By Sally Tippett Rains
“My brother Joe’s life was all about music and baseball” said his sister Joyce Caravello Fry. “Tragically the music ended and the game was over after he was assaulted and died a few days later. But we want his memory to live on so we have big plans for his Memorial Service.”
Joseph Caravello’s story has been reported in the news media recently. He was the one who died in the nursing home incident in the Central West End.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatc reported that a “70-year old suspect is accused of punching 66-year-old Joseph Caravello in the face Jan. 14 during an argument at the Bernard Care Center.”
His sister hopes that her brother could be remembered for his life and not his tragic death and she wants to let people who knew him know about the unique way they are planning to honor him. The family is holding a “Rock and Roll Memorial Service February 16 at 2 p.m. at Freedom Church in Valley Park honoring the years he had spent years as a rock and roll disc jockey.
As a child Joe Caravello played youth baseball; his dad was the coach. He loved going to Cardinals games.
“Joe was a huge Cardinal fan,” said Joyce Fry. “Back then, my aunt was friends with Dr. Stan London the long-time doctor of the Cardinals. Dr London would give Aunt Patsy box seat, and and that’s where Joe really got his love for the Cardinals. I often got to go with them. My brother also loved to play baseball and I have pictures of Joey with his little league St Catherine Laboure baseball team, with my Dad as the manager.
Joe Caravello might have realized deep down he had to live his life fast and early because at a young age he started doing things those far older than he would do. He used to write letters to the editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He was interested in everything and his letters often were about sports, but some were about politics and popular society trends of the day.
He became such a regular with his letters and they were so engaging that he was contacted by an editor from the paper.
“They wanted to hire Joey to do his own column,” said Fry. “My Dad wrote back to the editor, saying “’hank you for your interest in hiring my son Joe, however I don’t think that it would be legal to hire him since you see, Joe is only 11 years old!’”
He may not have entered the media at age 11 but five years later he would.
While many high school students were hanging out with their friends, he was already working on his career aspirations of being a famous Rock and Roll disc jockey. Caravello would play around with his tape recorder and make “demo tapes” to send out to radio stations. He sent several out but one day the station manager for KIRL—a popular station in the 1970’s– called him and soon he was hired with his own show and drew a salary.
St. Louisans of a certain age will remember KIRL. It was in the days when AM Radio was King. The KIRL studios were near St. Charles, which was a long drive for Caravello. Their target market was the audience 18-24 and they were competing directly against KXOK for the high school and college listeners.
“At the time, my brother Joe was the youngest DJ to have his own show on the radio in St Louis,” said Fry. “Our dad worked for KSD TV for 40 years as a TV news camera man so the media kind of ran in the family. Joe had just turned 16 when he started his on-air radio shows.”
Being an AM Disc Jockey was a exciting job– especially for a young person.
His given name was Joseph Michael Caravello, but the radio world knew him by his stage names. Depending on what station he was with, he was Joe Michaels, Pat Christy, and Danny O’Day.
As a disc jockey in the 1960’s, he spent his shifts spinning records and taking calls from fans– mostly young girls– requesting their favorite songs or just talking about the songs he had played. He loved the engagement with the fans and knew this was what he wanted to do.
While working at KIRL, Caravello attended Lindbergh High School and despite being out in the working world, he had a somewhat typical high school experience with friends, baseball, games and activities. It all began to unravel his senior year, when his radio career was in full force.
“Many may not have been aware of this, but several years into his successful career, when he was still in is late teens, metal illness crept in,” said his sister. “It ended up taking over his life.”
Part of Caravello’s senior year was spent in a mental institution. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart– he got his GED, with no problem even before his classmates graduated. In fact, according to his family his IQ was extremely high.
In hopes of getting his degree in Broadcasting and Education, he applied to Yale and Harvard. He passed a college entrance exam for Harvard but due to his mental illness withdrew his application. He took classes and passed at Butler University, UMSL, Meramec Community College, Central Missouri State and Northeast Missouri State (which is now Truman State).
“Joe got radio announcing jobs at stations in California and then Hawaii” said Fry.
Caravello ended up coming back to St. Louis due to his mental illness. At the time, it carried a stigma and he ended up losing friends over it as the disease worsened. Joyce said she and her father worked tirelessly to help him. He went to less and less Cardinals games—one of the things he loved most– and simple everyday things became a challenge.
1991 was a turning point for the Caravello family, as their mother died and their father was diagnosed with cancer. That year he tried to jump to his death in a suicide attempt, but survived the incident breaking almost every bone from his waist down including his feet and legs.
The next two years were spent in a rehab facility and he worked hard to be able to walk again, but alas he still battled the mental illness.
Fry said The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill was a great resource for her family. They have an office in St Louis on Brentwood. https://www.namistl.org/
“I recommend them to any family who would like to receive great advice and guidance in hopes of helping a loved one with mental illness.
Though he would still have dreams of going back to radio, his mental illness got in the way. In the long run he could not live on his own and had to go to various group homes– his last one: the Bernard Care Center on West Pine.
Through telling his story, Joyce Fry, who has served as her brother’s guardian the past 16 years, hopes to raise awareness of Mental Illness and encourage others to get help when needed, saying there is no shame in it.
She also hopes the story will encourage people to come out to the Rock and Roll Memorial Service they have planned.
“Being guardian for a family member who suffers from mental illness is a challenge with it a lot of responsibility, which I was happy to assume,” she said. “I loved my brother.”
Joyce Fry and her family feel Joe Caravello was robbed of a long-time musical career on the radio and the excitement that goes with it due to his mental illness and they want to give him one last send-off.
It will be a Rock and Roll Memorial Service Tribute complete with a live band and food. She hopes many will show up– both radio station personnel and Cardinals fans.
“I’m hoping that we can give a great tribute to Joe,” she said. “I hope this will give him the acclaim that he would have, – could have, and – should have achieved — yet mental illness took it away from him.”
“People who knew Joe and our family – and even those who didn’t know him but just want to pay tribute to him–are invited and we hope you are able to attend.”
Food will be available for purchase from food trucks with Rock and Roll names: Wock and Roll Food truck, Rock Star Taco Food Truck, and Rockin Robin.
Joseph Caravello Memorial Service
Sunday Feb 16 at 2 p.m. Freedom Church
32 Meramec Valley Plaza, Valley Park, MO 63088
(Near Marshall Rd. and Highway 141)
If possible, they encourage people to RSVP by email: JoyceFry1@gmai.com
so they will know how many to expect, but it’s not required.