Photo by Jeanne RiceOne late night, DJ Priest ran into one of my editorial colleagues in the massive lobby of the Weekly's Worldwide Costa Mesa HQ. The colleague was carrying a cup of coffee--heavily sugared and creamed to the bright color of beach sand--when Priest collared, or rather lapeled, him. "You're not putting that death into your system, are you?" Priest asked. "Um, no," my colleague stammered. "I'm, er, taking it straight to the urinal." "Right," Priest said. "That's where that stuff belongs! In the sewer! It'll kill you!" A couple of weeks later, on July 1, 2001, Priest--club promoter, dance-music aficionado and health nut, the man born John Winters--was dead.
That Priest died of cancer while seeking a cure in Mexico was an irony lost on no one who knew him best for sipping wheatgrass and other sour concoctions designed to promote vigor. But irony is not the same as contradiction: Priest's death struck us as strange because the man revealed so little--nothing, in fact--about what might have been his slow, painful demise. He was invariably upbeat and just as invariably interested in your health. And there seemed to be no question whose physicality was more durable: this was a man who would clearly outlast us, who believed that laughter really was the best medicine--laughter helped along by magnets, exotic fruits and enough raw vegetables to clog a wood chipper. He believed in aliens, and the eyewear he favored made him look something like one, big-eyed and rail thin.
There were no clues a man like this might die early. Except, perhaps, this one: two weeks before he went--at an indeterminate age somewhere between 40 and 55--DJ Priest was spinning at his regular Wednesday-night gig at Josh Slocums. He was smiling and laughing, of course, and he was actually drinking a beer.
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