Homeless ambassador George Nixon remembered


Homeless ambassador George Edward Nixon, pictured, has died. Photo: A still from the music video for Vollekslidd by Serge Tonnar 

As a resident of the streets himself, Nixon was described by singer Serge Tonnar as “ambassador for the homeless”. He worked as an administrative assistant for not-for-profit Stëmm vun der Strooss and was a keen photographer, carefully chronicling the lives of his peers.

Director Yann Tonnar posted on Facebook: “You were the spirit, the soul and the eye of our streets. Capturing your traveling companions with your photographic lens, and sharing with great compassion when anyone of them passed away. Now it's your turn, and I am sure there will be a lot of people who will have the same compassion as you, because you touched everyone you met.”

Actress Tara Klassen adds: “His photographs of his mates on the street are haunting. He captures them in a way that no one else could. He understood humanity in a way that only a person with his history could, seeing through so much of the bullshit to what really matters.”

Nixon was also a prolific background actor in movies. According to RTL video “Born Survivor”, published in December 2018, up until then he had appeared in 62 films, 10 music videos and five documentaries about street life. Among the music videos he can be seen in is Serge Tonnar’s Vollekslidd (folk song).

Born in Canada, Nixon explained in the RTL video that he first came to Luxembourg in 1977 after the death of his parents, but also travelled widely thereafter. Having completed an apprenticeship in off-set printing, he worked on Heidelberg printing machines in Germany, among other places. His career took a hit in the 1980s when he said jobs were scarce. He polished cars for a time but said the stress of unemployment took a toll on his marriage. He also battled with alcohol dependency. “I was being sued left and right. If you’ve got no money, what can they take?” he said in the RTL video.

Nixon said he began acting after encountering a lorry driver who was working in film. His iconic white beard and wizened face was instantly recognisable in films. He mostly recently appeared in the 2018 movie “Rain Anyway”. Nixon reportedly joked to American in Luxembourg Mike McQuaide in 2017 that at that time he was in three movies playing at the cinema. “I go to the cinema and think “Which movie do I feel like seeing myself in?”” he said in McQuaide's recalling of the encounter.

Klassen said she met and got to know Nixon through her work as an actress on film sets. She said: “His life story was tragic, though he never presented it that way, choosing rather to make light of the hardships that led to his becoming homeless with a fatalistic attitude, which undoubtedly was an essential coping mechanism for so many years of life on the streets. To endure it all and not give up requires incredible strength.”

Nixon worked for Stëmm vun der Stross since 2000, initially as a volunteer and then in 2017 in a paid part-time role. According to asbl director Alexandra Oxacelay, he was “an amazing man and for all the homeless people he was a little bit the face of [homelessness]” A strong advocate for rough sleepers and sought to improve understanding about the causes of homelessness. In the RTL interview he said: “It's not true people on the street have the same problems [...] There are other circumstances: financial stress, family problems. It's hard to find one solution for all the people on the street.”

Nixon will be buried at Merl cemetery on 22 November at 10:30am. A memorial will be held at the Marie Reine de la Paix church in Bonnevoie on 25 November at 5pm.

*updated on 20 November. Changes include the addition of the burial ceremony date and time, and of comments from Tara Klassen.