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Gay party manager Jeffrey Sanker dies at 65

Jeffrey Sanker, who revolutionized the gay party scene with extravagant bashes that escaped the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, has died aged 65.

The owner of Los Angeles-based company White Party Entertainment died of liver cancer on Friday at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Chris Diamond, a member of Sanker’s White Party Foundation, confirmed Sanker’s death, describing him as the “godfather of the parties.”

Sanker’s largest music festival, White Party Palm Springs, is a multi-day celebration and haven for generations of gay people. Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez performed there in front of more than 30,000 spectators. White Party events have spread to Mexico and Thailand, and the West Hollywood resident has become the most recognizable showman in the gay community.

The parties started small, in the late 1980s – just a few guys hanging out by hotel pools in Palm Springs, said James Duke Mason, an LGBTQ activist from West Hollywood.

For gay men in those days, the dance floor was a respite from reality, as friend after friend died of AIDS and the world often shunned them because of their sexuality.

Whitney Houston, Taylor Dayne and other “divas of the dance floor” sang about love, life and spirit, former West Hollywood Mayor John Duran said.

“It was like, ‘Our days are numbered. I was told that I have less than a year to live, and I dance with my friends. I’m going to party like there’s no tomorrow, ”said Duran.

Sanker’s parties have turned into huge events. The scale and quality of the production far exceeded previous gay parties, said longtime friend Mark Lehman.

“He was a visionary,” said Sandy Sachs, chief operating officer of the Sanker company. “He was the PT Barnum of the gay world… he didn’t care about the money. What was most important to him was the spectacle, the wow factor, that when people come to his events, they come out of there saying, “Oh, my God. ”

Duran remembers Sanker as warm, funny, and frantic – someone who spoke tirelessly.

Sanker often used the money he earned to advocate for the gay community, Mason said. He has supported organizations such as Desert AIDS Project, The Trevor Project, and Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing.

Sanker was born on December 2, 1955 in Bethesda, Maryland. Growing up, he was interested in pottery and screen printing. He majored in art history at the American University, his sister Diane said.

In New York he started a magazine focused on the 80s club scene. It fizzled out, but it gave him access to clubs, where he started his first gig as a promoter for places like Studio 54, Palladium and Private Eyes.

In 1987, he moved to Los Angeles, where he founded his entertainment company.

Not all approved of Sanker’s loud festivals, however. Some have denounced the widespread use of drugs.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a new challenge. Sanker has been criticized for hosting a big New Years party in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.

Last year, the White Party Palm Springs aired on Facebook. This year it was postponed to Halloween.

Lehman believes Sanker will be remembered for bringing people together. The parties weren’t all flashy lights and famous singers. They gave gay men a sense of camaraderie and the freedom to be themselves.

“Being on that dance floor, shirtless and sweaty and a little drunk and a little stoned, but being with my tribe was such a reaffirming experience for so many gay people to feel like we belong,” he said. said Duran. “We have built a community on a dance floor. ”

Sanker is survived by his mother, Renee, and sister Diane.

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