’s family could not be reached for comment.

But the news of his death has spread quickly across social media, where many people have shared fond memories of the man who was known to have a childlike personality.

“He was such a kind and funny man and would always stop by for a hello when my friends and I were at Second Street or in Mickey’s (an Italian deli),” Redondo Beach resident Allison Field wrote on Facebook.

Field created a Facebook page in honor of Burt about 10 years ago. Although the page rarely had posts — the most recent, until a post on Wednesday announcing his death, was from 2015 — it has amassed more than 5,600 followers and about the same amount of likes. As of Friday morning, Nov. 29, 139 people had commented on the post announcing Burt’s death, many offering memories of the man.

“Hermosa Beach just won’t be the same without Turkey Jon around,” Field wrote.

Burt had said he had an intellectual disability — the result, he said, of brain damage at birth — and spoke with an impediment.

But he was friendly and popular among beach goers. Just about anyone who visited a South Bay beach over the past four decades has probably seen him, though his presence in recent years has been infrequent.

One of his most common refrains, as he passed by on his bike, was to innocently ask young women to go swimming with him.

“Hey chicken!,” he was known for saying. “Want to go swimming?”

Burt’s request, of course, was not always taken as a jest, understandably making some young women uncomfortable over the years. But those who knew him well said Burt was never serious — he was rarely seen actually swimming — and meant no harm.

That saying of his became something of a trademark for Burt. Field even quoted it in the “about” section of the Facebook page.

The phrase even became one possible explanation for how Burt got his nickname — because “chicken” sometimes turned to “turkey.”

Burt, though, once offered up a different explanation for the moniker in a 2011 news story about him, when he told a Los Angeles Times reporter he got the name for how he doggy-paddled as a young man while swimming in the ocean.

Burt was most known for his well-worn routine of riding his beach cruiser along the bike path — called the Strand — day after day, often with bags hanging from the handlebars, and wearing far too much clothing.

Those who knew the bespectacled Burt, however, mostly remembered his gentle nature. The community, in turn, cherished his presence and treated him as a legend of the beach.

“He was a legend in the South Bay,” one person, named Christina Young Gill, commented on the Facebook page. “They should definitely have a plaque or something down at the beach to remember him by.”

One of his regular stops was to Good Stuff, a Hermosa Beach restaurant, where Antonio Villegas would serve him tamales. Tamales weren’t on the menu, Villegas said, but the restaurant special ordered them because they enjoyed their regular guest so much.

“He used to talk to me about his family,” Villegas said in an interview this week. “I had a good relationship with him. People would offer to buy his meals sometimes, even though he always had money.”

Villegas, though, said he hadn’t seen Burt in four or five years.

“We have missed him a lot,” Villegas said.

Burt also liked to stop at Spyder Surfboards, on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. Dennis Jarvis, the surf shop’s owner, said he once offered to make T-shirts with Burt’s image on them and share the profits. Burt, though, said he didn’t want that, Jarvis said.

“He was an icon,” Jarvis wrote in a text message. “He always made people smile. He actually had a heart of gold.”

Sam Edgerton, a Hermosa Beach attorney and former mayor, said in an interview that it’s characters like Burt that make Hermosa Beach what it is. Burt’s family, Edgerton said, went way back in the community. Burt’s mother, Wilma Burt, was extremely active in local politics in the 1980s and 1990s.

“She was present at virtually all the City Council meetings,” Edgerton said, “her and a collection of other very powerful women.”

Wilma Burt died in the early 1990s, leaving Turkey Jon largely on his own, Edgerton said.

But he had plenty of friends whenever he came to the beach.

It was not immediately known who Burt was survived by.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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