08.31.09

The Last Days of DJ AM

The drug overdose of celebrity deejay Adam Goldstein last week shocked his friends and fans. Fab Five Freddy, DJ Lindsay Luv, and others recall his legacy.

When I first met Adam Goldstein, aka DJ AM, at the Hollywood Hills home he shared with then-fiancée Nicole Richie, he had just slimmed down (with the help of gastric bypass surgery) from a peak weight of 326 pounds.

“It all starts with shoes,” he told me at the time. It was 2004, and he looked impossibly trim in skinny jeans and a T-shirt from Undefeated, a sneaker store in Los Angeles “If there are a pair that I want really bad, I’ll make an outfit around them.” Then on to the accessories. “It sucks for guys because we don’t get as many accessories as girls do. You don’t get a purse, jewelry, a little throw-on thing and all the other stuff. Guys have to pick the right three things: shoes, shirt and pants—that are going to represent you.” His wrist was tattooed with a Technics turntable logo. And he was eager to show off his new wardrobe.

“To this generation, AM was our bridge between genres of music and culture that had not yet been brought together.”

AM had battled drug addiction for much of his adult life, but when we met, he’d been sober for more than five years. As recently as last month, he was working on an MTV reality show called Gone Too Far, in which he would help teens kick drugs. The shock of his death last week, of an apparent drug overdose, was profound.

“Very sad this happened,” Liz Gateley, one of the producers of the MTV series, wrote in an email. “Trying to reconcile in my head a lot right now. But mostly just sad he’s gone. He was a great guy.”

DJ AM’s Facebook page (with 4,875 friends) is still up and scores of fans and friends are typing their thoughts to ease the pain. Fellow celebu-DJ Samantha Ronson posted a photo of her brother Mark Ronson with Goldstein via Twitter and wrote: “I still don’t have the words—but these 2 taught me everything—forever and ever and a day.”

DJ AM was set to gig at The Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas this Friday. The hotel paid tribute to Goldstein by turning off the letters of the building’s marquee so only the “A” and the “M” were illuminated. His last appearance behind the turntables was at the club Dusk, in Atlantic City.

Philadelphia-born Goldstein got famous fast—for his deft DJ-ing and his celebrity girlfriends. He was 31 when I dropped by to interview him for Fashion Week Daily, but acted like a kid surrounded by new toys. He had one room in their modest three-bedroom house where he kept all his turntables, sound equipment, and old vinyl records. His sneakers, of which he had had more than 1,000 pairs, stayed in neat stacks of boxes, organized by style, in the garage. He had one closet to Richie’s five, and in it kept his first suit, by Hugo Boss. At one point during the interview, he hauled out his Mac laptop to check his sneaker bids on eBay.

This is the side of Goldstein his friends remembered in the hours after he was discovered in his Manhattan apartment. When he wasn’t getting the party started for Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Hudson, or Tom Cruise, he was just a regular guy, listening to vintage vinyl and collecting sneakers.

Fred Brathwaite (a.k.a. Fab Five Freddy):

“I met DJ AM through my old friend Jonathan Schecter, aka Shecky Green, in Las Vegas last year,” he said. “Shecky was a founder of the Source magazine and worked closely with DJ AM negotiating some of his big deals at Vegas clubs. We had lunch at the Wynn hotel and AM was wearing an EPMD T-shirt, which let me know he knew and loved classic hip-hop music and was a true fan of the culture. He was excited to meet me and told me what the show I used to host, Yo! MTV Raps, meant to his music development. He really wanted me to sign his DVD of my film Wild Style, which I sadly never got to do. I would later check him out in numerous clips on YouTube where I could see he was truly talented and was elevating the DJ game to new heights along with Travis Barker on the drums. DJ AM and I would exchange small messages on Twitter and I'd often notice him tweet about how he'd landed safely in whatever town he was in as a year ago he survived that tragic plane crash. His last tweet and looking at his @ djam twitter page now looks like a monument to a fallen soldier in the culture war, which he was winning. R.I.P. DJ AM...and the BEAT GOES ON!!!!"

Nic Adler, owner of The Roxy in Los Angeles:

“To this generation, AM was our bridge between genres of music and culture that had not yet been brought together. He made it cool for the metal rockers to listen to hip-hop, the B-Boys to bang their heads, and the electro kids sing along to a ‘70s ballad. I think it will be years until we truly understand how he shaped the way that we see and hear music. AM made music fun again.”

Mia Moretti, Katy Perry’s tour DJ:

“I can remember when I met Adam like it was yesterday. I was interning at MTV in Santa Monica and they sent me down to the lobby to escort DJ AM up the elevator to my boss' office. Although I didn't recognize him by name or face, as soon as we started talking I knew exactly who he was. I can remember the excitement in my body when I put it together and exclaimed in only a way a dorky 18-year-old could, "You're the DJ at Las Palmas on Wednesdays!" It wasn't until I had been to Las Palmas and heard this music that wouldn't let me stop dancing until the lights were on and the brooms were sweeping me off the dance floor, that I realized what exactly a real DJ was. Any other DJ I would go on to see would pale in comparison to this great, great talent. A DJ doesn't just play music. Like a painter or a writer, a DJ creates a world. Adam would go on to become one of my closest confidants in a big city full of fair-weather friends, he would always remain the one person I turned to no matter what the situation and no matter how many years had gone by. Adam was the kind of warm soul that spread love and joy to everyone he knew and knew exactly what to say to you to cheer you up, even if it was nothing at all. When my father passed away, he was there at the airport waiting to pick me up and take me to grub at Bossa Nova, when my turntables got stolen he was there with his old set waiting to give them to me, when I was nervous for an upcoming gig, even though I was across the country, he would text me little pointers. He was the reason I was a DJ. DJ AM touched millions of people. He never stopped striving to be the best he could be. He never said no to helping someone, anyone and never took anything for granted. If a little part of him can live on in every soul he touched the world would be a better place.”

DJ Lindsay Luv:

"Adam was the one who told me to go for it as a DJ. He was more than a friend, he was an inspiration and someone I looked up to, someone I sought feedback from and wanted to impress as I began my DJ career. His ability and efforts to stay sober in the substance-infested nightlife scene for a decade was a shining example of how seriously he took his work and how important his sobriety was to his life. He was someone who looked at his DJ-ing as a business and not just a lifestyle. I can only imagine that in light of such a horrific crash his demons may have been too much. I would hope that those who knew him personally and those who don't, remember both the incredible DJ behind the booth and the smile and laugh that made everyone around him feel special.”

Gregory Arlt, makeup artist:

“I first met Adam when he was dating Mandy Moore, about three years ago. I worked with her at Sundance, which is where I met him. He could not have been a sweeter man; very sincere, mellow, and hospitable. I loved the way he was with her, very respectful, accommodating, and just a pleasant energy to be around. Over the years when I would run into him, he was always so friendly and always seemed genuinely interested to know what I'd been up to when he asked me. What a talent. He'll be missed!”

Peter Davis is the editor at large of Paper, his articles onstyle and celebrities have been published in Vanity Fair,The New York Times and The New York Observer.