Reality takes a toll on 'Wing Nuts'
Friends of Tim Roberts, who starred in the Torrance-based series, mourn his sudden death.
By Muhammed El-Hasan
Tim Roberts, who starred in the reality TV series "Wing Nuts," squeezed his girlfriend's cheeks a little past midnight on Monday, and said "I'm so glad I finally found you."
He then went downstairs for a snack of pizza pockets, and never returned. Four hours later, Roberts' girlfriend, Elissa Holland, found his 6-foot 4-inch frame collapsed on the kitchen floor.
Mark Mullin, owner of the Mar Vista house, attempted CPR on Roberts, 39, who didn't respond. "It was just too late," said Holland, who was living with Roberts in the Mullins' attic. "It's such a waste. He was at his peak."
Roberts was one of three main characters in "Wing Nuts," which premiered Sept. 28 on the Discovery Channel. The show follows Roberts and the two owners of Torrance-based MotoArt, Donovan Fell and Dave Hall, as they make furniture from salvaged aircraft parts.
The coroner's office said it performed an autopsy on Roberts, but needed to conduct further tests. Roberts apparently died of natural causes. There was no sign of foul play.
MotoArt, located near the Torrance Municipal Airport, finished taping its first season of nine episodes in August.
"We would love to continue the show," Hall said. "And Tim would have wanted it that way, too."
Hall and Fell incorporated MotoArt in 2002, making such items as a table with a built-in ice bucket made from a World War II Navy practice bomb.
The pair hired Roberts, a former production designer and Fell's longtime friend, to make a tape of MotoArt's operations and antics to pitch to the Discovery Channel as a show. The Discovery Channel liked the idea and ordered a season of the show. They began taping episodes in March.
"We're heartbroken, all of us," said Dean Ollins, producer of "Wing Nuts." "Anyone who knew Tim Roberts knew he was just a warm, caring guy filled with quirks, foibles and fumbles. But ultimately, you couldn't ask for a better friend. Being with him could be alternately hilarious, frustrating, powerful, wild, silly, extraordinary. The point was it was never dull with him."
Roberts lived to watch two of the three episodes that have aired. The show already has developed a following, Ollins said. MotoArt has received more than 1,000 e-mails and hundreds of phone calls from fans around the country expressing their condolences, Hall said.
One fan from The Woodlands, Texas, wrote in an email: "Love your show, but was blown away last night with the sad news about Tim. 'Wing Nuts' nuts across America grieve your loss."
The show follows the three men as they run MotoArt. Roberts, a former rock singer who toured with Kiss and Motley Crue in the 1980s, often provided the comic relief and served as "heavy metal philosopher" on the show, Ollins said.
"He desperately wanted to become a part of the company, but Tim lacked any artistic or business ability," Ollins said. "A lot of the show chronicles his inability to fit in . . . And it leads to conflicts. But ultimately, these three guys were (like) brothers."
Roberts had gone through a divorce before the show's taping began. And the series deals with his attempt to get back on his feet. He lives at the MotoArt shop in early episodes.
Later episodes have Roberts living with Holland, a Long Beach bartender, in the Mullins' Mar Vista home.
"There was this perception that reality television lets viewers see what they want to see and is very manipulative," Ollins said. "But what you see on the screen is the real Tim Roberts. It was an incredibly honest portrayal of the person."
Roberts' parents died years ago. He has no siblings or children. His only family was a close-knit group of friends, Holland said. They plan on holding a private wake for Roberts on Saturday, she said.
Original episodes of "Wing Nuts" appear at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the Discovery Channel. Reruns are at 9 p.m. Fridays and 7 p.m. Saturdays.