According to his owner, Dexter, the internet’s most cherished peacock, passed unexpectedly at 1 PM on Sunday, July 22.
Dexter’s time in the public eye began in January, when the “emotional support peacock” made headlines for being barred from boarding his United Airlines flight from Newark to LAX. Instead, Dexter and Ventiko made the trek out West by car, On the Road style, documenting pit stops from Indianapolis to the Santa Fe Railyard Park on Dexter’s Instagram.
The Internet went into a flurry. Florida newspapers had a field day when they discovered Dexter’s Sunshine State roots, their suspicions confirmed that “any weird news story” is bound to have a “Florida connection.” NJ.com tracked his entire cross-country trek. The Los Angeles Times published a touching human-interest story about Ventiko and Dexter, who had by then “moved on” after his brush with airline industry injustice. And, after United tightened its policy on emotional support animals, the New York Times even ran an opinion piece in support of the crackdown.
Others came out as pro-peacock on Twitter, and the debate raged for the requisite several days before dying down to make room for the next story. Just long enough for Dexter’s Instagram follower count to climb to 17,000, making him an established social media star (he had already had a brush or two with fame just by virtue of being a peacock in New York City, and his first Instagram post dates back to July 1, 2015).
But what got lost in the racket is the true Dexter, the bird behind the Internet sensation.
“It’s impossible to describe our relationship in words,” Ventiko told me in an Instagram message when asked to comment on Dexter’s loss, but went on to offer some very poetic words all the same: “Visualize your interpretation of magic and that’s what we had. Nothing and no one will ever fill the void he has left behind.”
Ventiko first met Dexter, in true modern fashion, on the internet. In 2014, an attorney in Jupiter, Florida, fed up with passers-by ogling the exotic birds in his lawn, put up a Craigslist ad: two peacocks for $200. Ventiko, who was searching at the time for some fauna to top off an Art Basel installation, thought it sounded like a good deal.
It was love at first flight. When she opened the crate, Dexter made a mad dash and flew into some glass; Ventiko “scooped him up” and out of harm’s way, and “that was it.”
When the duo separated at the end of the art fair, Ventiko found Dexter a loving home with a man in his native Florida, but soon, tragedy struck: when Dexter’s mate and chicks were eaten by a predator, he became distressed and started to bite.
Alternate housing options, including in the Dominican Republic and on Long Island, fell through one by one, and it became clear that Ventiko and Dexter’s paths were linked for good. In 2014, Dexter came to live in Bushwick, which he would call home for the rest of his life. What the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood lacks in open pastures, Ventiko tried to make up for by taking Dexter on frequent walks on a leash.
Dexter’s Instagram account paints a picture of an inseparable duo, and the peacock makes his fair share of appearances on Ventiko’s account as well. It’s obvious that each played a huge role in the other’s life, and that the photos were taken not as a social media stunt but out of pure love.
It’s only fitting that Dexter became as central to Ventiko’s work as he was in her life. “I am everything to the artist I live with, expect artistic posts from our collaborations,” he wrote in the caption of a throwback post from March 1, a photo from his modeling for Ventiko at Art Basel.
Aside from his stunning looks, there’s a treasure trove of traditional symbolism surrounding Dexter that makes him the perfect model. “Peacocks represent infinity, and immortality, and all-knowingness,” Ventiko told the LA Times in March . “They are connected to god and holiness. There are lots of medieval paintings of peacocks on the roof of the manger. And they are the national bird of India.”
Dexter has cropped up many times in Ventiko’s work, including as Santo Dexter, Patron Saint of Companionship, in a series for resistance to the Trump administration (Dexter is a progressive).
Those of us that knew him only as the United Airlines peacock will never know the real Dexter that Ventiko knew and loved, but he still found a way to touch thousands of hearts through his online presence. To keep his legacy alive, Ventiko promises #tbt posts will appear on his feed in the future, so do yourself a favor and follow him if you don’t already.
As his favorite human told me, Dexter “defied stereotypes, and defined love,” and for that, we will always treasure his memory. Rest in peace, Dexter.
Follow Katya Lopatko on Twitter.