Pete Stipanovich, aka WORM, colorful Salt Lake personality, passed away June 11, 2005.
Pete died quietly from emphysema at a Springville convalescent center. But the 62-year-old struggled for peace throughout his adult life. Anyone who spent much time in downtown Salt Lake during the '70s and '80s might remember WORM as the man who roamed city sidewalks and public buildings dressed in scarlet red Lucifer robes, once climbed the statue of Brigham Young on Main Street and South Temple in his underwear and wore his hair in two Vaseline-slicked devil horns protruding from the top of his head.
Rumors swirled that Pete had fried his brain in the drug-soaked '60s, but the truth, says brother Paul, was not so simple. Pete was a paranoid schizophrenic. The disease first manifested in the late '60s, when Pete was about 27. For 35 years, Pete moved in and out of psychiatric care.
At first, his life was the stuff of routine. He grew up in Salt Lake City's Rose Park neighborhood, the oldest of eight children. He graduated from Judge Memorial High School in 1960, then served in the Navy until 1964. He was married and divorced and the father of a son. Pete was a pipe fitter's apprentice with the Union Pacific Railroad.
Then came the mental illness, crushing the world he had known and leaving his family bewildered.
"We didn't know what they know today about mental illness," says Paul, who is 61 and lives in West Valley City with his wife, Cheryl. "Pete would take his meds and say they slowed him down. So he would stop, and the voices and the visions would come.
"I can't convey hardly a pinhead's worth of what Pete's life was all about. But when I say colorful, it encompasses his mental problems and even his time in a motorcycle club called The Nothings. People liked him. He was a very sharing person."
The acronym WORM stood for "World Order of Righteous Mankind." It was a name Pete created in the cacophony of schizophrenia, but to some who knew him, there was sense in it.
"I knew WORM was a troubled man. We haunted some of the same areas," says Ted, a former bounty hunter for a Salt Lake City bail bond company, who asked me not to print his last name. "I bought him a meal now and then and we talked."
Ted says Pete told him the devil image was to remind himself and others of our dark side. "No matter how good we might be or think we are, we all have that ability toward darkness," says Ted. "I honored him in that."
Pete was well-known among Salt Lake City police. In an online condolence, homicide Det. Kelly Kent wrote: "WORM was always so sweet to me and the other officers of the SLPD. I'll miss him. He was a bright spot in a day. God Bless."
His judgment clouded by the illness, Pete had occasional small scrapes with the law. His moment atop the Young statue made the papers and TV news.
"A lot of things Pete did you could take as embarrassing," says Paul. "But it wasn't so much that as it was sad."
Two days before his death, Pete gave bandanas to the nursing home staff printed with his name. And it wasn't WORM.
Says Paul: "He went out knowing he was Pete."