alg_john_toomey.jpgA man who gained fame when he was fired from his job as Santa Claus at Macy’s Union Square last year for telling off-color jokes and then rehired to preside over a local toy drive has reportedly died.

John Toomey was found dead in his room at a Market Street residential hotel today, said Nick Bovis, owner of Lefty O’Doul’s.

“We’re all really emotional here,” said Bovis, who hired Toomey as his in-house Santa following his famous falling-out with Macy’s. “He was a great person.”

Toomey had been playing Santa Claus at Macy’s for around 20 years when he was fired. The incident drew nationwide attention including a television appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

In his stint at Lefty O’Doul’s, Toomey posed for photos in a specially constructed North Pole Winter Wonderland at $10 a shot to raise money for the Firefighters Toy Program. His presence gave the toy drive and fundraising program a major boost, Bovis said.

The toy drive, which had set a goal of collecting 10,000 toys, instead collected around 15,000. The photos raised around $10,000, which was also donated.

“There are 12,000 kids in San Francisco that wouldn’t have had a Christmas without Santa John last year,” said publicist Lee Houskeeper, who works with Lefty O’Doul’s. “We’re just devastated by his passing.”

Houskeeper said Bovis had helped Toomey get medical care for respiratory issues when he hired him at Lefty’s, but that “Santa John” would work himself into exhaustion if allowed to do so.

“He would sit there until the last child left,” Houskeeper said. “I would have to come down and tell them to stop because he would work until he was really tired.”

Toomey had a lifetime contract to return to Lefty O’Doul’s as Santa Claus and was looking forward to this Christmas, Houskeeper said. He said the restaurant has no plans to replace him because he was “irreplaceable.”

Like Santa Claus, Toomey’s age remains somewhat in doubt. On his job application, Bovis said Toomey had written under “age”: “My tongue is slightly older than my teeth.”

The application, after a bit of a hunt, was found filed away under “Kris Kringle.”

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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