Last week, the Atlanta music community was saddened to learn of the tragic death of Dean Riopelle, the owner and president of Masquerade, who passed away Sept. 24. It was reported he had a heart attack sometime last week, which resulted in a coma and no documented brain activity. Due to the severity of the damage and low expectations of recovery, his family had to decide that he be taken off life support. He was 53 years old, and is survived by his mother and two children.
Originally from Florida where he opened the first Masquerade club with some childhood friends, Riopelle brought the concept to Atlanta in 1989. Over the many years of operation under his watch, Masquerade (formerly the Excelsior Mill) had grown into a popular multipurpose, wide spectrum entertainment facility that saw such diverse performers as Merle Haggard, the Zombies, the AC3 Hip-Hop Festival, and countless other diverse punk, hard rock, hip-hop, and alt. country acts, covering most of the popular music spectrum.
Mon Cherie, one of Riopelle's friends and collaborators, reflects on the enormous loss, saying: "A dark cloud hangs over Atlanta, as we have lost a great visionary of the alternative scene."
The two had been friends since Rioplelle and his partners at the Masquerade in Tampa were looking to expand to Atlanta in the late '80s. "I convinced him to let me have a shot at trying something new on one of the club's off-nights," Mon Cherie says. "On Wednesday, February 10, 1993, we started Club Fetish in Hell, and continued every week for 10 years. I've often said, 'Dean made me the person who I am'. He helped me come up with my own nom de guerre and taught me everything I know about promotions and event planning."
Atlanta rockabilly/psychobilly promoter DJ Reverend Andy Hawley worked many Club Fetish shows with Cherie. He was also a DJ during various other events, and booked acts with Riopelle. "[Dean] was always good to me," Hawley says. "A firm handshake and mischief in his smile. He had a great sense of humor, and losing him, the Atlanta music scene has lost a friend. He was a good man and never treated me wrong."
Riopelle often performed as "13," the frontman for the notorious Impotent Sea Snakes, a consortium of odd characters whose music was laced with profanity, dark humor, and outrageous costumes and stunts. "Dean, always being innovative, wanted a stage number," Cherie says. "He is fondly known as '13' in many circles. We never ended a show without him inviting everyone in the audience to join us on stage."
The Snakes were a regular feature at Masquerade for many years, but their live performances had slowed down recently.
In his Milton, Ga., community, Riopelle was well known as a controversial figure, often called the "Monkey Man." He raised monkeys and many other non-native wild animals on his property, and recently got a permit to turn his property into a zoo, which was hotly contested by many neighbors. Devoted to his family, Riopelle also coached his son's youth league football team, and was active in other community happenings. A graveside service for Riopelle was held on Tues., Oct. 1, in Thonotosassa, Fla.
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