Freddy the Beard last Good Friday at Chriss Billiards in Portage Park
  • Nick Murway
  • Freddy the Beard last Good Friday at Chris’s Billiards in Portage Park

Late last fall, a rumor began circulating through the pool world that Freddy “the Beard” Bentivegna, the great bank shooter and one of the last of the old hustlers, had passed away; or, rather, that he’d been killed in a terrible car accident on the south side en route to visit friends in the Cook County Jail. When Freddy himself logged into the message boards to announce that he was alive and well, he was accused of being a hacker. But the surest sign that the report was a fake was the part about how Freddy had crashed a 1973 Pinto wagon. Freddy the Beard would never have driven such a vehicle. Freddy was a class act. He drove a Cadillac.

And, indeed, Freddy was still around this spring to get profiled by me (and, in the process, hustle the Reader out of a nice lunch at his favorite restaurant, the Greek Islands) and shoot a game of pool with Ben Joravsky, during which he very graciously let Joravsky sink a couple of balls before running the table. He was a little tired and his back was sore, but he’d just gotten back from a long train trip to New York, where there’d been a book release party for his new book, The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers. It was part of his daughter Cat Adami’s plan to promote Freddy, a master storyteller, as the new Minnesota Fats. I had no doubt that it would happen. Cat was that determined, and Freddy was that good. His voice still sounded like Bridgeport, the accent, the expressions, the way he would end almost every sentence with “OK?” But he was a master of timing and details and consistency. And he was hilarious.

A few weeks ago, Cat wrote me that Freddy had been feeling under the weather and was spending a few days in the hospital, but that he was planning to get out very soon because the Dutch national champion had flown into Chicago for the express purpose of learning how to hustle from an expert. Both she and Freddy believed he had a good long time left, Cat because he came from good genetic stock, Freddy himself because of his Sicilian paranoia.

So it was shocking and sad to learn today that Freddy the Beard passed away earlier this week. He was 73.

The paid obit doesn’t say how or when. (I’ll update this post as I learn more.) [Update: Freddy died last Wednesday, June 18. He never really recovered his strength after he got out of the hospital.] Visitation is this afternoon and evening from 3 PM to 9 PM at Michael Coletta Sons Funeral Home (544 W. 31st) and the funeral mass is tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM at St. Jerome Croatian Church (2823 S. Princeton), followed by a private burial. He’s survived by Cat, his son Dino, son-in-law Jeven Adami, grandchildren Francesca and Andrew Adami, former wife Theresa, brother Frank Jr., sisters Katherine McAlesse and Sharon Bentivegna, and many nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends.

I won’t pretend I knew Freddy well; I don’t believe he told me anymore about himself than he wanted me to know. But I enjoyed the time we spent together. I enjoyed listening to his stories and reading his book and watching him shoot pool. It’s always a treat to see an absolute expert at work. Mostly, though, I got the sense that Freddy the Beard, more than most people, had really lived—he’d squeezed as much experience out of life as he possibly could. I respected that, and admired it. How many other people can make that claim?