BY PATRICK SHIELDS | Matthew “Mike” Quashie, who gained renown as “The Limbo King” and whose South Village home was a frequent crash pad for Jimi Hendrix, died Jan. 30 in the Bronx. He was 88.
Quashie had resided since 2008 at the Kingsbridge-area facility, Plaza Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, formerly a nonprofit known as Jewish Home Lifecare.
Ongoing health problems and a need for managed care combined to lead to his eviction from his Bedford St. apartment, which he had occupied since the mid-1960s.
Quashie was long known to his friends and fellow performers as “Mike,” a shorthand for his middle name, Michael. He was a native of Trinidad and Tobago, where his father was also a performer, known as “Lefthand Cornelius.” Quashie was one of Cornelius’s 28 children.
Quashie emigrated to the United States first in 1958. He then returned permanently in 1959. In between, he spent a brief time in Jamaica working and studying as a dancer, and beginning to craft the limbo act for which he would become most widely associated.
He had various stage personas throughout the 1960s and ’70s, from limbo man to early glam-rock voodoo fire-breather to calypso singer. But he was known most popularly as “The Limbo King” or “King of the Limbo.”
In an April 1961 episode of “I’ve Got a Secret,” he told host Garry Moore, “I’m the world’s champion limbo dancer. I can dance under that bar without touching it.”
He continued to help popularize this latest dance craze in the States, appearing frequently at what he referred to as “cafe society” events in New York City, referencing the Greenwich Village nightclub. During this era, Life magazine printed a photograph of him performing at an event with featured guest Senator Jacob Javits.
He perfected his act, and was a regular at various Village and Midtown venues, including The Cheetah, The African Room, The Peppermint Lounge and Cafe Wha.
He co-programmed the outrageous “Fantasies of the Age of Decadence Ball” at the Mercer Arts Center, which included some of the era’s earliest and best drag contests. At the famed Salvation nightclub, he held court with the late co-owner (and later Reverend) Bradley Pierce.
Quashie was perhaps best known as a stalwart friend to Lou Reed and an early friend and supporter of Jimi Hendrix. He championed the young Hendrix and often hosted him at his Bedford St. apartment, which became known as “Jimi’s Hideaway” after Hendrix’s death.
Many rock-and-roll friends from that era credit Quashie with encouraging voodoo and fire aspects of Hendrix’s persona.
Others credit Quashie with being the earliest “glam” performer, suggesting that his “Spider King” and “King Tarantula” and other personas, as well as face makeup and glitter, were later adopted by acts of later and greater renown.
His good friend drummer Tony Mann recalled that in 1975 Quashie performed a fire-breathing and gong presentation onstage with Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden. Mann said Quashie remained friends with Jimmy Page, who donated a signed guitar to Quashie to be used for auction at a health-costs fundraiser for him in 2003.
Many other musicians and bands credit him with introductions that furthered their careers or altered and enhanced their acts.
Quashie continued to perform calypso late into his 60s, with, most prominently, his band Mike Q and The Arawaks. His act was not a big moneymaker, though. So he went to work for the New York City Department of Buildings, until health issues forced him into retirement.
He continued to host friends old and new at his South Village apartment, regaling them with tales of his rock-and-roll days, and being interviewed often about his friendship with guitar legend Hendrix.
His famed Caribbean noodles were staple sustenance for many young, broke Greenwich Village aspirants, continuing the grand tradition of Max’s Kansas City’s chickpeas in his own home.
Mike Quashie is survived by a younger brother, Rennison, of Trinidad and Tobago. A memorial was held March 3 at Crestwood Funeral Home, 445 W. 43rd St., between Ninth and 10th Aves.