Brazil police: Artist's death a possible suicide
Tourist from Germany take photos on a stairway that was decorated by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, which he titled the "Selaron Stairway" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. Selaron, an eccentric Chilean artist and longtime Rio resident who created a massive, colorful tile stairway in the bohemian Lapa district that's popular with tourists, was found dead on the stairway on Thursday. He was 54. Authorities are investigating the cause of death. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Artist Jorge Selaron may have taken his own life by setting himself on fire on the very steps of his masterpiece, a brilliantly colored public staircase that became a symbol of Rio de Janeiro, the homicide police chief said Friday.
The body of Selaron, a Chilean who had adopted Rio as his home, was found early Thursday morning lying charred on the steps he had covered in a rainbow of bright tiles from all over the world as a tribute to the Brazilian people. The stairs, his life's work, were declared city patrimony in 2005, when Selaron was made an honorary carioca, as Rio residents are called.
Next to the burned body was a can of paint thinner, the liquid used to fuel the flames, said homicide police chief Renata Araujo. Inside Selaron's home, a humble pastel-colored colonial that opens onto the staircase, was the paint thinner's lid.
All eight people interviewed so far said the artist was deeply depressed over threats by former friend and collaborator and had asked for help in ending his life.
"He even asked to be taken to the subway so he could throw himself under the train," Araujo said.
An undated photo of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron decorates a tile that is part of a wall on a public staircase he decorated and titled the "Selaron Stairway" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. Selaron, an eccentric Chilean artist and longtime Rio resident who created a massive, colorful tile stairway in the bohemian Lapa district that's popular with tourists, was found dead on the stairway on Thursday. Authorities are investigating the cause of death. (AP Photo)
The autopsy showed the highly flammable liquid was poured on his head, which reinforced the theory he did it himself. Also, since Selaron first reported the threats to police in November 2012, he always had friends stay at his house to keep him company, Araujo said.
The night before he died he chose to sleep alone.
"This could be an indication that he was determined to kill himself," she said. "He could have poured the thinner on his own body inside the house, then to protect his work and die on the staircase, he could have walked out and set himself on fire."
Still, the investigation has not discarded the possibility he was killed. Right before dying the artist went to a nearby bakery and brought home two pieces of bread, Araujo said.
The dispute that led the painter into depression was with Paulo Sergio Rabelo, a friend of long standing and colleague who was left in charge of Selaron's studio when he took a vacation last November.
Rabelo, who earned an income making prints of Selaron's work and was included in his will, fought with several associates in his absence. Selaron was upset and ended their relationship. Rabelo then began threatening him, police said.