Randall McKissick, the mystery tenant in South Carolina’s so-called ‘nightmare’ house, is moving.
The 70-year-old graphic artist, who had been living rent free in the upstairs of a family friend’s home for nearly a decade, is heading for a senior living tower near Five Points, just steps from the University of South Carolina campus.
But the move is daunting.
“I’m afraid,” McKissick said from the bare downstairs room at the home in Cayce. “I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I’m pretty sure everything will be fine. But I could cry.”
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McKissick became an online sensation in May when the son of the 2,656-square-foot house’s owner placed a bizarre ad on Zillow, a real estate website.
“Upstairs apartment cannot be shown under any circumstances,” the listing read. “Buyer assumes responsibility for the month-to-month tenancy in the upstairs apartment. Occupant has never paid, and no security deposit is being held, but there is a lease in place. (Yes, it does not make sense, please don’t bother asking.)”
The Zillow ad went viral.
It became the service’s most shared listing of 2017, according to a company blog post. Social media users labeled it a “nightmare house” and the “creepy” house in Cayce. Local and national media posted stories about the ad, with most simply reporting on its bizarre text.
But The State landed an interview with the mystery tenant, and found him anything but creepy. He is a once world-renowned artist and illustrator who had fallen on hard times, a father of two loving daughters and grandfather to a precious red-haired grandson.
The house contained no nightmares, just the artist and his three (or four or more) feral cats. It remains untidy.
“I’m not a housekeeper or a yard keeper,” McKissick said at the time.
McKissick is 5-foot-5-inches tall and weighs 135 pounds, with flowing white hair and beard, and a warm and friendly demeanor.
He loves Elvis Presley and James Brown, saying “I would kiss them on the mouth.”
He’s a sensitive genius who once was at the pinnacle of his profession, with illustrations and paintings in museums, galleries, private collections and corporate headquarters around the world.
“He could have gone anywhere in the world,” said author and historian Herbert “Bing” Chambers III, friends with McKissick since they were 5 years old. “Instead, we have one of the finest artists in the world living right here in Columbia. And very few people know him.”
One of his originals still hangs in the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta.
But after a series of setbacks beginning with the emergence of computer graphics and continuing to a divorce, an eviction, a series of thefts and age-related challenges, McKissick had lost his spark for painting.
There was an outpouring of support for McKissick after his story ran in The State. But he suffers from anxiety, a malady he has battled since childhood. And increasingly, he has trouble focusing. His mind wanders.
“I feel nervous,” he said.
McKissick loves his four cats almost as much as his art and his family. And with the move to the senior tower, he has to make a decision
“He can only have two,” his daughter Amber Albert said. “And he has to keep their litter box clean. He promised to do that, and we are going to be the cat police.”
McKissick, interviewed by The State again on Thursday, said he was being diplomatic. The first two cats who came to live with him –- Denim and another with no name – will supersede the kittens who have recently arrived.
“If I left them they would find a home,” he said. “But that would be irresponsible. I guess I have to take them somewhere.”
McKissick rode a Harley-Davidson chopper customized by television personality and designer Jesse James until recently, when his doctor said his riding days were over.
“I’ve been riding since I was in grammar school,” he said. “I would rather have my leg cut off.”
Albert said McKissick plans to move into the tower next week. It is uncertain what will happen to the “nightmare house.”
Efforts to reach Michael Schumpert Jr. – the man who placed the Zilllow ad – were unsuccessful.
The new digs are bigger than his old, cramped apartment. “The space I saw I liked,” he said.
And McKissick hopes that the move will reignite his desire to paint, something that has been lost for the past few years.
“When it comes to painting, I have to feel something,” he said, adding that he has torn up more paintings and illustrations because he was unsatisfied with them than he has sold.
The move makes him nervous. “I’ve alway been a homebody.” But he is embracing the change.
“It’s hard,” he said. “But sometimes change is good.”