Lavonda 'Bonnie' Hunt, whose bar paid lavish tribute to Elvis Presley

September 02, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Lavonda "Bonnie" Hunt, the good-hearted redhead who presided over cold beer and the eternal memory of the King at Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine, died of a heart attack Tuesday at her home above the East Baltimore tavern where she made her living. She was 62.

The landmark barroom at the corner of Fleet and Port streets featured a 15-by-12-foot mural of Elvis on the side of the building, a jukebox packed with Elvis hits, and hundreds of Presley artifacts, including a jar of red clay from the singer's native Tupelo, Miss., and an iron pole from the gates at Graceland.

Such curios, enhanced by the quiet hospitality of Bonnie Hunt, attracted visitors from around the world.

"I like running this bar," she said. "It's my life."

In recent years, it was often a lonely life.

On many nights, a man with a thirst could walk inside the narrow rowhouse saloon and find Miss Bonnie sitting at the bar with her thoughts and a small glass of wine, alone in the twinkle of Christmas lights and enveloped in the voice of the King.

Although pilgrims yearning to soak up Elvis stopped by now and again for a drink -- and the place was known to jump with poetry readings and holiday parties -- Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine suffered from a lack of regulars.

She blamed poor business on drunk driving laws, the wane of the traditional neighborhood bar, "harassment" from the liquor board, intolerant neighbors and simple misfortune.

A bitter, years-long feud with her neighbor resulted in nearly a dozen appearances before the liquor board for noise violations and a zoning dispute over the mural.

That may explain why she always harbored a suspicion thaunknown forces wanted to take away her bar for their own profit. Such headaches, she said, led to a heart attack and three strokes.

Yet, until the end, she never stopped smoking.

Never stopped drinking.

And never stopped loving Elvis, whom Miss Bonnie claimed to have met once in the check-out line of a Florida supermarket.

Of the scores of Presley images hung throughout the bar, she said: "Every way I turn, he's smiling at me."

Lavonda Hunt was the seventh of 10 children born on a farm outside of Savannah, Ga., to Dolphus and Zerie Hunt.

OC Married at 14 -- the first of five marriages to four men -- she

moved to Baltimore with her first husband in the early 1950s.

During her years in Baltimore, she worked as a barmaid at various waterfront gin mills. For a time, she moved back to Savannah and was living in Ohio when Elvis died in 1977. She bought the bar that bears her name in 1981, about the time her last marriage ended. The celebration of Elvis began slowly, but once customers found out she nurtured a special passion for the King, they began giving her presents: busts of the singer, thermometers embedded in tin images of Presley under the words "It's Cool;" and Tennessee license plates emblazoned: ELVIS. One pennant said, "Elvis: 1935-to-Forever."

At the end, there was nary an inch of paneling not covered with something related to Elvis Presley. The bar will be closed until the family figures out what to do with it.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Duda-Ruck funeral home, 7922 Wise Ave., in Dundalk.

She is survived by two sons, Wayne Mosley and Dene Mosley, both of Dundalk; two sisters, Laverne Kicklighter of Dundalk and Vella Tippins of Canton; a brother, Houston Hunt of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.

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