David Kennedy Jr. might just be the best-known guy in Hampton Roads that nobody really knew.

The white hair, tinted glasses, blue metallic jacket and silver lamé T-shirt with fringed waistline were all too familiar.

Not to mention the tap shoes.

Kennedy, better known as the Tap Dancing Terror of Tidewater, died last week a few days after turning 92.

"Just old," said Nancy King, a longtime friend who credits Kennedy with saving her life when she was 17. "His heart simply stopped working."

King said the man she called Uncle Dave requested that his body be donated to science. When she gets his ashes she is going to try and have him interned in Arlington National Cemetery. Kennedy was a veteran who served in World War II.

"The Navy brought him here," said King, who graduated from Norview High School and now lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. "I met him in a bar when I was 17. My boyfriend had just dumped me and Dave took me in when I had no place else to go. He kind of adopted me.

"Without him, I couldn't tell you where I might be."

Kennedy taught King to dance and the two were often seen together at area malls, schools and events.

He once bragged to The Virginian-Pilot that he often performed 400 times in one year.

Area radio personality Rick Rumble remembers when Kennedy was the opening act for Weird Al Yankovic in Portsmouth.

"Weird Al's folks called us up and were looking for something quirky for the opener," Rumble said. "I instantly knew who to set them up with. He was the perfect guy for it. He even wrote his introduction for me to use."

Stranger still, Kennedy also opened for punk rock band Violent Femmes, keeping with his "there is no place I won't dance" attitude.

News of Kennedy's passing shocked many who remembered his performances, some of which included a song or two.

"He always sent me copies of things and handwritten letters telling me all sorts of stuff," Rumble said. "It was like, 'Am I supposed to be compiling his life story?' It was like he was begging me without really asking. I still have all this stuff that he sent me."

Kennedy traveled the world delighting anybody who would watch his simple but elegant style. He performed in Red Square several times and listed a three-year stint as a tap dancing Santa Claus in Don Ho's Las Vegas Christmas show as a highlight of his career. He performed on the Lawrence Welk show and danced with Gregory Hines.

He told The Pilot in 2016 that he never had any formal training in dance and inherited his skills from his grandparents. He never married, he said at the time: "I couldn't find anyone to keep up with me."

Kennedy, who always said he started dancing at age 3½, received a lifetime achievement award from the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame. His name isn't listed on the organization's website, but King said he was definitely honored.

"I have his plaque and the paperwork for it," she said. "It's one of the few things I have of his. His apartment got flooded and everything was ruined, pretty much. There wasn't anything we could take to the nursing home."

Kennedy often would tap dance during performances by local acoustic legend Lewis McGehee.

"I really didn't know anything about his background," McGehee said. "But he'd always ask me to play 'Key to the Highway' so he could coordinate his dancing with my music. And he always wanted me to mention his age. He was so proud that he was still up dancing in his 80s.

"He could really dance. And that outfit, man. He was really something."

Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844,


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