Shortly after the award winners for the Bubbas were announced, The Weekly promptly received an email from one of Dominique “The Catman” LeFort’s adoring fans. “Why wasn’t The Catman on the list of most famous celebrities?” Jason Dunkle of Pennsylvania wrote. “You know what the two most frequent questions at Mallory Square are? Where are the bathrooms? And, where is The Catman?”
Dunkle and his fiancé Mona hunt The Catman down each year during their vacation, and most Key Westers have seen The Catman throughout the years when friends and family come to visit. Heck, the Frenchman and his catpack have been performing in Key West since 1981.
He totes his four performing cats to Mallory Square, a short walk from his home on Southard Street. His three oldest just retired as they are about to celebrate their 18th birthday in September. “They were born during Hurricane Georges,” LeFort said, snuggling them at his home. All seven cats — with names like Chopin, George, Hannibal and Jester — are rescues.
So how does being The Catman pay? Well, LeFort helped pay his daughter’s way through undergrad at UCLA and graduate school at Cornell. She has a degree in nuclear physics. Not bad for a man whose roots started with clowning around in France. “I couldn’t do what I love without the people who support the cats and me, they helped me support her,” he said.
The cats are all fluent in French, and whenever they need a break from the seven-night-a-week gig, they take it. If the cats don’t want to take a jump, or tightrope walk, he puts his background to the test and performs alone for the evening.
As for a Bubba award for The Catman, Dunkle says he will be campaigning for LeFort’s win for next year’s best local celebrity. “He deserves this recognition,” said Dunkle. “His fellow vendors have told us he really is the most popular celebrity in Key West, and he is truly a nice person.”
To see LeFort and his famous cats, they perform nightly at Mallory Square for 25 minutes before sunset, take a 15-minute break to soak in the setting sun, and then perform for 25 more minutes.