After being found dead in his L.A. apartment Sunday, Rick Calamaro is being remembered as Charlie Sheen's ex-assistant in media reports. But Calamaro meant much more to L.A.'s nightlife scene.
His death is suspected to be drug related and followed, we've learned, a month holed up inside his apartment. (When he was discovered, drugs and alcohol were found near his body.) It's another ironic Hollywood tragedy; the guy who knew everybody passed away alone.
But his legacy is that of a nightlife visionary who shaped the club scene in the early '90s and continued to do so recently. Singled out for having the “toughest door in town” by the Los Angeles Times when he manned Holly's on Wilcox Avenue, Calamaro's gift for luring celebrities, gorgeous gals and well-to-do hipsters started way before the paparazzi-obsessed Paris Hilton years.
Over nearly two decades, his club nights and venues honed a winning formula: effortlessly cool patrons mixed with a sort of retro rock 'n' roll vibe that wasn't Euro-flashy or bottle service trashy. It was a mix many try to re-create and only a select few have pulled off, like Calamaro's childhood pal and former partner Josh Richman.
Calamaro and Richman's Grande Ville at 7969 (formerly Peanuts, currently Voyeur) has gone down as one of our city's most legendary weekly ragers, an erotic evening with saucy burlesque-style strippers, a host of great DJs — even AM, for which it was one of his first gigs — and familiar showbiz faces letting their inner freaks out. It reigned as Hollywood's hedonistic hub for six years, always pushing the boundaries. Grande Ville set the bar for bawdy bashes and big name attendees thanks to Calamaro and Richman's wide-spanning friendships.
His life was that, essentially, of a professional partier, from his time living with his mom at the Playboy Mansion (she was a good friend of Hugh Hefner's) to later residing at the Pickfair Mansion with his friend Jim Buss and Lakers' owner Jerry Buss. “He was the first to host the public at previously private locales including Hef's during its theme night heyday, and On the Rox above The Roxy,” says Richman. (And he sometimes did so in the company of Heidi Fleiss.)
Later, Ivar, Nacional and the adjoining restaurant Paladar were party havens in Hollywood thanks to Calamaro's gift for creating atmosphere and drawing A-listers. You didn't necessarily have to be famous to get into his clubs, but you did have to be fabulous and friendly. Sometimes the velvet ropes got vicious, but one tended to forget the long wait once inside, glad that the douchey dudes had been denied.
But staying on top, especially in the fickle nightlife game, is not easy. Calamaro went to work for his longtime friend Charlie Sheen when his after-dark endeavors started to peter out. He gained notoriety to a larger audience as part of that “winning” entourage.
But here, he will be remembered as that guy who was always out there. He was full of charisma, charm and a passion for his work, but his decadent lifestyle led to dark moments.
“To be successful in Hollywood nightlife, people have to like you and want to be near you,” says journalist Heidi Cuda, who wrote about him often for Los Angeles Times. “Rick was fun, sexy and cool. He was on my short list of people I prayed for over the years, because I knew he battled demons. The fact that he died alone tells you how cold a town this really is, that you can know everyone and no one at the same time.”
Richman agrees. “Rick was always a unique character, like a P.T. Barnum. He learned how to bridge the gap between partying and making a living,” he says. “But this business is not for the weak of heart, and he had a tougher time rolling with the changes. At some point, the line between business and pleasure got a little too blurry.”