UPDATE: The official cause of Chez Pazienza’s death has yet to be confirmed. Below are the facts as told to me by Chez’s fiancée, Taryn, the day after his passing. The article makes no claim about the specific cause of death, and his family would greatly appreciate readers not speculating in this incredibly difficult time.
Chez Pazienza died smoking heroin in his car in Los Angeles this past weekend. A neighbor discovered him in his apartment parking lot and notified the police. He died between 11.30am and 12.30pm on Saturday, February 25th.
“He OD’ed. The asshole,” Chez’s fiancée Taryn told Bob Cesca.
And Chez would have wanted the world to know this. Because that is exactly how he was. He never hid anything from anyone — his life was an open book and he used his writing as a form of therapy. He didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of him, and wrote only because he needed to (and I use the word ‘fuck’ because I know that is what he would have wanted). Chez wrote extensively about his struggles with drug addiction, his broken marriages, his history of infidelity, his vulnerability and the inner demons that too often controlled his life on these pages and on his personal blog. He was a damaged, brilliant, thoughtful, selfish asshole with an enormous heart. He was simultaneously the best and worst person to work with, a loyal team player who thought mostly of himself and always did the wrong thing before coming to his senses and putting things right.
I have so many stories to share about my friend and co-worker that I honestly don’t know where to begin. We created a fictitious liberal outrage columnist (‘Sam Doloncot’, — an anagram of Salon.com) who opined about the inherent racism, homophobia and sexism of “Friends”. We made him a fake media pass so that he could go to Ferguson during the protests in 2014, and banked on our readers funding it because we had no money (and they did). In response to Rand Paul’s famously plagiarized speech, Chez plagiarized Paul’s speech using quotes from Harry Potter, Jaws, the bible and Miley Cyrus. Much to the displeasure of our readers we then fired him for it, begrudgingly bringing him back after forgetting to lock him out of the site.
“You should see me,” he wrote to me while we were orchestrating one of our pranks. “I’m giggling out loud here at my desk. I’m truly enjoying this.”
And my God, so did I.
I was, and always will be a huge fan of Chez’s writing, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have worked with him. From the moment I stumbled upon his blog, Deus Ex Malcontent, I knew I had found a one in a million talent. His raw honesty and blistering prose was utterly mesmerizing, and I eagerly awaited every new post. His razor sharp insight and absolute mastery of the English language was like must watch TV — you simply couldn’t wait for the next episode. And when he agreed to work with me, I quite honestly couldn’t understand why. I was a twenty-something nobody with no connections, no experience, and no money. But Chez took a chance on me, and we built the Banter into the site you are reading today. Given I never thought he’d be interested in my little venture, it seems all the more bizarre that I am here, writing his obituary.
When I heard the news of Chez’s death, I was shocked, but not surprised. Chez had a host of health issues as a result of a brain tumor on his pituitary gland in 2006, drank heavily and ate whatever he wanted. Coupled with his history of extreme drug abuse, he was a ticking time bomb. Deep down, I always knew this day was coming — I just didn’t know when. Chez also thought he was going to die young and spoke about it openly. “He was headed somewhere really dark,” Bob told me yesterday. “I think this election really screwed him up and he hasn’t been able to deal with it.”
“I know he had been drinking and he told me about taking a lot of painkillers. But I didn’t know about the heroin.”
And neither apparently, did Taryn. “He smoked heroin again,” she texted me. “I had no idea”.
Make no mistake about it, Chez went out in the most selfish way possible. He leaves a huge void behind him both personally and professionally, and it will take time for those closest to him to come to terms with how he died. He is survived by countless friends, both his parents, his fiancee, and two daughters — one of whom, Inara, is only 8 years old. He has left the Banter at a time when America needed his voice the most, and has left the internet a less intelligent, less interesting place.
“Please be transparent,” Taryn told me when I consulted her about writing this. “He did this and people should know.”
But that was Chez, and it was always going to end like this; on his terms, and in his own way. He would have hated to die in his sleep, or of old age, or slowly from cancer. Chez was a rock star Goddammit, and he was going to fucking die like one.
Right now, I am still angry with him. He was supposed to be here with us, fighting the good fight as Donald Trump and his cabal of psychopaths attempt to wreck the country and the rest of the planet. Now he is gone, and we have to do it by ourselves.
But I have spent almost a decade being angry with Chez for one thing or another, so not much has changed. I will forgive him for doing this to us in time, and so will those closest to him. It was impossible not to love Chez because no matter how badly behaved he was (and believe me, he was), he would go to the ends of the earth for his friends and family. When the Banter almost collapsed in 2015 and we lost half of our writers, Chez refused to give up on it even when I had to cut his salary by 75%. “I’m staying,” he told me. “Because if this fails, we lose and they win. Everything we’ve said about every asshole we’ve gone after, everything we’ve stood for would be for nothing. And fuck them”.
And so we rebuilt the site, day by day, article by article. If it were not for Chez, this site simply would not be here, so to lose him is beyond devastating. To me, he was everything The Daily Banter stood for — heart, wit and savage honesty. He was the writer I always wished I could be, and although I was technically his boss, I always wrote imagining he was mine. His presence will be felt for as long as our little corner of the internet stays alive, and my debt to him is incalculable.
I can’t help but feel that he left us knowing we’d be OK without him, as if he knew he’d brought us to a point where we could stand by ourselves. We can, and we will. But good God we are going to miss him.
Rest in peace my old friend. You brought out the best in all of us, and you always will.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.