Michael "Mikey" Morehead, who had a passion for musical theatre and worked as a VJ at Sidetrack for about six years, died Tuesday night at a hospice care facility in Glenview, surrounded by his parents, sister and brother-in-law. Morehead was 43 and died from cirrhosis of the liver.
Morehead was raised in Northern Virginia and graduated from Chantilly High School in 1988, and then from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Morehead has lived in Chicago for about 16 years. He worked as wait staff at Second City in the late 1990s, eventually becoming assistant director. He directed the first staff holiday party, a tradition that continues to this day, according to Jennifer King Russell, who was friends with Morehead for 24 years.
Morehead worked at Sidetrack through early 2013, and his specialty was show tunes. He also had been a bartender at Second Story Bar. Years ago, he worked in Washington D.C., at various gay nightclubs.
Morehead was single and openly gay, said Chris Nelson, 55, one of his best friends.
The two were neighbors in Lincoln Square, and Morehead recently had been living in Nelson's apartment.
"He loved musical theatre, especially Les Miserables," Nelson said. "He had a [deep] knowledge of music."
Nelson said they often played card games and board games.
"After graduating college, Michael moved to Chicago. Prior to joining the Second City staff, he worked for a time at the NBC building as a page for The Jenny Jones Show," Russell said. "He also started getting involved in the local theatre community. He directed a production of Judy at the Stonewall Inn, which was a play he was very passionate about, as well as other productions at small storefront theatres.
"In the early 2000s, Michael became part of the original staff for the off-Broadway production of 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' that played at The Royal George Theatre for several years. He also became very active in trying to save the Uptown Theatre, hoping to raise money and interest in turning it into a thriving arts center. Michael also formed a theatre company with his step sister, Mariangela Saavedra, and they produced a handful of shows prior to his getting the job at Sidetrack."
Russell said that, in between theatre opportunities, Morehead worked in the bar and restaurant industries. "He worked for several years at The Blue Agave as wait staff, at Second Story as a bartender, and finally Sidetrack," Russell said. "When he was hired at Sidetrack, it was a dream come true for Michael. He was very passionate and knowledgeable about music, particularly Broadway musicals, and [he] could not wait to run [the] Showtunes night[s]. The position of VJ was the perfect combination of his technical skills, editing abilities, and love of music."
Morehead also was a devout Star Wars and Wizard of Oz fan, with a major collection of relics related to both.
"Mikey was like a big kid," said Christian Zahn, who works at Sidetrack. "I've never seen someone so passionate about Star Wars."
Steve Riegel-Myer, 38, of Chicago, had been friends with Morehead for about 12 years. He too recalls Morehead's passion for Star Wars and the Wizard of Oz, and his support when Riegel-Myer years ago was having issues after a breakup with his former boyfriend. "He was one of the guys who was there to help [me] pick up the pieces," after the break up, Riegel-Myer said.
Riegel-Myer, a hair dresser at Flashes Hair Designs in East Lakeview and also a bartender at Bonsai Bar & Lounge, said Morehead's home was "wall to wall Star Wars and Wizard of Oz."
"We had a dinner party one night [at Morehead's], and I knocked into a cabinet and knocked over a Dorothy statue … I thought he was going to have a heart attack; his eyes literally got as big as grapefruits," Riegel-Myer said, laughing.
Russell said Morehead "had a huge heart, a great sense of humor, and had many interests."
For instance, he was a history buff, particularly interested in the Titanic, Egyptian history, and early Christianity. "He dreamed of visiting Egypt and Israel, one day," Russell said. "Michael made friends easily in all of his various endeavors and he will be missed greatly.
Art Johnston, the co-owner of Sidetrack, said Morehead was a "valued employee for a long time. We are all saddened by this loss."
Morehead is survived by his mother, Donna Saavedra; his father, Mitchell Morehead; his sister, Dana Morehead, who is married with four children: Randy, Ashley, Raymond, and Emmy, and one stepsister, Mariangela Saavedra.