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Tapout's 'Mask' looms large over his own memorial service*

April 14, 2009 |  5:53 pm

tapout charles mask lewis memorial service mixed martial arts Everyone seemed to feel it: Mask was in the house – or in the Crystal Cathedral more precisely – this morning, when more than 350 friends, family, business associates and employees gathered for an 11 a.m.memorial service in Garden Grove to remember Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr., co-founder of the mixed martial arts Tapout brand who died in an auto accident March *11.

He was there on a three-story-tall tapestry photo, hands clasped as if in prayer, wearing the familiar streak of paint down his cheek and a top hat perched on his head, the words “Simply Believe”  written below. His cremated remains were there, in a silver urn surrounded by flowers on the altar.

He was there on special memorial Tapout T-shirts; some bearing his photo, others emblazoned with a pair of angel wings. His voice was there; a recording of his voice resonated through the loudspeakers at the beginning, and at the end a video clip of his final interview – given to DUB magazine just hours beforetapout charles mask lewis memorial service mixed martial arts his death – played on the monitors.

But mostly, Mask was there in the recollections and anecdotes of people whose lives he touched, including business associates such as his CAA agent Howie Nuchow, and film director Gavin O’Connor (who had cast him in the upcoming movie "Warrior") and artist Mister Cartoon, as well as Dan "Punkass" Caldwell and Timothy "SkySkrape" Katz, the men with whom he took the brand from car trunks to mainstream. People described him as a kind of human exclamation point who could make anyone feel special and make an instant connection. The kind of guy who would call three of your phones at once (the 'Mask hat trick' someone called it) or barrage your cellphone with dozens of text messages.

The last to speak, Katz remembered his friend fondly. Then, choking up, he motioned for someone from the audience to join him onstage.

tapout charles mask lewis memorial service mixed martial arts Lewis' girlfriend, Lacy White, who was a passenger in the car with Lewis the night of the high speed crash in Newport Beach, gingerly stepped to the stage, her left arm wrapped in a bulky cast and wearing a hard plastic brace from neck to pelvis. Stuck to the back of the brace was a black Tapout logo sticker.

"She made a huge difference in his life over the last two years," Katz said, his voice quivering with emotion. "We love her -- and you guys should love her too."

Also at the service were fans who had never met the man behind the face paint; people like Tracy “Cage Candy” Tate and DeDe Deschenes, who drove in from Hesperia and taped a cardboard sign to their van that proclaimed: "We [heart] u Mask, Cage & Candy,” and Ruben Calderon of Buena Park who took off work and took his kids Evanie, 12, Benee, 9, and Joey, 4, out of school to attend.

“Everybody has a dream, he followed that dream,” Calderon said. “We should all be able to do that. I thought it was important for my kids to be inspired by that.” In memory of Mask, Calderon said the girls 12-and-under softball team he coaches decided to rename itself “Team Tapout.” tapout charles mask lewis memorial service mixed martial arts

The most touching moment of the hour and a half long service came toward the end when Pastor Bobby Schuller began to repeat the phrase “I believe,” a variation on Mask’s oft-repeated mantra.

Suddenly, a burly, bearded man in the back of the cathedral rose to his feet and said in a clear voice: “I believe.” A few rows away, another man rose to his feet and repeated the line. Then two more stood and said "I believe," then six on the far side of the church, then a handful in the center. Suddenly the entire room was on its feet, nearly 400 in all, repeating the words "I believe."

As the crowd dispersed, and the sun remained free of the gray clouds for a few seconds, one couldn't help but believe that up there somewhere, the grinning giant with the face paint and the top hat was smiling wildly.

-- Adam Tschorn

* An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the date of the auto accident, which occurred in the early hours of March 11.

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Photos: From top, inside the Crystal Cathedral;fans DeDe Deschenes, left,and Tracy Tate of Hesperia; and an easel with a top hat, angel wings and flowers being carried into the service;Evanie Calderon, left, and Michelle Eisenhower in "Team Tapout" girls softball T-shirts. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times

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