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Singer, hair stylist dies at 37

His sister said the cause of death won't be known for eight weeks, leaving his family with questions.

Published August 11, 2006

TAMPA - On July 30, James Sadler sang in a statewide karaoke competition. Out of 159 singers, he finished sixth.

He came home excited about performing so well but complained of not feeling well. His back ached, but he wasn't alarmed. He spends long hours on his feet every day, working as a hair stylist in South Tampa.

Within a few hours, Mr. Sadler died. He was 37. His partner, Michael Ellis, found him lying on the bedroom floor.

"They told us that we won't know the cause of death for about eight weeks," said Mr. Sadler's sister, Teresa Lilley. "That's something that's very hard for us. It leaves us with a lot of questions."

Officials from the Medical Examiner's Office told his family that Mr. Sadler had not suffered. He had apparently gotten out of bed between 1 and 3 a.m. and lain on the floor to stretch.

The expression on his face told officials that he had been relaxed even at the moment of death.

In the days that followed, friends, family members, co-workers and clients struggled to cope with the death of a young man with a passion for music, people and his work.

Mr. Sadler was born in Bradenton but raised in Ruskin. His sister remembered him as a kid who embraced life and sought out adventure.

"He was fearless," Lilley said. "He was always willing to try anything."

He became interested in hairstyling when he was a teenager. Before long, he was working as a stylist at Tampa salons, building a clientele and a reputation for artistry.

"He was an amazing stylist," said Brandon Wagner, the co-owner of Tribeca Color Salon on Kennedy Boulevard, where Mr. Sadler worked. "He could do anything anyone wanted him to do. He could take crap hair and make it look great. He had an incredibly devoted clientele."

He and Ellis lived together at Mr. Sadler's parents' home in Ruskin but moved to Tampa several years ago. They had a house in Seminole Heights but moved into an apartment on MacDill Avenue.

His reputation as a hair stylist spread far beyond Tampa.

Six years ago, he was featured on a makeover show on TLC.

Apart from his work, friends and family remembered Mr. Sadler as a man with a passion for music, poetry and people.

"It didn't matter what race, religion, sex, sexual preference, nationality or spirituality," his sister said. "None of that mattered to him. He just loved everybody."

He loved to sing all types of music but especially liked songs with an inspirational message.

He never aspired to sing in any milieu beyond karaoke, but at the competition in July, the director of a St. Petersburg choral group had asked him to join.

"He said he had never heard anyone sing with so much heart," Lilley said.

Some 300 people turned up for Mr. Sadler's funeral on Aug. 4.

Many were clients and friends, but others were people from his past, people of disparate backgrounds whose lives he had touched.

"If you had the opportunity to meet him, you'd never forget him," his sister said. "He was one of a kind."

In addition to his partner and sister, Mr. Sadler is survived by his parents, Ray and Emma "Buck" Sadler, brother Gary Richie and three other sisters, Pamela Beck, Patricia Nobles and Tonda Sanders. A celebration of his life is scheduled for 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Azalea Lounge, 1502 N Florida Ave. in Tampa.

[Last modified August 10, 2006, 08:44:16]

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