He cheated death many times, yet Adam Goldstein was haunted by 2008's plane crash

By Lisa Ingrassia
August 29, 2009 06:30 AM
Danny Moloshok/Landov

As relatives, pals and fans remember a man with a love of his family, a gifted musical ear and a soft spot in his heart for his cat, Mugsy, DJ AM – who was found dead inside his New York City apartment Friday – was only weeks away from marking the one-year anniversary of his remarkable survival from a fatal plane crash in Columbia, South Carolina, that claimed the life of four others.

The death of the deejay, 36, brings to a close the life of a tremendously talented – but troubled – individual who, as it so happens, had cheated death on numerous occasions.

Born Adam Goldstein, the Pennsylvania native’s struggles began at a young age in Philadelphia, where he was raised by his mother Andrea, and a father “who seemed to hate me,” he told Glamour in January 2008. “The verbal abuse he subjected me to was unbelievably cruel. I would find out later that there was a good reason my father was so tortured – he was secretly gay and addicted to drugs.”

The tumultuous upbringing took its toll: struggling with depression, Goldstein first turned to drugs at 12; his first visit to a rehabilitation center came when he was 17.

Two years after a visit an Orange County, Calif., rehab center, he discovered cocaine and Ecstasy. He told PEOPLE in 2005, “That brought me to my knees really fast. I would deejay until 2 a.m., go get drugs and stay up until 10 in the morning doing drugs alone in my apartment. When they were all gone, I would take a whole bottle of Tylenol PM to go to sleep.”

Goldstein also developed a habit of overeating, and, in his early 20s, was tipping the scales at nearly 300 lbs.

Despite his considerable success spinning on the party circuit in Los Angeles, the deejay hit a low point at 24 when, after a night of using cocaine, he loaded a .22 gun and tried to kill himself. “I sat back on my heels, cocked it and put it in my mouth,” he told Glamour . “Then I squinted my eyes and said, ‘F–k this.’ I pulled the trigger.” The gun, he says, didn’t go off.

Following his suicide attempt, Goldstein went sober with the help of friends in recovery meetings, and got sober – and after his 30th birthday lost 155 lbs. by undergoing gastric bypass surgery. At a Television Critics’ Association panel in Pasadena July 29, while he was promoting his upcoming MTV series, Gone Too Far, Goldstein announced, “I’ve been a recovering addict for 11 years.”

Still, as might be imagined, the the horrific 2008 plane crash rattled the recovering addict. In December 2008, wen he filed a lawsuit against the aircraft manufacturer, he explained he was seeking damages for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, psychological and emotional distress, disfigurement and pre-impact fear of death and burning.”

His recovery offered several revelations. Among them: while in the hospital being treated for burns, he learned of a potentially fatal blood clot that, he said, “could have traveled to my heart and I could have died.”

Goldstein own struggles made him more sensitive to those of others. One of his friends told PEOPLE that she emailed him last week when she feared that someone she knew was becoming an addict. Goldstein replied, “I hope you all agree that what a real friend does is help someone to LIVE and not to die. It may sound dramatic but it’s really just as simple as saying, I will do EVERYTHING to help you live, but nothing to help you die.”

A month after the crash, Goldstein told PEOPLE he was experiencing a nightmare of a man chasing him with a blowtorch. Already seeing a behavioral modification specialist as part of his ongoing recovery from addiction, he had plans to meet with somebody for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“There’s no reason why I should have lived or I lived and they didn’t,” he said in July. “And it’s something I struggle with every day.”

The wreckage of the Learjet carrying Travis Barker, DJ AM and four others on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008, in Columbia, S.C.
Brett Flashnick/AP