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Remembering Dr. Nik

Written by on Saturday, April 27, 2024

Colleagues share fond memories of the Sarasota icon.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Apr. 26, 2024

Host: His colorful bicycle sculptures are adorning street corners throughout Sarasota. For years, he and his puppet theater were a mainstay on the downtown Farmers’ Market. And this is just the most visible art he produced. William Pearson was a creative presence in town for decades, and he passed away last week. Here’s the WSLR News team’s tribute to the giant known by everyone as Dr. Nik.

[Opens to soundtrack of Tin Can Rebellion]

Johannes Werner: This is the soundtrack of Tin Can Rebellion, a short film based on puppet characters Dr. Nik co-produced with Mark Zampella.

But let’s begin with theater. William Pearson made a living as a fix-it-all for Florida Studio Theater, from taking care of buildings and visiting actors, to set designer. He was an active member of IATSE, the stagehand union.

Drama teacher Adam Ratner was a voice for two of Dr. Nik’s puppet characters. He met him through the theater connection.

Adam Ratner: Florida Studio Theaters in particular, he kind of kept that place running as far as all of the facilities. He made sure that the housing was working, that the actors were happy, because the theater has talent that comes in from all over the world. So Doc was kind of like the grand ambassador. He was the one that made sure that everyone was comfortable. He would provide bicycles for the actors so that they could move around town, since most of them would not have vehicles while they were here. He was kind of the … I want to say the master of ceremonies of letting people know where to go in town.

JW: Even though he had an iconic appearance – short stature, Yosemite Sam-style white mustache and thick-framed round glasses – better known was probably the free art he set up along Sarasota streets.  Everybody in Sarasota has seen those pink, white and yellow theme bikes, adorned with flamingos, peace signs, bells, and bird houses.

Dr. Nik refurbished and enhanced several dozen of those bikes, and posted them along streets, locking them to street signs and lamp posts. When they were vandalized or became weather worn, he would take them home, tend to them, and redeploy them.

And then, there was Dr. Nik the musician. Sarasota composer, musician, film maker and radio host Mark Zampella was a long-time buddy, muse and co-conspirator of the doc’s musical undertakings. We interviewed Zampella in the breaks while he was on the air with his show in the studios of WSLR.

Mark Zampella: Yeah, man, the dude, he just had his hands in so many different things. He was interested in lots of stuff — and that’s what made him so interesting to me is that he was interested. 

We had a band called the Bilderberg Jazz Orchestra, and it was all free form. We had no material per se; It was all improvised. We did a bunch of live gigs and we recorded all the time. Every time we would get together, I had a portable recording system where I would set everything up and record every jam. And so, we released maybe 23 albums over the course of two years. 

We did a lot of stuff together, Doctor and I, because we both very much enjoyed each other’s company and we enjoyed each other’s crafts. So, he would help me with the stuff that I was doing. I made a bunch of films years ago and he was involved in those, in either the production behind the scenes or on camera. He played a couple characters in films. 

JW: Dr. Nik first hosted a bluegrass show on WSLR, then 33 and a Third, a show dedicated to vinyl records.

From childhood, William Pearson faced multiple surgeries and physical pain. He contracted Lyme disease, was eventually diagnosed with Leukemia, and had to go through lengthy blood transfusions. He wouldn’t let these challenges drag him down. Adam Ratner:

AR: Well, Doc had had a lot of surgeries from when he was young. He had some incidents where he was injured. He lived hard, as far as probably pushing himself, maybe a little bit too hard than he should have. He did become ill towards the end of his life; but you know, he took it as he could and you know … his motto was, “Peace in and peace out and spread good juju.”

And even when the times are as rough as they can be, you still got to soldier on and get out there, and keep the despicable deplorables he used to call them, from invading and taking over, and keeping the energy positive. 

JW: William Pearson passed away yesterday, in the care of his sister in Portland, Oregon.

Mark Zampella:

MZ: I miss him. He was my friend and I miss him. He was a good dude. He was a good dude. And I think he casts a long shadow here, you know? He was definitely a character here. Everybody knew Dr. Nik, you know?  And I think in a good way. I think he brought joy to people’s lives.

JW: Reporting for WSLR, which wouldn’t be what it is without the doc, this is Johannes Werner.


A memorial for Dr. Nik by WSLR is planned at May 19. Details to follow.

And here’s the link to the full-length interviews with Mark Zampella and Adam Ratner:


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.