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Popular street identity 'Mike the Juggler' named as victim of NZ hostel fire



The family of a New Zealandstreet identity who perished in the Loafers Lodge fire has invited the people of Wellington to attend his funeral.

Michael Eric Wahrlich, 67, was confirmed by his sister, Margaret, as one of the residents of Loafers Lodge who died in the fire last Tuesday.

Known as "Mike the Juggler", Wahrlich was well known to the people of Wellington for his happy grin and ability to juggle, while dressed in his signature blue.

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Wilson Funeral Home director Nigel Rowland said he had met with Wahrlich's family, and they had decided on an open funeral for the people of Wellington to attend, with well-wishers invited to write a message on his online tribute page.

The funeral would be held at The Wilson Funeral Home in Newtown, this Friday at 11am (local time).

It would also be live streamed for people to view if they wished.

Wahrlich's sister, Margaret, previously talked to Stuff about the joy her brother had brought the people of the city he called home.

"I am very excited about the pleasure and happiness that Mike brought to the Wellington people with his juggling and his massive smile."

Wahrlich had been born at Wellington Hospital on June 27, 1955.

He was often seen outside the Westpac bank on Lambton Quay.

His sister said the family grew up in Porirua, north of Wellington city.

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Mike Wahrlich in his late 20s or early 30s. Inset is his mother Adrienne.

He had an older brother and three younger sisters.

"He was juggling at home when we were kids."

She recalled him graduating from juggling two to four tennis balls.

Mike the Juggler was called a "city institution" by Wellington City councillor Nicola Young, and Wellington historian Redmer Yska​ said Mike was an "absolute fixture" of the Wellington landscape.

"He just always seems to be there with a smile on his face just juggling those balls so skilfully," Yska said.

"He never seems to be that serious about collecting money – just that spark of joy on the street."

It was reported he had been busking in the capital for 27 years.

Wahrlich only got out of hospital late last year after he was badly assaulted in Loafers Lodge around May 2022.

Police confirm names of three fire victims

Melvin Joseph Parun and Peter Glenn O'Sullivan, both 64, were also victims of the fire, police confirmed on Tuesday evening.

Parun was a former barrister and the brother of one of New Zealand's most successful tennis players, Onny Parun.

Five people died in the Loafers Lodge blaze and police have said up to a further 10 people remain unaccounted for.

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Left to right: Brothers Melvin, Tony and Onny Parun practising with coach Len Aitkens on the courts at Wadestown Primary School in 1964.

The formal identification process continued for two further victims, Inspector Dion Bennett, acting Wellington District Commander, said.

"We extend our condolences to their families at this extremely difficult time."

The scene examination will continue until it is finished, Bennett said.

"We are grateful for the public's patience while we carry out critical work at the scene which requires the continued closure of the northbound lane," he said.

The scene examination will continue until it is finished, Bennett said.

A man, 48, has been arrested and has been charged with setting fire to the lodge and to a couch on the third floor.

He appeared in Wellington District Court on Friday.

The man was remanded in custody until June 19 and was given name suppression.

This article originally appeared on Stuff and has been reproduced with permission. 

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