RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Larry Selman relished a good challenge. He devoted more than half of his life to collecting for charity - multiple charities, actually. But he wasn't a professional fundraiser. Selman prowled the streets of New York City approaching total strangers nearly every day for almost 40 years asking them for money to help others. He did it despite the fact that he was developmentally disabled. He was such a fixture in Greenwich Village that he became the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary called "The Collector of Bedford Street." Larry Selman died last Sunday at the age of 70. Jon Kalish got to know Selman and has this remembrance.
JON KALISH, BYLINE: Larry Selman was a relentless force on the streets of Greenwich Village.
LARRY SELMAN: Hello, sir. Could I see you one minute? Could I see you one minute? Hello, ladies. Could I see you one minute? Could I see you, young fella?
KALISH: In the 2002 documentary "The Collector of Bedford Street," Selman explains why he spent so much time collecting for others.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE COLLECTOR OF BEDFORD STREET")
SELMAN: I believe there's a God and I believe that he put us here for a reason. I believe that from going to synagogue.
SALLY DILL: He more or less is soliciting money all the time. That's his mission in life.
KALISH: Sally Dill was one of Selman's Bedford Street neighbors. At his 70th birthday party in April, she described a well-oiled, if basic, collecting machine.
DILL: The home attendants are very good about counting the money and putting it in the manila envelope so then I can record it. When Larry decides he's finished collecting for that charity then I can mail it in.
KALISH: Nearly 100 of Larry Selman's neighbors pitched in to help in one way or another - that's how much they cared about the short, pudgy man with thick prescription glasses who was told he'd never graduate from high school. When the uncle who looked after him died, they set up a trust fund to take care of Selman. Alice Elliott made a documentary to tell the world about the collector of Bedford Street and the world took notice, including a couple of New York politicians.
ALICE ELLIOTT: You know, there's this famous story of Larry sitting out at the gay rights parade and along comes Schumer and Koch, and they see Larry and they come over and shake his hand.
KALISH: The day after Selman died, neighbors gathered in Alice Elliot's home on Bedford Street to mourn. Steve Gould knew Selman for close to 40 years. He watched as the first of two contingents from the local firehouse stopped by to pay their respects.
STEVE GOULD: Guys from the FDNY are coming in here because after 9/11 he collected thousands of dollars for them and, you know, that's what he did.
KALISH: In 2009, Larry Selman received the Caring Award for what he did. The other honoree that night was Colin Powell. Even before they received their honors, Selman did not hesitate to ask Powell for a donation.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)
KALISH: Standing in front of several photographs of the collector of Bedford Street in her home, filmmaker Alice Elliot recalled how Selman used to love to dress up as Santa Claus at Christmastime. She says she'll miss the messages he used to leave on her answering machine. But even more than that nasal, unmistakably New York voice, Elliot says she'll miss seeing him on the streets.
ELLIOTT: I will never turn the corner of my street without looking for him. He's so much a part of my life here. We feel that Larry actually created this community and that we are all beneficiaries of that and I hope we can pass it forward.
KALISH: Larry Selman left behind his dog Penny. The last money he collected is going to a group that provides pets for senior citizens. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.