NEW ORLEANS — Blaine Kern Sr., a float builder who was often credited with helping expand New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration into a giant event known worldwide, has died.
News outlets reported that Mr. Kern, known as “Mr. Mardi Gras” for his decades of work that helped boost New Orleans Carnival celebration, died Thursday. He was 93.
Mr. Kern’s wife, Holly Kern, told WWL-TV that her husband loved what he did and was always eager to share the story of Mardi Gras.
“He was an amazing guy. So generous, so kind. He had a love for life and a zest for life that I’ve never seen before,” she said. Mr. Kern developed an infection after a fall and died at home, she said.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Mr. Kern was “an iconic part of what makes New Orleans magical.”
“What Mardi Gras is today, what our city is today, owes much to him and his imagination, his larger-than-life personality, and his relentless creativity,” she said in a statement.
The pre-Lenten celebration has been big for generations in the riverside city, but in 1947 Mr. Kern founded Kern Studios, which constructed elaborate floats that helped distinguish New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festivities from others. Innovations including double-decker floats helped create a spectacle that draws massive crowds every year.
“Everybody’s got a big grin on their face, everybody’s smiling and shouting and having fun, so I figure I’m bringing joy and fun to millions of people,” Mr. Kern said in an interview with WWL-TV in 1997.
Mr. Kern, the son of a sign painter, grew up poor on Algiers Point across the Mississippi River from the city’s famed French Quarter.
“It would not be an exaggeration to declare Blaine Kern as one of the most significant individuals in the entire history of the celebration of Mardi Gras,” Arthur Hardy, publisher of the definitive “Mardi Gras Guide,” told nola.com.