Sarasota skews on the senior side, and that’s true when it comes to celebrities. We’re the home of tabloid TV legend Jerry Springer (73), best-selling novelist Stephen King (75), and AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson (70), among many others. And a steady shuffle of boomer-and-beyond performers—83-year-old Frankie Valli, 81-year-old Johnny Mathis, 73-year-old Diana Ross, to name only a few—packs the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for sold-out shows.
But there’s one older celebrity who doesn’t get the attention he deserves, and that’s 82-year-old Frosty. For one show a day, seven days a week, 363 days a year, Frosty, a handsome white cockatoo, takes the stage at the bird show at Jungle Gardens—and he’s been doing that for more than 45 years.
He earns no thunderous applause. Never a standing O. No Facebook page, no hashtag and no legion of followers. But Frosty is a performer’s performer, posing for selfies galore and rave-reviewed on TripAdvisor. The crowd may be small, but the smartphones click and you can hear people exclaim, Frosty is so adorable, and Frosty is so clever.
Offstage, Frosty is just another beak in the crowd, one of more than 150 native and exotic birds of prey, parrots, monkeys, snakes, lizards, iguanas, alligators, tortoises and two bearded dragons in the 10 acres of lush tropical landscaping and winding nature trails in Jungle Gardens, which the owners tout as “Sarasota’s flora, fauna and fun park.”
But every day at noon, for the audience from Oshkosh and Ottawa to Philly and Poughkeepsie—it’s showtime!
On a small stage before a stand of bleachers, just down the path from Charlie, the motionless 85-year old crocodile, and up the hill from the two dozen pink flamingos, Frosty makes his entrance without ego or fuss. Seasoned and calm, he spends most of his time just standing there, twitching, looking around and waiting for his cue to perform a pint-sized feat of daring.
There are other performers in the bird show, a dazzling collection of vibrant green, orange, red and yellow feathered performers, but Frosty is the indisputable star.
Bubbly trainer Kalicia introduces him with enthusiasm: “Frosty the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo, who was on Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show, once with Sammy Davis Jr.!”
The older spectators, usually with fidgety grandkids in tow, nod with grins of recognition. But the rest of the crowd reacts with silence and blank stars. They look at each other, shrug and mumble, “Johnny who? The Ed what show?”
Frosty is escorted to the stage on Kalicia’s gloved finger. “It’s deceiving, ’cuz he’s so cute, but their claws and beaks are pretty sharp and they have a way of nipping, of course without meaning it,” she explains with obvious affection.
Frost hops and struts and engages in a little repartee with Kalicia, nodding his head to answer “yes” to her questions. And then—the grand finale! He hops aboard a tiny unicycle and pedals it along a wire tightrope, carrying along a bright-blue fellow exotic bird suspended on a trapeze below. The crowd whistles and applauds.
When the half-hour show is over, Kalicia helps some of the birds pose for nervous selfies and fields questions, including an occasional, “What was Johnny Carson really like?” But Frosty, eschewing a curtain call, has been whisked away to his private perch, perhaps to doze away the afternoon and dream of dazzling a brand-new crowd tomorrow.