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Disabled Boardwalk Performer Dies

February 26, 1998 GMT

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Celestine Tate Harrington, an ingenious street entertainer who finessed her deformities and wowed Boardwalk tourists by playing an electric organ with her tongue, died from injuries suffered in a traffic accident. She was 42.

Harrington, who lived, performed and traveled face down on a motorized hospital-style gurney, was injured a week ago today while riding down the middle of a street when a car slammed into the gurney and knocked it into another vehicle, throwing her.

She died Wednesday at Atlantic City Medical Center, according to spokeswoman Anna Bauer.


A Philadelphia native, Harrington was born with stunted, useless arms and legs after her teen-age mother tried unsuccessfully to abort her with a coat hanger.

The 4-foot-10 inch, 191-pound woman had elbows and knees, but her hands and feet did not have fully formed digits and she couldn’t use them to grip.

What she did have was an angelic voice and sweet disposition that belied the cruel hand she was dealt.

``You have a beautiful attitude and a beautiful personality and it’s a pleasure to have you,″ McDonald’s store owner Ed LeClair told her recently when he hired her to take telephone orders for his delivery service.

In 1976, she won the right to raise her own daughter when she demonstrated in court how she could change a diaper _ using only her mouth. She had two daughters of her own and two adopted ones, all of whom are now adults. She credited relatives and friends with helping raise them.

In 1984, she began working the Boardwalk, using a bucket to collect donations from those who wandered by and stopped to watch her play ``Amazing Grace,″ ``Born Free″ and ``Stormy Weather″ on her battery-operated keyboard.

In 1994, she wrote a book _ and typed the original manuscript using her tongue _ published two years later under the title ``Some Crawl and Never Walk.″ Heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, who met her by chance on the Boardwalk, donated money to have it published in hardcover.

``I try to be as normal as I can,″ she said in an interview in December.