Remembering My Hero: Doug Sakmann

When I found out my friend Doug died, it didn’t fully hit me right away. I have lost far too many friends and when I first found out I though that maybe I was just permanently broken. The sadness I felt was more about the pain of life, how unfair it was for another one of my people to be gone, than it was the pain of his death. Later that day I found out another, less close, friend had died and the sadness I felt was compounded by the guilt for not feeling more.

That night I went to dinner with my girlfriend and this pressure of sorrow was weighing me down. She wanted to talk to me about Doug, who she never got to meet, but I didn’t want to talk about anything. I didn’t even want to eat. But I couldn’t not talk about Doug and I started telling her story after story about our friendship and how much he meant to my life and I broke down in the restaurant, crying into my food. I was just glad to be feeling something. 

I found out that Doug died a week ago, but I couldn’t write this post for so many reasons. I didn’t want to break down again of course, but I also had just so many things to tell you about Doug, so many stories, so many ways he impacted my life, I didn’t know how to do it. I wrote over 1200 words and deleted almost all of it because it just felt like a review of our friendship, just a list of things with links to old blog posts like footnotes in a research paper. It didn’t feel right, so here I am starting over again. Doug deserves that, and our mutual friends reading this deserve that. I have sadly become known for posts like these, and it helps me process, but I know how much these posts have meant to other people and I need to get this right. 

So let’s start at the beginning, skip to the end and then just write some more.

RIP Doug Sakmann

My friendship with Doug starts more than 20 years ago during the very early days of this website. I started it in 2001 and very quickly it became popular enough that I realized I could get free stuff if I blogged about it, so I would reach out to companies I loved and often would get sent products. One of those companies was Troma, a low budget, b-horror film studio that I am going to assume you are familiar with if you are reading a post about Doug. 

In 2002 Troma sent me a VHS screener copy of a documentary called All The Love You Cannes. The movie was about the Troma team trying to get the word out about their company at the Cannes Film Festival by any means necessary. They caused absolute chaos and the star of the film was a man named Doug Sakmann who managed to get kicked out of his hotel room and piss off (and on) his own coworkers with his insane behavior. It was so goddamn funny and 22 year old me was obsessed. After I wrote about the movie I emailed the link to Troma and I realized the guy I had been emailing with was the same Doug as the one in the movie. I told him he was my hero. 

From then on we stayed in touch, but it wasn’t until 2006 when I moved to NYC that we met at a Halloween party where he was hosting his “world’s most dangerous game show” Strip for Pain. By that point he had left Troma and moved to Philly to start his own company, Backseat Conceptions, but he would come up for events all the time and I made sure to see him pretty much every time he was in town. Never once did we live in the same city but we became very close and he impacted my life in so many huge ways despite the distance. 

Doug & Me The Night We Met

Doug would come up at least twice a year to throw the NYC Zombie Crawl and as long as I was in town would photograph it, most of the time for free, despite hating it. The first few were a blast and I got crazy photos, but how many times can you photograph the same thing before you hate coming home sticky and smelling like pancake syrup from all the fake blood. Still, I would do anything for Doug and it was a chance to see him and we always talked about doing a zombie crawl book together.

After the pandemic Doug stopped doing zombie crawls. Events were canceled for a long time and by the time they came back he was dealing with his own losses in life. I injured my back, got wifed up and stopped going out so even if Doug was in town I am not sure I would have made it out. I still kept in touch with Doug via social media and the occasional text but I hadn’t heard his voice until a few weeks ago when he called me to tell me the Zombie Crawl was coming back and he wanted me to send him a bunch of photos for a gallery show around the event. He told me he was finally getting out of his depression after losing his brother and wanted to start doing things again. We talked about new Troma movies and a touring gallery show and finally doing that zombie crawl book. It was so great to hear from him and we talked for a really long time. 

It took me a while to go through all my zombie photos but I sent him an edit of a few hundred. It took him a while to get the selects back to me and it took me a while to edit them and send him the high res photos. I finally got them back to him almost exactly one week before he died. On June 23rd, three days before his death I landed in NYC at 9am. It was the day of the Mermaid Parade, an event I somehow never photographed in all the years I lived in NY. I was gonna go with my friend Mike but he had an emergency and couldn’t make it and I was exhausted so I just took a nap instead of going all the way out to Coney Island. The next day I saw Doug posted on Instagram that he was at the parade. If only I had seen it I would have been there in a second, spending one last day with my friend I hadn’t seen in way too long. But I didn’t see it and I cannot tell you how much I regret it. Tears are bouncing off my keyboard just thinking about it.

