ORLANDO, Fla. - David Wasserman, the well-known former adult industry attorney turned strip-club owner, committed suicide at his home on Thursday. He was 52.
Wasserman died of a gunshot wound to the head. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Wasserman's girlfriend Lois Stone found his body and the death was confirmed a suicide by the Orange County Sheriff's Office on Friday.
In the months leading up to his death, Wasserman had been under extreme stress because of a legal battle with Lake County over his Fantasy Gentlemen's Club in Four Corners. He sued the county in federal court earlier this month, claiming that officials had conspired with the building's landlord in an effort to shut down the business.
Wasserman was a passionate First Amendment crusader who made a name for himself defending adult entertainment businesses in the 1990s. He served on the board of the Free Speech Coalition and tried many prominent cases with attorney Lawrence Walters, with whom he partnered in the firm of Wasserman and Walters in Winter Park, Fla., from 1998-2001.
"David battled with anxiety and depression for a long time," Walters told AVN. "It's always disheartening and sad when somebody loses his life this way. But I would like to remember David at his best, as a crusader, a freedom fighter and an advocate for the First Amendment. He was a master at dealing with the media and presenting the best possible face for his clients. I have fond memories of the many cases we tried together in Central Florida and across the country."
One of Wasserman and Walters' most historic court victories was the 1999 case of Tammy Robinson, the first individual to be prosecuted for obscenity on the Internet. Robinson and her husband were charged with wholesale promotion of obscenity in Polk County, Fla. for posting sexually explicit photos on an amateur porn website called Cyber Dream Makers. The charges were finally dismissed in 2001.
Wasserman's other clients included nude clubs and topless bars in Seminole County, street performers in St. Augustine, nudists in Cape Canaveral, a bondage dungeon in Kissimee, and a gay porn website. He was also active in defending free speech rights outside the adult entertainment realm.
"One of our cases involved the Rainbow Family, a hippie Deadhead group that gathers in the forests," Walters recalled. "They were being harassed by the U.S. Forest Service."
Wasserman lost his license to practice law in 2004 after he was arrested for growing marijuana in his apartment. Later that year, he opened an adult video and lingerie boutique called Intimate Moments in New Smyrna, Fla., fighting the city in court over restrictive zoning laws from the day the store opened until it closed in 2006.
But it was Wasserman's career as the owner of Fantasy Gentlemen's Club that proved to be his toughest fight. Formerly known as Roxie's, the club was the only strip joint in Lake County. In December 2007, Wasserman was shot through the chest by an unidentified robber who he believed was sent by a rival club owner.
"I had a gentleman come in and tell me that if I didn't sell him my club, he would have me killed – the owner of another club," Wasserman told AVN. "He came back two nights ago, and said, "You know, I've been trying to buy the club from you' and stuff; he said, 'Let me make you a partner in the club; let me be a partner in your club; let me buy your club, anything, whatever.' I said, 'No, I'm not selling; I'm gonna keep my club.' He said, 'Then I'm gonna kill you.'"
But Wasserman refused to back down. He beefed up security at the club and began carrying a gun. "The words I have for those who try to do me harm [are], I'm gonna get you before you get me," he told AVN.
Then, in April, the Lake County Sheriff's Department sent masked investigators to raid Wasserman's club for operating without proper licenses. Wasserman fought the charges vigorously, as the county cited everything from alleged liquor violations to the sale of adult DVDs on the premises in the attempt to force him out of business.
Wasserman's last words on the subject to AVN were a warning to readers: "You never know when things can change, so you must always be prepared."
While Wasserman's struggles involving the club obviously contributed to his decision to take his own life, friends mainly pointed to his long history of depression as the cause. According to his obituary in the Sentinel, Wasserman had attempted suicide before and told the paper that he'd written his own eulogy.
"I'm not afraid to die," Wasserman said. "I want to be remembered as a first-class lawyer who was very ethical, that I was a caring person and tried to help the poor and the downtrodden."
Wasserman is survived by his father, several siblings and a stepdaughter.