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Barrington man, dead at 74, was ‘Richard the housepainter’ and ‘Apollo the figure model’

Richard Busczynski

Richard Busczynski

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:19AM

Whether he was spattered with paint, or posing for Playgirl magazine, Richard Busczynski’s telephone answering machine provided a glimpse into his quirky, bohemian, hard-working life.

“If you’re calling for Richard the Housepainter, or Apollo the figure model,” the machine said, “please leave a message.”

Mr. Busczynski was a union painter and an artists’ model who went by the name “Apollo” after winning a best-body title at Indiana’s Ponderosa Sun Club nudist resort.

The Lane Tech High School grad started out as a professional dancer. He took lessons from actress Marilu Henner’s mother, Loretta, who had a dance studio in the Henners’ Logan Square home, just across the alley from the Busczynski house.

A fitness buff who worked out daily and ate healthfully, the Barrington resident modeled for art schools and colleges until weeks before his Sept. 30 death at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. Mr. Busczynski, who had esophageal cancer, was 74.

Before he took ill, he climbed Ayers Rock in Australia, walked the Great Wall of China and ate pierogi in Poland.

Though he took pride in his appearance and modeling, he accepted any job he could to provide for his family. As a union painter, he did residential and commercial work, sometimes rising at 2 a.m. for a job. Once, he toiled 75 days in a row. He also worked 11 years as a painter for Brach’s Candy, according to his family.

All of that painting made him a better ballroom dance partner for his first wife, Cheswyn “Chessie” Busczysnki.

“He was working at some paint factories, and what he would do to build up his muscles, he would pick up a 50-gallon can of paint and lift that above his head; up and down, up and down, so he was able to pick up his muscle strength so he was able to pick up Chessie,” said his second wife, Betty Ann Warner.

He was so comfortable with his body, that modeling — even nude modeling — was just another job.

His ability to convey a mood made him successful.

“A really good model is someone who thinks the way an actor does,” said Evanston portrait painter Richard S. Halstead, for whom Mr. Busczynki often modeled. “He realizes that everything he does onstage has an effect. He creates an idea or an impression that can inspire people.”

Mr. Busczynski was always reading up on health. When he heard of the benefits of green tea, he went cold turkey on coffee, switching to tea. He took about 30 vitamins and pills a day.

Also, his son said, “He owned every piece of exercise equipment you have ever seen on TV.”

Mr. Busczynski had a crushing handshake and a single-minded devotion to fitness that put him among the relatively few men who look good in a Speedo swimsuit, his son said.

When he announced he was going to continue modeling after retiring at age 65 from painting, his son had his doubts. But within a couple of years, he was landing weekly gigs as a model, Ron Busczynski said.

He was a devoted father who brought his son to the Indy 500, to Disney World, and to the Rose Bowl. During the Bulls’ heyday, he bought him original Air Jordans before taking him to a Bulls game. When his beloved “Chessie” died in 2001 after 33 years of marriage, his son said Mr. Busczynski eased the pain by telling him: “It would be selfish to want her down here with us, suffering, when she could be so happy up there.”

He reconnected with his longtime friend, Betty Ann Warner, during a 2004 Thanksgiving dinner at his home. She arrived before the other guests, only to find him crying. “ ‘What the hell am I doing?’ ” he declared. “ ‘I don’t know how to cook.’ ’’

“He forgot to defrost the turkey, and he forgot to turn it on,” she said.

She performed some holiday magic, rushing out to buy chicken and round steaks and whipping up a big potato dish. None of the guests was the wiser.

They started going to movies and talking for hours at a time. They were both self-professed “cryers.” Mr. Busczynski wept loudly, for instance, when he saw the movie “E.T.”

“When that stupid alien went home, I heard my dad just sobbing,” his son recalled.

“We cried so much to leave each other,” Betty Ann Warner said of their good-byes during their courtship. “It was just great companionship.”

By the following June, they were married.

Once he was diagnosed with cancer, she tried never to let him see her cry. “I had to go in to the bathroom, or the other end of the house or the garage, so he’d never see me cry again, because I didn’t want him to feel bad. I wanted him to feel good, that there was a chance.”

Mr. Busczynski is also survived by two grandchildren. Services have been held.

After he died, his wife dressed him in a tie made by his brother, Del. She buried him with a stuffed red dog she had given him, along with a painter’s hook and a flashlight.

“Richard loved flashlights,” she said. “I put one of his favorite flashlights in his casket because I told everybody I wanted Richard to see his way to go to heaven.”

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