Littlehampton legend ‘Italian Tony’ remembered: ‘He’s left a big hole in all our hearts’
Anthony ‘Italian Tony’ Molica-Franco, a hugely popular Littlehampton character famous for spreading good cheer, has been remembered.
Regularly seen and heard riding his bike around the town, the 59-year-old’s passing on March 29 prompted an outpouring of grief on social media and beyond, with hundreds of residents sharing their memories of the larger than life character.
One of eight siblings, Tony’s four sisters said seeing how much he meant to so many people in the town had gone some way to easing their grief.
“We are so overwhelmed with the tributes to him on social media,” they said.
“It proves that he was not just loved by us as a family, but that he was loved by the whole town of Littlehampton
“He was very happy most of the time, although he did have his off days. But he loved people and making them happy, he loved singing around the town – he loved life.
“We loved him and we are heartbroken. He’s left a big hole in all our hearts, but the legacy he’s left behind is one of love and kindness.”
Known locally as Italian Tony, residents were well aware of his fondness for Rod Stewart and singing in general, as he regularly serenaded passersby.
He lived in private accommodation in River Road for the last 12 years, where he tended to the communal garden every day without fail.
His landlord of over a decade, Ben Karboub, said his positive energy ‘spread through the house like a wild fire’.
“He always gave you reason to smile and be happy each and every day, whether it was his operatic singing or his infectious laughter, he’s exactly what this world needs more of,” said Ben.
“If he can teach us all something it would be to sing, smile and be happy because life is simply too short. He always said he’d be remembered and that he would go down in Littlehampton history and I never doubted that for one second.
“We’ll all miss him so much and the town will never be the same with him gone.”
Regularly seen on his bicycle, Tony was actually famous for several bicycles as he never locked them up, leading to plenty of thefts over the years.
Members of the community would give him new ones for free, so he was never out of action for too long.
In the days following his death, Tony’s bike has become a beautiful floral tribute, adorned with flowers and a memorial book for people to pay their respects.
His family said they are ‘eternally grateful’ to all the local businesses and individuals who showed generosity and kindness to Tony while he was alive.
While the community was there to support Tony, who suffered from bipolar disorder, so too would he support them.
His family said they would call him Robin Hood as he would regularly ask for £1 off members of the public, which he would spend on toys for local children or ice cream for the ladies in the bank.
“He was very content,” they said. “The little he had he was really appreciative of, and anything that people gave him.”
Tony’s parents were originally from Italy, but became well-known faces in Littlehampton working on the market in the 1950s.
The third of eight siblings, Tony stayed close to his family and doted on his nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews – who all loved him in return.
He also has a 28-year-old son, Rosario, who lives in Naples, Italy.
Alongside the thousands of Littlehampton residents who will fondly remember him, Tony’s family said he also retained many close friends his whole life, from as far back as primary school.
For many residents and visitors to the town, he will be remembered for his plethora of catchphrases and chants, from ‘ciao bella’ to ‘I’m going to be famous’.
His family said they were surprised to discover how many of his sayings had fallen into local folklore.
Since he was a boy, they remembered him telling them ‘I’m going to go down in history’.
The monumental outpouring of emotion at his passing proves that, in Littlehampton at least, he certainly will.
A fundraiser to pay for a fitting send-off for Tony has already raised more than £2,300 from dozens of donors. You can support the fundraiser here.
A date for Tony’s funeral has yet to be arranged.