Tulane professor, 58, dies in ferry plunge
Creighton Bernette, 58, a professor of English literature at Tulane University in New Orleans, died Sunday night when he disappeared after boarding a ferry boat across the Mississippi River.
Police called his death a suicide.
Mr. Bernette, a blunt-spoken, heavyset man who some said bore a resemblance to the actor John Goodman, had become something of a cult figure after Hurricane Katrina when he took to the Internet to criticize local, state and federal authorities and others whom he felt had not responded adequately to the crisis besetting his beloved New Orleans.
Friends and colleagues said Mr. Bernette had been despondent about the city’s slow pace of recovery and feared that it would never again be what it was.
“He marched in the Mardi Gras parade dressed as a human sperm,” said Leo Beaulieu, a neighbor in the Treme section, “but he said it was depressing that there were so few people.”
In addition, Mr. Bernette reportedly was unable to finish a historical novel he had been working on about the great Mississippi flood of 1927.
The news of his death, erroneously reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune as an accident, sent ripples of shock through Tulane, where he was a popular figure.
“All of us will miss Creighton’s unique combination of passion, erudition and wit,” said Dr. Henry Robison, chairman of the English Department. “We are devastated.”
Mr. Bernette, who had taught at the school for 26 years, championed the work of New Orleans writers such as Walker Percy, Kate Chopin and John Kennedy Toole.
His speaking style was a mixture of the literary, the humorous and the profane. Posting a series of clips on YouTube using a webcam on his home computer, he became locally famous for his scathing diatribes against those he said had allowed the “man-made disaster” of post-Katrina flooding to occur.
After he concluded one clip with the phrase, “F— you, you f—ing f—s,” it became a catchphrase that turned up on T-shirts sold in the French Quarter.
Mr. Bernette is survived by his wife, Toni, a civil-rights lawyer, and his daughter, Sofia.
His remains will be cremated on Friday. Services at the St. Louis Cemetery will be followed by a traditional “second line” procession. According to his wife, Professor Bernette specified in his will the band he wanted and the songs to be played.