Photo: William Eaton.
Update: A GoFundMe to handle Jojo’s funeral expenses and to help preserve his artwork has been created.
Jojo Baby, original club kid, artist and nightlife icon whose fame spread from Chicago to the world, has passed away.
The Chicago artist was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 and was in hospice care when he died, visited by friends and family.
They say your life is measured by how many other lives you touch and if that’s true than by any reckoning Jojo Baby was a giant. There has been an outpouring of grief but also love as the news spread through Chicago this morning from people whose lives were made better by knowing, or even just meeting, Jojo Baby.
We published a story in November 2022 when Jojo announced his fight with cancer. We wanted to say all the kind things that people often save for an obituary while he could read them. There’s no empty flattery in there — Jojo was a pioneer in ways that will dazzle outsiders and leave those who never knew him confused if he was a myth or a tall tale. He was neither: Jojo Baby was a beloved icon. Jojo Baby was beloved.
In our 2007 cover story, Jojo told 5 Mag’s Boogie McClarin of his first time experiencing nightlife. “I was a kid,” he said, who “saw these beautiful creatures walking around and wanted to be one.” Jojo would become one of those beautiful creatures as host at Reddog, at Boom Boom Room and last at Queen! at Smartbar, with a desire to “influence the next generation of beautiful creatures to come up.”
“In a way, me and Sal E. are like old school geishas,” Jojo told 5 Mag. “We consider it an insult to be seen in the same thing twice.”
It was a challenge to find a photo for this piece, because Jojo was almost never photographed alone.
In Chicago, Jojo styled Dennis Rodman’s hair — the most famous head of hair in Chicago history. In New York, he starred in the feature film version of Party Monster. Clive Barker produced a film about him and it was not transgressive horror — just transgressive. One of the reviews on Amazon reads:
Jojo as an artist was often under-appreciated by us in the nightlife scene. I wrote earlier about my experience at his old loft/studio space in the Flatiron Building — “the only living space in the city of Chicago that could have a cover charge and still have a waiting list.”
Jojo’s most renowned creations (other than himself) were his dolls. He sewed a heart inside every single one of those dolls, and “above it I write ‘love me’ because I think everyone, universally has the desire to be loved.”
I didn’t see Jojo very often. When I did, this look of recognition came across his face which the make-up did not conceal. He immediately stepped toward me and gave me a hug. Every time. Years could go by and it was always the same. I wasn’t special that way, but it made me feel like I was.
That was the outpouring of love that Jojo had for everyone, and that’s why everyone who experienced it — even just walking past him at the door — is so devastated today.
“Queens are magical,” Jojo once told us.
And Jojo was a magician; in his own words, a piece of “living art.”
So heartbreaking to know that heaven has gained another angel. Jojo was such a sweet dear man and a friend. I was so sad to hear of his passing. He thought a brief battle right to the end. Rest in peace, sweet JoJo you’re not be forgotten.
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