Don Waldo Autry worked as a hairdresser in Seal Beach, but skateboarders recognized the 55-year-old as a legend. He honed his skateboarding skills trying
Don Waldo Autry worked as a hairdresser in Seal Beach, but skateboarders recognized the 55-year-old as a legend. He honed his skateboarding skills trying out stunts in the Los Angeles River. Autry was found dead at his home. (Submitted photo)

SEAL BEACH - Don "Waldo" Autry, a well-known skateboarder in the 1970s who was featured in movies, magazines and books, was found dead Wednesday in Seal Beach. He was 55.

Autry, who also worked as a hairdresser near his home in Seal Beach, was the first to perform several stunts now popular today, friends said.

"Waldo was the legend of all skateboard legends," said Dave Hegstrom, a friend. "He is a pioneer of what extreme sport and skateboarding is today."

The circumstances of Autry's death could not be confirmed Saturday; friends said he died of natural causes. The Orange County Coroner's office has not yet released an official cause of death.

Don Waldo Autry worked as a hairdresser in Seal Beach, but skateboarders recognized the 55-year-old as a legend. He honed his skateboarding skills trying
Don Waldo Autry worked as a hairdresser in Seal Beach, but skateboarders recognized the 55-year-old as a legend. He honed his skateboarding skills trying out stunts in the Los Angeles River. Autry was found dead at his home. (Submitted photo)

Autry's death came just five days before he was to be featured in a movie, "The Signal Speed Run," which premieres Sunday at the Walter Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach.

Autry's early pool and pipe skills were also featured in the 1970s surf movie, "Five Summer Stories," Hegstrom said.

A North Long Beach native, Autry birthed several of his fearless stunts along the Los Angeles River bed where, as a kid, he would skateboard for hours.

Although he is known as one of Long Beach's finest sons, Autry's skateboarding skills extended far beyond the borders of Long Beach, friends said.

"There would never have been a Tony Hawk or anybody, if Waldo had not laid the pavement for everybody, and everybody acknowledges that," Hegstrom said.

Autry set a precedent for much of the skating done today, said lifelong friend Chris Strople.

"He was one of the first true vertical skateboarders," he said. "He was the real icon for the skateboard industry and probably one of the most fearless that I know by far."

Over the last seven years, when Autry wasn't skateboarding, he could be found doing hair at the Upstairs Downstairs Hair Salon in Seal Beach, where he was a highly-sought hairdresser, said salon owner and friend Matthew Clark.

"As a hairdresser he was extraordinary. He was a great hairstylist," he said. "He had reputation behind him like Carlton and Vidal Sassoon."

Throughout their 15 years as friendship and working together, Autry was always happy, Clark said.

"Don was free-spirited - whatever was happy at the time," he said. "People always had time for him because he was liked. I don't think there was an enemy on this planet for him."

Despite his many accomplishments, Autry was an honest, yet humble man, Clark said.

"One thing I liked about Don, that I'll remember, is he was for real," he said. "He didn't exaggerate, he didn't lie, he said it like it was."

He was also a very funny guy, his friends said.

"He liked making people laugh. He was the funniest guy there every was to be around," Hegstrom said. "You could never find anyone that was more of the life of the party than him."

He was also known to give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, said his friend Steve Olson.

"Waldo was a happy-go-lucky guy who was fearless. Back then he paved the way for what is happening now," he said. "I think Waldo will not only go down as one of the pioneers of modern day skateboarding, but as a very good person, carefree and always trying to do good by others. He's one of the nicest people I've ever met."

Memorial services are pending.

pam.hale@presstelegram.com

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