Oswaldo Gomez—better known to most as Ms Colombia, the beloved performer and NYC fixture whose colorful outfits and good cheer made her immediately recognizable and unforgettable to all who met her—has died. She was 64.
Police say that Ms Colombia, who lived in Jackson Heights, was found in the waters off Jacob Riis Park on Wednesday morning around 3:30 a.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene; the medical examiner will determine the cause of death. At this time, police say they do not suspect foul play, but the investigation remains ongoing.
"I'm really heartbroken to hear Ms Colombia has died," said Daniel Albanese, who runs The Dusty Rebel, and who photographed Ms Colombia several times in recent years at various parades and events, where she was a mainstay. "Always smiling and full of joy, Ms Colombia was a true New York icon, and one of my favorite people to photograph. At any given parade, even in sea of dazzling costumes, Ms Colombia always stood out. People flocked around her, amazed at her unconventional use of fashion, as well as the assortment of animals that usually accompanied her to events. I can't imagine this city without her."
So sad about the death of La Paisa, #MsColombia (a.k.a. Osvaldo Gomez). Ms. Colombia was not only at all parades in #JacksonHeights & a beloved figure. About 15 years ago I was at a @Mets game at #SheaStadium & there was Ms. Colombia walking around defiant & proud! #QueensValues pic.twitter.com/KaworbTIZk
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) October 4, 2018
— Dr Panti Bliss (@PantiBliss) October 4, 2018
“She was beloved by all who saw her in the streets, at parades, and in the neighborhood wearing her colorful outfits and a bird on her shoulder,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm in a statement. “Her cheerfulness and ability to bring a smile to the faces of all who met her will be missed by all New Yorkers...While life did not always treat Ms. Colombia with all the respect she was due, New Yorkers will remember Ms. Colombia as a hero to everyone.” He added that his office was reaching out to various organizations to plan a memorial vigil for her.
"She was seriously one of a kind," said Nicolas Heller, who interviewed her for one of his "No Your City" documentary videos, which you can see below. "Sounds cliche, but she truly was a shining star. Everywhere she went she was the center of attention. Everyone loved her. New York lost a legend today."
As she revealed in the video below, Gomez said she was a lawyer who moved to NYC from Medellín, Colombia in the 1970s, hoping to find a place where she wouldn’t be persecuted for her sexual orientation. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1988, and being told she only had a year to live, she decided to life to the fullest "day by day" as she pleased. "Happiness is the best way, and that's why I'm still alive," she said. "I love New York because of this freedom, I can do my own style, nobody bothering me."
"They ask me: 'Are you homo? Are you gay? Are your lesbian?' And I say: 'No, I am a human being from another planet.'"