'Naked Guy' Andrew Martinez dies

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Andrew Martinez, a former student at the University of California at Berkeley who was better known as "The Naked Guy" in the early 1990s, committed suicide on Thursday. He was 33.

Guards at the Santa Clara County Jail reportedly found Martinez unconscious in a jail cell, with a plastic bag cinched around his neck, at about 11:19 p.m. Wednesday. Martinez was taken to a local hospital where was pronounced dead early Thursday. He had been incarcerated since January 10 on charges of battery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Martinez is best known for attending his classes in the nude in the fall of 1992. He became an instant celebrity, appearing on national television talk shows where he defended his practice as a form of free speech and a challenge to sexual repression in Western society.

Martinez was eventually expelled from UC Berkeley for violating the school's code of conduct, and Berkeley city officials passed a strict anti-nudity ordinance.

Family and acquaintances report that Martinez had been suffering from undetermined mental illness over the past decade for which he never found comprehensive treatment, and had been in and out of halfway houses, psychiatric institutions, and jail.

Said close acquaintance Bryan Schwartz, a civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C., "He was a person with tremendous gifts and charisma who could have been a great asset to our society, but instead I feel like society -- me included -- failed him. It's such a waste."