“He was like a homeless Michael Jackson — very entertaining, but he was always drunk,” said Steve Thomas about his friend Freddy “Showtime” Cougar.
Cougar, nicknamed “Showtime” for his lively personality, died in October 2016 at age 57 while living in a homeless community between 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, according to Thomas.
“He couldn’t give up drinking,” Thomas said, “and it was drinking that eventually killing him.”
Cougar lived near Freedom Plaza for about 20 years, said Thomas, who used to be a member of the same downtown community. Thomas now serves as the National Coalition for the Homeless speakers’ bureau director, but he met Cougar while living on the street himself.
“Ten, 11 years ago, when I hit rock bottom as far as being homeless,” Thomas said, “I stayed on the street of Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 13th Street, right in front of the post office. One of the guys who was already down there was Freddy Cougar.”
Cougar came from an upper-middle class family with three or four kids, a wife and grandchildren, according to Thomas. His struggles with substance abuse disconnected him from his family. “He was welcome any time [by his family],” Thomas said, “as long as he didn’t drink.”
Cougar’s “Showtime” persona came to life when he was intoxicated, according to Thomas.
“He had this way of dancing and talking that just made everybody laugh,” said Michael Barnett, another member of the downtown homeless community near Freedom Plaza.
Thomas recalls introducing Cougar to his sister in downtown D.C. the day the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened. It was “love at first sight,” Thomas said, and Cougar asked Thomas’s sister to marry him, despite her having a husband.
“He wasn’t fully drunk— he was like, high,” Thomas recalled. “He actually had a brilliant conversation with my sister.”
Cougar asked her for a dollar or two before parting ways, Thomas said with a laugh.
The two men developed a close bond while living in the same community, but Thomas learned two important lessons while trying to care for his friend: that you can’t help everybody and that not everybody wants help.
“I had to put Freddy in that category of being a homeless individual who did not want no help,” Thomas said. “And so I had to leave him alone. That was one of the hardest things I had to do.”
Barnett found Cougar in a sickly state the morning of his death and called an ambulance for him. While it was too late to save Cougar, Barnett was relieved his friend at least did not die on the street. Cougar’s passing was a great loss for those who lived with him.
“A key member of the family has passed on,” Thomas said. And he will be remembered for his care of others, according to Barnett. “Freddy was kind, gentle, giving. He loved so much.”
While Freddy “Showtime” Cougar battled a dependence on alcohol, Thomas trusts that that passing on has eased his suffering.
“As far as my faith goes, I truly believe that he has transitioned into a better life, so I’m happy for that,” Thomas said. “He’s in a better place. I don’t have to worry about him no more. That is a worry that I no longer have, that Christ can handle.”