December 21, 1995
We'll miss you, joyful Danny Cockerline
Devouring energies fired safe sex and prostitutes rights work
With age comes innocence. That is why we need the succulent, corrupting young. That is why we have lost so much with the suicide on December 11 of Danny Cockerline. He was just 35 years old, and had about him still the blatant fearlessness the world misunderstands and calls corruption.
He was a prostitute. A drug user. A porn star. He partied too loudly, too often and too hard, yet in those same devouring energies he found the will and means to carry on a political struggle that took him from the activism of the now defunct gay magazine the Body Politic to the fight for prostitutes' rights to his role as pinup boy for the safer-sex campaigns of the age of AIDS.
Danny Cockerline was also the man who persuaded me to become a prostitute and that is perhaps one of the most joyously corrupting touches I have known.
He was born September 30, 1960, and grew up in North Bay. He came to Toronto to go to school at Ryerson. It was perhaps a more progressive institution than it is today, because it was there he heard the Body Politic's Chris Bearchell speak and it was that, he would tell us later, that drew him into the paper's orbit. He was on the contributors' list by April 82, writing news stories, and had joined the collective, the paper's publisher, by September 83.
He was a beautiful boy, and when he learned that he was, he reveled in it. He worked his body up to porn-star standards, and was generous with it too, becoming a glorious slut long before he thought to ask people to pay. He was a "drama queen" in fact, insisted on it and there would be many a regular patron of Woody's, a Church Street gay bar, who would see Danny tossed out for deciding to party naked.
You can watch hom party more explicitly, even now. He made two porn films Midnight Sun and In the Grip of Passion and appeared in photo spreads in both Honcho and Mandate. When the AIDS Committee of Toronto decided to make a safer-sex video targeting the deaf, they turned to Danny.
It was probably as a prostitute, though, that Danny Cockerline was at his most seductively, deliciously corrupting. He showed old whores how to organize, and how to do it sunnily and gleefully. He was a founding member of Maggie's, the prostitutes' rights organization, of SWAT (Sex Workers' Alliance of Toronto) and the Prostitutes Safe Sex Project.
He was an outrageous presence at sex-workers conferences and AIDS conferences the world over. You went along with him, sometimes just to be buoyed up by what he called that "femmy, nasal voice." He was hard to resist.
He left a note: Danny was HIV-positive, and he wrote that he did not want to put his family and friends through a lingering AIDS death (though he was in fine health and nowhere near getting sick). He also referred to that "Nazi, Harris."
David Pistilli, Danny's lover, says he had become increasingly depressed and frightened in recent months, worried that Ontario's Tory government would cut off funding for the medicines he needed and could never have paid for on his own.
I last saw Danny the Thursday before he died. He appeared, along with some half-dozen other whores, on a panel at Harbourfront Centre discussing the sex industry in Toronto. He was the Danny we knew still luscious, still forceful and articulate, still silly, probably stoned. The story of my suspension from Ryerson for being a prostitute was very much in the news that week, and Danny had called me earlier in the day, asking if he might champion my case as part of his speech.
And he did, pulling a wave of applause out of the audience through that wonderful, corrupting force he worked so well.
He called me later that evening, asking how he'd done. I was weary by then, and said that he'd done just fine, and tried to get off the phone, and did.
And what I should have said, and what perhaps he didn't hear quite often enough, was "You were great, Danny Cockerline. You were fucking great."
Ryerson journalism instructor Gerald Hannon was recently disciplined for announcing publicly that he's a part-time prostitute.
Created: May 23, 1996
Last modified: November 12, 2000
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