NEW YORK – Ari Gold, the groundbreaking gay singer/songwriter and DJ who became a fixture of the New York dance music scene in the 2000s, came to the end of a long battle with cancer on Sunday when he passed away of leukemia. He was 47.
News of his death broke publicly when Ru Paul Charles, a longtime friend who Gold described as “the closest thing I’ve known to a mentor,” posted a tribute to the music artist on his Twitter account, saying “Until we meet again, dear friend. @SirAriGold Love always, Ru.”
Born to Orthodox Jewish parents in the Bronx, Gold’s musical gifts were discovered early when he sang at his brother Steven’s bar mitzvah at the age of 5. The performance opened the door for a professional career as a child singer and actor, in which he contributed vocals for children’s records, television shows such as “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” and “Jem,” and over 400 commercial jingles. He also sang back-up vocals for Diana Ross.
It was after his graduation from NYU that his adult career began in earnest. He became popular performing his original music – which included explicitly gay love songs – in New York clubs like Joe’s Pub, Barracuda, Avalon, CBGB’s and many others, eventually drawing from this material to record a self-titled debut album in 2001. It won him an award for Outstanding Debut Recording at the 2002 Outmusic Awards and brought him to the attention of songwriter Desmond Child, resulting in a collaboration that yielded the single “I’m All About You,” which reached the top 10 on the UK charts for dance music and the top 20 for pop.
Gold went on to release a total of seven albums of original compositions and remixes, including 2004’s “Space Under the Sun” (which featured “Wave of You,” the video for which was the first by an out LGBTQ+ artist to world-premiere on Logo) and 2007’s “Transport Systems,” which gave him his first debut on the Billboard top 10. The latter recording included the song “Where the Music Takes You,” which won him the Grand Prize at the 13th Annual USA Songwriting Competition.
Through all his output, he was known for unabashedly embracing a proud queer sensibility and a message of sex positivity – a combination that has led many to call label him an LGBTQ “trailblazer,” and perhaps reached its pinnacle with his infectious (and controversial) 2015 single, “Sex Like a Pornstar,” which was released with an age-restricted video.
In his later career, Gold released some of his albums under the names Sir Ari Gold and GoldNation.
His musical talents led to many collaborations, both as a performer and as a songwriter, with stars including Boy George, Kevin Aviance, Sasha Allen, Adam Joseph, and Dave Koz. He became a staple performing at Pride Festivals, and his music was featured in several films. He also modeled for magazines like W and VIBE; he was chosen as one of “The 9 Hottest Men in NYC” by H/X magazine and one of the hottest men in the world by DNA magazine.
In 2007, he took on a supporting role in Ru Paul’s film “Starrbooty,” playing the character of Tyrone Cohen.
Gold’s battle with cancer began in 2013 when he was diagnosed with myelodsplastic syndrome (MDS), a blood cancer which can be cured with a bone marrow transplant. During treatment, he started a podcast called “A Kiki From the Cancer Ward” in order to continue being creative. He recorded seven episodes, with guests including Charles and Aviance, Drag Race finalist Peppermint, and trans actress and icon Laverne Cox.
After receiving a transplant, Gold was declared “cancer free” in 2019, but in the days before his death it was revealed in an Instagram post by his elder brother Elon that he was once again battling leukemia at MSK Sloan in New York.
After news of his death broke, social media flooded with tributes and remembrances from many of Gold’s famous friends.
Cox tweeted: “I’m so utterly devastated that you’ve moved on today. But I know you’ll be watching over me as you always have. I’m so grateful to have known you. I’m better because you have been a part of my life. My brother! I love you so much! Rest in Power!!”
Actor, director and musician John Cameron Mitchell, perhaps best known as the creator of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” posted on Instagram: “What a light and a pioneer in pop. He was out long before it was fashionable and took so many artistic risks. Loved him. What a sweetheart. Wishing his friends and family peace of heart and mind. Rest In Peace dear Ari.” Gold’s music was prominently featured in Mitchell’s film “Shortbus.”
Also on Instagram, Tony and Emmy winner Billy Porter paid tribute to Gold, with whom he had a long and enduring friendship, with a moving post: “Wow, I can’t believe I’m typing these words…. R.I.P. Ari Gold, you were truly a trailblazer in so many ways. You lived freely, unapologetically and proudly. I promise to continue pushing forward in your memory. I’ll make sure the world continues to see and respect our community as you always knew they should.”
On Facebook, Legendary Deee-Lite manager and music producer Bill Coleman wrote: “I’ll always remember Ari as a talented, unapologetic, committed, forthright, fierce, supportive, stylish, Wonder Woman-lovin’, body positive, proud and sexy life force to be reckoned with. He was on a mission. Our paths crossed many times over the decades – both business and personal. I appreciated Ari’s strident voice and his willingness to speak up for others. He was one of ours. Rest in power, love. You left the world changed.”
Los Angeles Blade publisher Troy Masters recalls: “In the early 90s I interviewed Ari for Gay City News and he and I had a long conversation about him as a high school bon vivant which led me to give him a nickname which he loved and embraced for many years, ‘Madonna of the yeshiva.’
“It was so much fun in his apartment sitting on his bed for some reason and my mind kept wandering,” said Masters. “He was the last person I said farewell to in 2015 when I left NYC and moved to LA. He spotted me on 9th Avenue, shouting my name and I somehow heard him. I crossed the street and we had an emotional embrace. I’m so glad he was in my life.”
In tribute to her cousin, Meryl Sherwood shared a few favorite videos with the Blade. You can watch those below, as well as videos for some of Gold’s most beloved songs.