Andrew Youssef: An Appreciation of a Life Well Lived
Andrew Youssef died at his home on Saturday, November 30, 2013 at approximately 8: 30 a.m. It was news that I'd been sadly anticipating for days now, though I was not ready for it when I answered a call from Youssef's older brother, Patrick. I'd just gotten home sweaty and tired from a morning run. A couple days had gone by since I'd heard from the beloved Weekly writer and photographer and I was antsy to get an update about his condition. No more than a minute after texting Pat to check in was I hearing the words I'd dreaded for so long: "Andrew's gone."
Courtesy Andrew Youssef Youssef with Trent Reznor
I plopped down on the edge of my bed, using whatever energy I had to hang on the line and absorb the news. For a minute, all I could do was wipe away a muck of sweat and tears. My ears tuned in to all the important phrases --"he went peacefully," "with friends and family," "no pain." It had been over two months since doctors gave Youssef the morbid prognosis that he had only weeks to months to live. I'd written a cover story memorializing him, and in the weeks that followed, Trent Reznor made sure every Nine Inch Nails fan in the world knew who he was. It still didn't quite prepare me to accept that the man with who made such an impact on my life and the lives of so many others in such a short period of time was now gone from this world.
Still, as I stared up at the clouds outside my bedroom window, a calmness washed over me. Maybe it was the dusty remnants of my Catholic upbringing or some residual food coma left over from Turkey Day, but I truly believe that Youssef's family, friends and supporters have reason to be thankful, even in this difficult time. Not just because he's gone to some better place. Not because he'd become a news item for Rolling Stone, CBS News, People Magazine, NME and nearly all of Village Media Group papers across the country within the space of two months before he died. It was because of a story his father Atef, an Egyptian immigrant, told me one day during an interview with his family for the cover story.
When he was just a baby, Youssef was raised in Toronto, Canada prior to the family's big move to Southern California. According to Atef, Youssef almost drowned in his neighbor's swimming pool when he was barely old enough to walk. He'd jumped in while no one was looking one day when his family brought him and his brother over to visit. All the sudden there he was, kicking, screaming and sinking. Within minutes, he could've died.
The oldest son of the neighbor's family saw Youssef drowning and pulled him out of the pool with one arm and saved his life. At age 38, Youssef wasn't old enough to remember the actual event as his father retold it during the interview.
Decades later, who could've guessed that Youssef would spend the rest of his life jumping into pools of photographers, daring to swim through a sea of bodies and lenses to get the best shots possible night after night. He showed a dedication to his work that made him stand out, not only because his number of years in the field, but because of how he carried his veteran status--with strength, pride and humility.
When I think about Youssef, I remember someone who was always prepared. From the soles of his tennis shoes, to the bottom of his camera bag, to the top of his head (covered by his signature white bucket hat), the man never went into a photo pit half-assed. And that's exactly how he lived his life. And at the point where he was told he didn't have much longer to live, that spirit only intensified. In the two and a half years since he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, Youssef shot over 330 concerts between the Weekly, Stereogum and his own blog, Amateur Chemist. That number is pretty inspiring when you average out the fact that he was basically shooting a show every other day while living with his disease. He had every excuse to stay in bed and shut out the world. Instead, he produced a volume of work that shocked many of his perfectly healthy colleagues.
In late February of 2013, it was time for Youssef to jump into yet another pool--this time, it was an even scarier one. He decided to take a bold risk by asking to pen a column once a week that would chronicle his fight with cancer. Not only would he be announcing his condition to the world, he'd be reliving it all, often times in heart-breaking detail, week after week. Some of what he revealed about his struggle was personal, by some standards, even embarrassing. It was a real diary of a patient doing everything he could to stay alive. We decided to call it Last Shot.