Rino Thunder, 69, an actor who fell on hard times

Rino Thunder

Rino Thunder, a former actor and familiar East Village figure, died last Saturday at Bellevue Hospital. He was 69. In recent years, he had been in deteriorating health and was confined to a wheelchair.

He was born Manuel Candelaria in Colorado of a father of the Ute tribe and a Mexican mother. He acted in several movies, including “Hot Shots,” “Miracle in the Wilderness,” “Beyond the Law,” “Geronimo: An American Legend” and “Fresh Kill,” as well as daytime TV dramas and commercials in America and Europe. Thunder was profiled in Josh Pais’ recent independent film, “7th Street.”

When his career was going well he had a penthouse apartment on E. 10th St. After his money ran out, he stayed with a friend but in the last few years was homeless and lived in Tompkins Sq. Park, hanging out by the chess tables in the southwestern corner where homeless gather.

Thunder was profiled by Jim Flynn in his new book on the Tompkins Sq. homeless, “Stranger to the System.” Flynn calls Thunder the “undisputed partriarch” of “The Living Room,” his term for the chess tables. In the book, Flynn notes how Thunder always counseled the other homeless to show “respect,” not to throw their cigarette butts on the park’s paths since they could burn dogs’ feet, for example. Thunder would always generously share his monthly Screen Actors Guild check with his friends, Flynn said.

Thunder was known to have a few memorable catch phrases, Flynn said, among them, whenever it rained, “The rain, it’s good — it washes us clean.”

“He was sharp and quick to crack a joke,” Flynn said. “He was cantankerous at times, but at other times, he could be very comforting to people.”

Several times before, word had it that Thunder, who had diabetes and was a substance abuser, was dead, but he always returned to the park. But this time, Donna Jewell, a friend went to Bellevue and identified his body.

Jewell, a jazz singer, said Thunder used to take in homeless people and even animals in distress when he had a place on E. Seventh St.

“He was a wonderful guy,” she said. “This was 20 years ago, when I first knew him. All these guys have a history. Alcohol sucks. It’s a spiraling-down disease.”

His friends hope to hold a service at Peter Jarema Funeral Home, 129 E. Seventh St. Thunder’s wishes were to be cremated and have his ashes scattered atop Bear Mountain.

“Four of us medicine men are going to carry his ashes, one for each of the directions,” said Gray Wolf, another Tompkins Sq. regular who is Native American, speaking on Flynn’s cell phone from Tompkins Sq.

Said Rodney Mitchell, another homeless man in the park, into the cell phone, “Rino Thunder was a lovin’ soul. He had a lot of wisdom. A lot of people looked up to him, respected him.”

Bob Arihood, a photographer who documents Avenue A’s street life, recalled when Thunder seemed to have it all.

“This guy had a real career,” Arihood said. “He would go to the bar and women loved him. He was quite often the center of attention because he was a handsome guy and a distinctive guy and people liked him. And he was in the movies; that made him even more interesting. He was sought out to do commercials because he had very strong features…. But his life fell apart.”

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