Update: 8:30 a.m., April 7: A woman who answered the phone Saturday morning at the Monte Sereno home owned by the late American painter Thomas Kinkade said she was with him when he died Friday.
"I am his live-in girlfriend. I've been with him 18 months. My name is Amy Pinto and him and his wife have been separated ... She made a statement (about his death to the media)," she said.
When asked when the famous artist had died, she responded: "I was with him. I'm the one who called 911."
As to the cause of death, she said she wasn't supposed to divulge the information and that the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office would have more details in the next few days.
However, she stated she had a hunch as to the nature of the death. "He died in his sleep ... He had a heart condition. I called 911 at 11:30 a.m."
Pinto said Kinkade's wife and family were out of town and that the couple had been separated for two years. "He was in his sleep and he was happy and he was in his home," she said. "He was surrounded by his paintings, which he loved the most, and the home he built," her voice breaking as she spoke.
Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police sources confirmed Saturday that Pinto had called 911 to report the death at about 11:30 a.m. Friday, April 6.
Jeanine Bugh, wife of former Monte Sereno mayor Curtis Wright— a friend of Kinkade's—said the painter and wife Nanette attended several of their winter solstice and dinner parties at their Grandview Avenue home. "They had been so proud of their longtime marriage, but in recent years, they lived apart so that Thom could be the 'free spirit of an artist.' The ending of an era. We miss him already," she said.
8 p.m., April 6: The Los Gatos arts community was mourning the death of America's "Painter of Light" Friday with news that Thomas Kinkade had died.
"Thom," as he was dearly called by friends and fellow artists in Los Gatos, is being remembered for bringing art to mainstream America, regardless of income levels and socio-economic backgrounds.
"He had come to be an extremely affable man," said Los Gatos painter David Stonesifer, whose paintings grace local homes along with those of Kinkade's. "He was acting like a free spirit ... it was sort of like the kind of thing you wish would have happened to him years ago to have it reflected in his paintings."
Stonesifer said he was "deeply saddened with the news."
Millions of his "Kinkade paintings" adorn walls throughout family rooms across the country—his paintings trying to capture small-town Americana.
Kinkade, 54, was born and raised in the Placerville, Calif., attended UC Berkeley and worked as an artist in the film industry. He began publishing his images so that he could share his passion for beauty and art.
A quarter of a century later, Kinkade had painted more than 1,000 masterworks covering topics that include cabin and nature scenes, beautiful gardens, classic cottages, sports, inspirational content, lighthouses and powerful seascapes, impressionists, and classic Americana, his website said.
"Hidden in his paintings are messages that speak to Thom's inspiration for each image. Whether including the initials of family members, hiding Disney characters, or imbedding hearts for special occasions and loved ones, each image contain treasures that add to their mystique."
Sources, who declined to be identified, said Kinkade was estranged from his wife Nanette and had changed his lifestyle considerably in the last three years.
They also said Kinkade was no longer living at his Ridgecrest Avenue home in Monte Sereno and had grown a beard, sported a hat and wore more casual clothing.
Longtime friend Curtis Wright, former mayor of Monte Sereno, expressed his condolences and said Kinkade used to say he didn't make art, but heirlooms for those who bought his works.
"He was a young guy and a great person. I really liked him," Wright said, adding that he knew his wife and family well and remembered Kinkade donated large sums of money to his children's schools and supported the Los Gatos Morning Rotary Plein Air art show held annually in Los Gatos.
"He really tried to do a lot of stuff for the community and I really admire him for that," Wright said. "He had some factions between being the cool artist and being a father and husband, but when you look back on it, he did amazing things for the community and the world."
Similarly, Monte Sereno Councilwoman Lana Malloy said she was shocked with the news. "I didn't know him personally, but I have seen in at council meetings. It's great loss to Monte Sereno because anyone who is well known passing away is tragic and he was such a famous painter," Malloy said.
Los Gatos community advocate Jonathan Knowles said Kinkade touched many lives. "He was intelligent, creative, generous, and fun. We will miss him, but he will certainly live on through his art," he said.
Knowles said he learned of the death from his mother-in-law who called him after reading the sad news online. "We're very sad. We thought of him as not only a great artist, but we enjoyed spending time with him and Nanette," he said. "These days, 54 seems so young ... "
Among Kinkade's contributions to Los Gatos and Monte Sereno was his willingness to step up and be a part of community efforts and strongly supported the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Foundation, said Knowles.
He did two paintings of Los Gatos which he donated to the foundation—one of which hangs at the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Operations Building on Los Gatos Boulevard. He also participated and generously contributed to the foundation's fundraising event A Taste of Los Gatos.
Knowles noted his legacy and his business, Thomas Kinkade Company, is continuing the thrive with his paintings being replicated in Hallmark ornaments, Christmas cards, calendars, etc. "Thomas Kinkade reaches beyond the paintings people hang on their walls," Knowles said.
A movie about his life was released in 2008 under the name Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage and told the story of how Kinkade chose the art form after realizing his mother could lose her family home.