Feature

Larry Selman, 1942–2013

The street philanthropist of Greenwich Village

Larry Selman weighed 3 pounds at birth and was not expected to survive longer than a day. But he went on to live to the age of 70, overcoming a mental disability to become a prodigious charity fundraiser—a skill that was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Collector of Bedford Street.

After Selman’s parents died, he moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan with help from his uncle, said The New York Times. His life was “filled with the daily struggles of a man whose IQ was said to be 62,” but Selman found a niche for himself as a fundraiser, collecting $1 and $2 donations from people he approached on the streets of Greenwich Village. His “outsize talent for connection” helped him raise an estimated $300,000 over 40 years, for a host of charities including animal shelters, hospitals, and the Sept. 11 memorial fund.

When the 2002 documentary was released, said the New York Daily News, Selman went from being a local celebrity to a sought-after public speaker. Together with filmmaker Alice Elliott, he traveled across the U.S. and was invited to Qatar as a guest of the royal family. All the while, he solicited donations from everyone he met—from the doctors who treated his diabetes to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. When the two were joint honorees at a 2009 volunteerism awards ceremony, the first thing Selman asked Powell was for a donation to a cancer charity. Powell handed him a folded-up piece of paper, which later turned out to be a $100 bill. For Selman, “it was the high point of the evening.”

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