Frank Tartaglia, a filmmaker and beloved fixture in the south Philadelphia arts scene, died suddenly last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Here’s how writer Mike Newall described Tartaglia’s passing:
On Thanksgiving Day, just weeks after his first major film headlined the Philadelphia Festival to positive reviews, Frank Tartaglia died suddenly in his sleep at his family home in South Philadelphia. He was 45. The family said they did not yet know the cause of death. Family members said they were shocked — and that he had been in good health and excited about the success of his film.
Who was Tartaglia?
Tartaglia was described as a “writer, filmmaker, comedian, painter, singer, and arts enthusiast, who first found show business success as a childhood performer,” the Inquirer said, adding that he was “celebrated as much for his endless originality, sweet nature, and outgoing personality as for his openness about the struggles of living a creative life, and his unflagging encouragement for those who chose the same path.”
Tartaglia’s brother Joseph died in 2013 at the age of 44 after a six-month bout with an aggressive form of brain cancer, the paper added.
“That spirit, that energy, the color they brought to the entire neighborhood — it’s irreplaceable,” Peter Pelullo, co-owner of Connie’s Ric Rac club with the Tartaglia brothers, told the Inquirer. “There is never going to be another Frankie — his whole spirit was creative.”
The Ric Rac — a storefront near Ninth and Washington that the Tartaglia brothers’ dad gave them in 2006 — became a gathering spot for local artists but closed permanently during the pandemic in 2021, the paper said.
“It really did become a sort of public living room on Ninth Street for artists,” improv comedian PK Kelly recalled to the Inquirer. “If there was a crack in the door, I would pop in to find something special happening behind the doors.”
By age 11, Frank Tartaglia got into an HBO kids’ comedian contest; at 15, he and a friend won the $10,000 grand prize on “America’s Funniest People”; and soon he was writing — still in his teens — for MTV comedy show “Squirt TV,” the paper said.
He also fronted a rock band, the Discount Heroes, the Inquirer noted. Here’s a clip of Tartaglia (left) singing with cofounder of the group Robert Ogus in 2011:
“He was endlessly fascinating, a Dickens character straight out of South Philly, full of droll self-awareness and a never-ending knack for helping to amplify the creative spark of hundreds of dreamers who wandered in and out of Connie’s Ric Rac over the years,” James Doolittle, a Philadelphia producer and longtime friend, told the paper.
Tartaglia also worked on numerous film projects over the years, and the Inquirer noted that his first major film, the recently released crime drama “Not for Nothing” — based in south Philly and starring actor Mark Webber — was praised by critics as a “gripping tale.”
Here’s a behind-the-scenes vignette about creating “Not for Nothing,” in which Tartaglia and others offer commentary. (Content warning: language):
“It hadn’t happened yet, but he was going to be huge,” Pelullo added to the paper.
Tartaglia’s death is just the latest of many unexplained deaths up previously healthy individuals who died in the sleep, including Jake Flint, a 37-year-old musician, passed away mere hours after getting married over the weekend.
Tartaglia’s family will greet relatives and friends Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Burial Company funeral home at 1327 Broad St., the Inquirer noted. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at Casa Mexico at 1132 S. South 9th St., the paper said. The interment is private, the Inquirer said, and in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Tartaglia’s memory to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN, 38105.