Doug Sakmann & Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD

In my early days of living in New York I called Doug while he was on his way home from the AVN Awards where he got kicked out of another hotel for chaotic behavior. He had drunkenly punch a slot machine and they kicked him out even though he paid for the machine. He decided to come back wearing a fake mustache and they arrested him. It seemed hilarious to me at the time. I was really jealous of someone who could just be so punk rock and not give a fuck. He didn’t have a care in the world about any of it. I turned that phone call with him into an interview I titled Doug Sakmann: American Hero.

Doug really was my hero. When we first met it was because he was an absolute maniac and I loved that. I have so many great Doug stories from those days but as crazy as Doug was, what made him my hero was his ability to get everything done in the midst of all that chaos. I remember the exact moment my whole view of Doug changed. It was 2008 and I came to Philly for the Basckseat Film Festival he was throwing. We spent all night partying with porn stars and doing god knows what. At some point Doug passed out and I was a little worried because he had a film festival to run. I was totally sober but he was the one who woke me up the next morning and he was a completely different person. I spent the morning with him and just watched him run the festival like a goddamn professional. He was so impressive to watch, commanding an army of volunteers despite being on three hours of drunken sleep. 

Late during zombie crawls one minute Doug would be swinging off a light post spraying fake blood out of a Super Soaker on to the crowd below and the next minute he would be inevitably be talking to the police, assuring them that all of this was absolutely normal. I have never met anyone so out of control and so in control at the exact same time. He invited me to be in a Troma movie in 2018 and I couldn’t make it on the dates they needed me, but I did spend a day as an (unpaid) extra just for the experience. Doug was running the show, making Lloyd Kaufman’s job as easy as possible, while also setting off insane special effects. It was this ability to create order out of chaos that made me hire him as a produce for every ad campaign I have ever done.

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If you knew Doug, you don’t need me to tell you this but Doug wasn’t just fun, he wasn’t just a good producer, but he was also about the nicest friendliest dude you could imagine. He would literally give you the shirt off his back. Every post I have read memorializing him has talked about how wonderful of a fucking human he was. His last ever text to me was wishing me happy birthday and telling me that he loved me. I was on a midlife crisis, self loathing birthday shit and didn’t even bother to text him back. We are almost the exact same age and his birthday is coming up and I won’t even be able to repay the favor, but I hope he knows how much I loved him. Fuck, there are those tears again.

This post is almost 2000 words at this point and I still want to drop you guys a bunch of links so you can go back and look at all the fun times we had together. I documented almost all of it. I just want to tell you how much he impacted my life. He introduced me to one of my first friend groups in New York even though he wasn’t even living there. He’s the reason I went to the AVN Awards for the first time which completely changed my career. He introduced me to Lloyd Kaufman who is another hero of mine, and because of that connection I got to shoot my only Village Voice cover despite freelancing there for a decade. I partied with Jackasses, movie stars, porn stars and professional eaters with Doug. We got our logos tattooed to each other. He snuck me into Comic Con, he booked the best show of my short lived musical career, and he even convinced me to go to a fucking baseball game. I should also note, that my website is deeply broken so many of the galleries don’t work, but at least you get the stories and some of the pictures. 

It took me almost a week just to get started with this post and then four more days to finish it. I spent hours just looking for photos of Doug, trying to find a handful without zombie makeup on him. I have so few photos of him when he wasn’t “on”. I think part of that was the nature of our relationship, 90% of the time we hung out it was at some big event, or we were working. I guess I just wasn’t shooting photos during the downtime. I only found a couple of photos of him and I together. He was always in front of the camera, and I was always behind it. I fucking miss you so much man. I am so fucking sad your gone, and I am so sorry I didn’t text you back telling you how much I loved you too. 

Click here to see over 100 photos I have taken of my brother and hero Doug Sakmann over the years.

RIP Doug Sakmann

 

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