August 13 was a typical Sunday for Key West artist Rick Worth, until it wasn’t.

Though he hadn’t been feeling great for a few days, he was still working, as he so often is, painting a mural at a private home.

Then Worth, who just turned 60, suffered a major stroke, said Fran Reid, the artist’s close friend and emergency medical contact, who got word from Lower Keys Medical Center that Worth was being airlifted to Miami.

“It was a major stroke and his recovery is expected to be a long road,” Reid said. “But the best news is that he is now up walking and talking. His right side is fine, which is the hand he paints with, but his left side is weakened and he’s having some trouble swallowing.”

Before the hospital releases him to a rehab center, they want him to be able to swallow and eat correctly, and are still running tests of his spinal fluid to find the underlying cause of the stroke and treat any infection that’s present, Reid told the Keys Weekly on Aug. 21. 

“He looks as gorgeous as ever, and one of his sisters is staying with him in the hospital,” Reid said, adding that Worth’s siblings all live in the St. Pete area. “He’s going to be OK, but he won’t be able to work and he was hesitant to even let anyone set up a GoFundMe account for him.”

The Studios of Key West, where Worth has had dozens of exhibits and has taught his wildly popular “Painting Boot Camp” classes for years, has established a GoFundMe account under the title “Help Rick Worth Recover” and is working on other fundraising events.

“Rick is one of the most authentic human beings anyone will ever meet, and it can’t be overstated how much of an impact he has had on the Key West arts community,” said Jed Dodds, executive director at The Studios of Key West.

JAG Gallery, where Worth’s original paintings are exclusively available, is also working on ways to help the artist whose work has brightened Key West since the artist arrived here in the mid 1980s.

From murals and Fantasy Fest facades to painted cars and his trademark “candy bars,” a collection of paintings on reclaimed Key West tin roof shingles, Worth captures the life and attitude of Key West.

“Most of his work is done with high-gloss house paint on either tin or canvas,” said Chas Hickey, gallery director at JAG, which is owned by artist Letty Nowak. 

Meet the artist 

Worth moved to Key West nearly 40 years ago to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. He had recently completed a stint in the Navy as a submariner.

Worth initially worked a multitude of odd jobs — maintenance and landscaping for resorts, working at museums and eventually becoming a vocational trainer with the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens, states a 2014 biography of Worth by Carol Shaughnessy for the Tourist Development Council.

“Eventually, the Key West Art and Historical Society gave Worth his first studio and the chance to put his artistic skills to use. And those skills produced some of the most enticing, unique art Key West has ever seen,” she writes. “It all started with his ‘art-o-mobiles,’ imaginatively painted cars whose designs displayed aspects of their owners’ personalities. Worth has adorned cars with everything from sharks and toucans to lifelike reefs and elaborate nature scenes.

“‘Before I knew it I had painted over 100 cars in a few years,’ he said. ‘The cars really helped to change the personality of the town.’

“About 20 years ago, he started what he calls his most rewarding experience yet: teaching.

Worth has taught art classes in churches and galleries all over town and still teaches Painting Boot Camp at The Studios of Key West. 

“Worth also is widely credited with helping expand the Key West art scene. ‘I did my best to open up the walls in this town to public art,’ he said. ‘I really try to get businesses to donate their walls, spaces, anything.’

“Passionate about his work and about sharing his knowledge, he would rather provide the town with art than charge high prices for it,” Shaughnessy wrote.

“I’m just thankful to still be here and alive,” he said simply back in 2014. “I don’t want to go anywhere; I’m in helpful and loving hands here. My friends have become my family and with them, you can weather just about anything that comes down the road.”

Visit the GoFundMe account under the title “Help Rick Worth Recover” to donate to help Worth during his recovery while he is unable to work.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.