Robert Cattarini, whose body was found in the California Pavilion shopping center fountain in Studio City , was a homeless man suffering from mental illness. He would disappear on trips as far away as Alaska, yet he would inevitably check in with a phone call or a return visit to the family and friends who loved and cared for him.
“Robert always kept in touch with me at least twice a month to let me know he was OK,” said his younger brother, Leo Cattarini, of Mamaroneck, NY. “But he never gave us full details of where he was sleeping each evening.”
The cause of Robert’s death is still under investigation by the Los Angeles County coroner. His body, which bore no signs of trauma, was discovered in the shallow fountain pool at 12265 Ventura Blvd. at about 7:15 a.m. Nov. 25—18 days short of his 50th birthday.
It took a week for investigators to determine Robert’s identity and notify his family, Leo said.
“It was odd that Robert didn’t have his ID on him,” Leo said. “He always had that on him.”
Robert spent most of his life dealing with mental illness, which his brother said was the result of his abuse of drugs and alcohol as a teenager. He spent years in and out of drug rehabilitation programs and mental institutions.
“Although he was mentally ill, Robert was smart enough to keep himself from being institutionalized,” Leo said. “We knew he needed a certain kind of care but all the facilities would tell us, ‘We can’t hold him against his will.’ "
One of the facilities where Robert spent time was a housing facility for the mentally ill homeless in Hawaii called Safe Haven. A 1997 article about the facility in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin titled "Hope for the Hopeless" featured a picture of him smoking a cigarette.
For the last three years, Leo said, Robert lived mostly around Palm Springs, where he frequented the Well in the Desert, a facility that provides a daily hot meal and services for the poor and homeless.
Arlene Rosenthal, president of the board of Well in the Desert, said Robert was a regular visitor to the facility who would sometimes sit for hours, watching TV.
“Robert was a smart man, and he was very articulate—when he was together,” Rosenthal said. “But he had mental problems. ... He took drugs. He drank. ... He was more comfortable on the streets.”
“He had poor health because of all the time he spent outside,” Rosenthal said. “There were times when he would come in and he would be just a mess—abrasions on his skin and all kinds of things.”
Ever restless, Robert left Palm Springs to go to Los Angeles, she said, but everyone at the Well expected him to return.
“It’s sad. People were pretty upset” when they heard of his death, she said. “As difficult as some people can be, everybody is part of what we call the Well family. Robert had so many people who would watch over him.”
Leo said his brother received disability checks and the family at times would send him money via Western Union to help him in particular situations.
“If he needed money, we would send it to him,” Leo said. “But he could never hold onto money. ... It was hard to do things consistently.”
Yet, when Robert decided it was time to take a trip, he would save up money from his checks and what his family sent.
Then, “he would hop on a bus and go as far as the bus would take him,” Leo said, including a few summers in Alaska, a place he loved.
During his last trip, to Los Angeles, Robert called Leo and left a message. "The last we heard he was in a hospital with pneumonia," Leo said.
He said he tried reaching Robert at the phone number he had called from, but it wouldn't take incoming calls.
Leo had a funeral home in New York arrange for Robert’s body to be cremated by a company in Los Angeles and the ashes were sent to the family. Robert's funeral was held on his birthday, Dec. 13. An urn with some of the ashes was buried near his father’s grave in his hometown of Hartsdale, NY. Leo said he was planning to send another urn to the people at Well in the Desert.
In his eulogy, a copy of which he sent to Studio City Patch, Leo said:
“I am not sure if Robert had any goals or much ambition in his life, but one thing Robert carried with him was love. He loved his family, he loved those that he considered his friends, and he loved people. If you said hello to Robert, automatically you became his friend—that’s how easy it was.
“Every time I spoke to Robert he never failed to ask about our family and our friends and he always mentioned to me when someone was kind to him. Robert may not always have traveled in the footsteps of Christ throughout his lifetime, but I can tell you that he traveled just as far with very little in his pockets. Robert traveled everywhere; Hawaii, Florida, Alaska, Mexico, Canada, and most recently California. But wherever Robert went, people liked him, and he always left a lasting impression.”