A nephew, Carlos Myers of Lithonia, confirmed his death and said his uncle was found in his Atlanta apartment on Saturday. It’s unknown when he actually died.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church on Moreland Avenue, said he last spoke with Merrell, whom he had known about four decades, a few weeks ago. Merrell had reached out to him to ask whether McDonald would handle his services.
“He knew something,” said McDonald, who said he doesn’t know the cause of death.
He said Merrell was a fixture at several churches, including Ebenezer Baptist Church and FirstIconium.
“He was just one of a kind,” McDonald said. “There will never be another Happy Preacher. He was well loved, especially by preachers. I loved his authentic praise. It didn’t matter what church he was at, what venue or whether it was a funeral or worship service. … The Happy Preacher was going to be praising. He brought his praise with him.”
McDonald said he was amazed at how Merrell knew about everybody’s funeral “under the heavens.”
He said Merrell, as much as a local icon as he was, wanted his own service to be “totally the opposite of what people might think. He didn’t want it to last over an hour. He wanted to be cremated. He didn’t want a whole lot of folks talking over him. He loved a big funeral but didn’t want one.”
The Rev. Darryl Winston said Merrell, a native of Valdosta, leveraged his connections to help a lot of people, including getting underserved youth into college. He left Valdosta when he was 18 and moved to Atlanta.
Winston said Merrell also marched for social justice.
“He touched lives,” said Winston. “There was more to him than his public persona.” He said Merrell would sometimes carry a photo album around that showed him with famous and historic figures.
Others also took to social media to remember Merrell.
One Twitter user said Merrell was Atlanta’s “first Black Christian socialite.”