J. Wallace Tutt III, a South Florida interior designer and developer whose elegant, understated style attracted a celebrity clientele that included Cher, Gianni Versace, and Robert De Niro, died Saturday morning in the Bahamas.
The cause of death was unclear.
Bahamian police said they were investigating Tutt's death, but would not comment on whether foul play was suspected.
Tutt, 53, lived on a private island he owned off of Harbour Island. He also maintained a penthouse on Miami Beach's Sunset Harbor.
Longtime friend Dan Sehres, owner of Miami Beach's Bar 721, said Tutt's body is being flown to Nassau, Bahamas, for an autopsy.
Bahamian officials were unable to confirm that.
``He was a gentleman that was truly a great friend,'' Sehres said.
``Honestly, I'm going to miss that. He's one of those people I thought I was going to know forever.''
Tutt's most recent local accomplishment was the renovation of The Angler's hotel, completed in 2007. But for the past several years, he had been spending much of his time at his Bahamian masterpiece: The Rock House, a 1940s-era house that Tutt converted into a luxury boutique hotel.
A worker who answered the phone at The Rock House said the hotel has been emptied and will be closed for the next couple of days in light of Tutt's death.
``The staff is devastated,'' said the worker, who declined to give her name saying she was unauthorized to speak on behalf of the hotel.
Tutt spoke fondly of the Bahamas in a 2005 Miami Herald interview.
``I felt secure there,'' he said.
A native of Nanafalia, Ala., Tutt attended the University of Alabama and received his law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham.
He began renovating homes in Washington, D.C., while working for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
He gave up practicing law and formed his own renovation and development company. He moved to Miami Beach in the late 1980s.
Friends remember the designer as both a talented entrepreneur and, more importantly, a fiercely loyal friend who was the life of any party.
``You knew it wasn't going to be boring,'' said Sehres, who met Tutt through mutual friends in 1989, when both were new arrivals on the Miami Beach scene. ``You went along because you knew there was always going to be something. There were moments where you'd go, `How'd we get here?' ''
Among them: running wild in Versace's South Beach mansion when the iconic fashion designer wasn't home, breaking items in Cher's La Gorce Island home and gluing them back together, and almost sinking when they ran aground in a boat in the middle of the Caribbean.
Tutt's flair for design was visible even in his personal life. If he had a party, Tutt's attention to detail meant the entire setting, from the silverware to the wait staff, was perfect.
``It was one of those things that was just inside of him,'' said Sehres, who added that Tutt's influence can be seen throughout Miami Beach, most notably The Angler's hotel.
``There's places I go in town and I know, `This is Wallace Tutt.' ''