Frank Casado, owner of Melrose Avenue's Lucy's El Adobe Cafe, who fed and advised politicians, actors, rock musicians and others, died Thursday after an eight-month battle with lung cancer. He was 66.
His daughter, Patricia, said Casado died of congestive heart failure at 1 p.m. in the Hospital of the Good Samaritan with his wife and restaurant co-owner, Lucy, and actress Betty Thomas at his side.
"He was a mentor to all these people," his daughter said. "Betty said if she had only 5 cents, he would always feed her. He believed in them all."
The man whom Republican political strategist Stuart Spencer called "a Mexican Toots Shor" was born in Guasti in San Bernardino County, the son of a Spanish-born vintner, and brought up in Boyle Heights.
Casado served in the Navy, where he obtained his only experience with kitchens, later worked as a route delivery man for 7-Up, and as a bail bondsman.
In 1964, his Texas-born wife persuaded him to buy the then one-room storefront restaurant across the street from the old Paramount Studios (later KHJ-TV). Casado's daughter said her father had continued to work in his ever-expanding restaurant until last March.
In 1968, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was scheduled for a KHJ interview, the Casados boldly dashed out to his passing limousine and invited him to lunch. He accepted--and was soon discussing the problems of retarded children with the Casados, whose son, Darryl, is retarded.
But the Casados' favorite politician has been former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., for whom they named a chicken and rice dish, the Jerry Brown Special. Brown could not be reached for comment on Casado's death.
Brown started frequenting the restaurant in the early 1970s, and continued to visit while he was governor and afterward, any time he was in Los Angeles. Patricia Casado said Brown last saw her father last week.
The former governor has described the Casados as "warm and supportive" and said he enjoyed their restaurant because it "has a friendliness and it's relaxing."
During his tenure in Sacramento, Brown appointed Casado to the South Coast Regional Coastline Commission.
One of the founders of the Mexican American Political Assn., Casado frequently hosted meetings of Mexican-American activists with various politicians in his restaurant.
He was an adviser and fund-raiser for some Republicans as well as Democrats, including current GOP Gov. George Deukmejian.
Casado considered getting into politics personally and was often mentioned as a possible candidate to challenge Mayor Tom Bradley.
"Maybe I can do more at the restaurant just talking to people," Casado ultimately decided, choosing not to run. "You meet a lot of good people here."
Casado has been credited with introducing Brown and rock star Linda Ronstadt when both frequented his restaurant. The couple dated when Brown was governor.
Years ago, the restaurateur also befriended a promising, but broke, songwriter named Jimmy Webb, feeding him frequently without ever giving him a bill. As Webb became successful with a series of hit records, the songwriter said he should start paying--and received a two-year accumulation of meal tickets.
Another songwriter and singer, J.D. Souther, has called the Casados "the world's best adoptive parents."
Other members of Casado's informal El Adobe Club have included singers Don Henley and Jackson Browne, and Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp.
"There's a lot of energy in this restaurant," Casado once said. "Look how many people have come into this restaurant over the years with nothing and have gone on to make it in the world."
Actors other than Thomas--who starred in television's "Hill Street Blues"--who frequently dined at the increasingly "in" restaurant include Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Carole Kane, John Candy, Michael Keaton and Kevin Costner.
Family friend Doug Steckler said Ronstadt serenaded Casado in his hospital room last week and that a parade of celebrities had visited him.
"So many people compare him to Humphrey Bogart because he was so stoic," Steckler said. "Like so many strong men, he was not superficially emotional. But I don't think I've ever known a kinder, gentler, sweeter man."
Casado also is survived by another son, Frank James.
Funeral arrangements are pending.