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September 19, 2019

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Turbulent, trendsetting life of DJ AM spins on in new documentary

Adam Michael Goldstein, aka DJ AM

Chris Weeks / WireImage

DJ AM performs at LAX on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009, in the Luxor.

Adam Michael Goldstein, aka DJ AM

Adam Michael Goldstein, aka DJ AM. Launch slideshow »
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Travis Barker and DJ AM.

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DJ AM and Steve Aoki.

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Adam Michael Goldstein, aka DJ AM.

The family of DJ AM yearned for the late DJ’s story to be told. Filmmaker Kevin Kerslake wanted to tell it.

But how, exactly? What would such a documentary look like? A family-authorized film about the man who succumbed to the conditions of fame, celebrity and addiction might not tell the whole story.

“Shortly after his death, the family had asked about making a documentary about AM, and I declined,” Kerslake said in a phone interview last week. “If the family is going to ask me, I might be a little more cautious about the truth behind his life and death.”

But Kerslake had another friend die from a drug overdose. Motivated once more, he returned to AM’s family, especially his mother, Andrea.

“I said, ‘If I can be 100-percent honest in the final cut and have control of that, I’ll do it,” he said. “The answer was, ‘Yes.’ ”

The result is the documentary of the man with the given name Adam Michael Goldstein, onstage known as DJ AM, the film titled “As I Am: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM.” The doc marks its Las Vegas premiere at 8:30 p.m. today at Brendan Theaters at the Palms. A post-party is set for 10:30 p.m. at Ghostbar.

The film has already screened at the Tribeca and Toronto film festivals and celebrated its world premiere in New York. Critics have largely praised the work, with positive reviews from Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety and The New York Post.

Kerslake is certainly the man to helm such a project. He knew AM in the latter stages of the star DJ’s life leading to his death in his New York apartment on Aug. 18, 2009.

The official cause of death was an accidental overdose of a series of narcotics, among them cocaine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and Lorazepam. A glass pipe and bag of crack were found in his home.

“We had to bring all of that into the project,” Kerslake said. “Some of the issues we deal with, addiction and the process of trying to recover, were rooted in his family dynamic. But Andrea said, ‘If it can prevent one more death from happening, we have done our job.’ ”

Kerslake lured stars of music and elsewhere in entertainment to talk of AM. Appearing in front of the camera: Mark Ronson, Diplo, Jon Favreau, DJ Jazzy Jeff, A-Trak, Mix Master Mike, Vice, Z-Trip, Steve Aoki, Paul Oakenfold, LMFAO’s Redfoo and Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Performances captured include those by Daft Punk, Justice, Outkast, Elton John, The Doors, The Ramones, Blondie, Black Sabbath, Talking Heads, The Outfield, Fischerspooner, Zoe Keating, Johann Johannsson, Gang Starr, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.

The news of AM’s death rocked Las Vegas especially, as AM was among the original superstar DJs, mixers and musicians to fill the city’s then-burgeoning nightclub scene dating to the early 2000s.

In particular, his stage partnership with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker delivered singularly powerful and musically ambitions late-night sets at such clubs as LAX at Luxor (where AM was an investor), Pure at Caesars Palace and Rain at the Palms.

The shows left both artists soaked in sweat, having unleashed mashes of “I Got a Woman,” “Blister in the Sun,” “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” The crowd that spilled out of those venues around 3 a.m., DJ AM time, was sated, to say the least.

As important, the energy produced in these shows generated capacity audiences at these clubs — 2,000 jammed Rain to see AM perform — and helped lead to the current trend of high-priced DJs filling even larger venues such as Hakkasan, Omnia and XS up and down the Strip.

Kerslake was tracking AM for much of his fiery run in Las Vegas, and beyond.

“I shot him when I was doing video for (Electric Daisy Carnival producer) Insomniac, and he had played EDC at the L.A. Coliseum,” Kerslake said. “During that process, Adam died, and Pasquale Rotella (founder of Insomniac), who grew up with AM, was my partner, and we decided to dedicate the movie to him.”

AM’s death also sent a tremor through the Las Vegas recovery community, as he was known to work with a sponsor in town and himself perform 12-step service work. One of the key pieces from AM’s life is not a DJ set; it’s a 40-minute digital recording of him delivering his message at an A.A. speaker meeting.

“It was his 11th sober birthday, and he stuck a recorder in his pocket,” Kerslake said. “He rifles through his autobiography, gives insight to his relationship with his addiction and was helping others — some titanic efforts to help others, where he was endlessly available. Everything is built from that share.”

Kerslake struggled with the personal and professional ethics of using that recording in the film.

“Given the anonymity of A.A., if someone else had done it, I might have had a problem,” Kerslake said. “But I explored the existence of these shares, and the fact that he recorded it himself showed that he wanted that message out.”

Kerslake pinpoints the moment AM’s life spun freely back to addiction: The Learjet crash in Columbia, S.C., on Sept. 19, 2008, that Barker and he survived. Four passengers were killed, with AM and Barker suffering serious burns.

“Ultimately, the monster came back, the monster from his past,” Kerslake said. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to be dealing with recovery from addiction on a second-by-second basis, which he was, and have this dramatic event.”

Kerslake paused, then continued, “I did a lot of research on addiction, substance abuse and learned there’s recovery on one side and a slip on the other. Standing between the two is trauma.”

AM was just 36 when he died, certainly with a lot of artistic adventure awaiting. I can recall, vividly, one night in particular that ended with Barker and AM at Rain. It was in April 2009. The evening started with a true-to-Las Vegas stage show, Elvis impressionist Trent Carlini at what is now Saxe Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

I had not planned to catch the second end of this evening at Rain but joined a couple of friends at the club. I was blown away by the unbroken performance, how these two guys generated a new form of existing music and thrilled a club full of partygoers.

Many have followed, turning the superstar DJs into multimillionaires and reshaping the entertainment climate in Las Vegas. It is a tragedy that the man who helped start it all didn’t survive to see it. But in this film, the music, image and message of DJ AM lives on.

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