Anniston man with crazy hats had big heart
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jun 19, 2013 | 9517 views |  0 comments | 158 158 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Darrel "Sonny" Clayton was known in the community for his profession as a clown. Clayton had hundreds of hats which were on display at his memorial service.  Photo by Courtney Davies
Darrel "Sonny" Clayton was known in the community for his profession as a clown. Clayton had hundreds of hats which were on display at his memorial service. Photo by Courtney Davies
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Sonny Clayton never met a hat he didn't like or a stranger he couldn't make a friend.

A self-proclaimed clown, the Anniston native always had a balloon animal for a crying child or a big smile and helping hand for anyone in trouble. He was a kind of local celebrity and though people might not have known his name, his wacky hats and friendly attitude were unforgettable.

Clayton died early Tuesday morning at his sister's home in Anniston. He was 60.

A memorial service for Clayton was held Wednesday at Church on the Rock in Anniston.

For decades, Clayton entertained children in full clown makeup at birthday parties, church events and parades. Only poor health forced him to give up his full clowning activities about three years ago, said Diane Tant, Clayton's sister.

But even when he was not in clown costume or even at a special event, he would routinely go out of his way to brighten a child's day, Tant said.

"He'd keep a bag of balloons in his vest pocket," Tant said. "If he'd see a child in Wal-Mart who was upset, he'd make a balloon for them."

Clayton had vast balloon-making skills, able to create swords, poodles and even flowers.

"He used to come down to our children's church and make balloon animals when we did fundraisers to bring people in," said Darlene Wood, secretary for Church on the Rock. "He knew all the children's names and they weren't afraid to approach him ... he didn't look like a grown up."

Even when not in clown costume, Clayton looked amusing, which was just the way he liked it. Tant said the colorful hats Clayton wore were just another way for him to brighten people's lives.

"He was always trying to make someone happy," Tant said. "He would say, 'if I can just make one person laugh a day, that's my goal.'"

He almost never failed to wear a large, gaudy hat in public. Almost a hundred of the hats were displayed on four large tables at his memorial service. Hats of every shape and size were there, some that resembled large hot dogs and chickens to others that were patriotic red, white and blue.

Beyond the hats, Clayton for years would go to local hospitals around Christmas to deliver candy canes to the medical staff there.

"He thought all the doctors at the hospital did not get enough recognition," Tant said.

Dr. Michael Kline, a urologist in Anniston who had known Clayton for 10 years, said Clayton never failed to be friendly.

"He always had a smile on his face," Kline said. "And even though he might have had different types of medical problems, he never let it get him down."

Curtis Kirk of Jacksonville, who grew up with Clayton, said the man's friendly, kind nature never wavered.

"He never had a bad word to say about anybody and never hurt anybody or anything," Kirk said.

Teresa Hayes of Wellington, who was also a friend of Clayton's, said he always tried to help other people whenever possible.

"He was very unconventional in the way he looked, but he was the most kind-hearted person," Hayes said.

Tant said Clayton was just a people person who talked to everyone he met.

"He never met a stranger," she said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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