Remembering Jeff Grosso

Jeff Grosso died on Tuesday, March 31.

The 51-year-old was one of skateboarding’s most honest, open and unapologetic mascots—a public figure who could be ruthlessly critical and yet humble to the point of self-deprecation. Grosso was an ‘80s vert legend, a skate history aficionado and a mad raconteur. As the host of his own skate history show, Jeff Grosso’s Loveletters To Skateboarding, he had an uncanny ability to rant, rave and condemn with hilarious cynicism and spite. But it was always impressive to see the genuine curiosity and respect he showed to his interviewees and guests when they came on. And the passion he had for the things that he loved.

At the time of writing, it appears that Grosso suffered a heart attack and died in Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California. However, there have been conflicting reports and the details haven’t been conclusively confirmed at this point.

What is clear to pretty much everyone is the massive influence that Jeff Grosso had on skateboarding. As the wave of online tributes, photos and archival footage of Grosso rolls through our social media feeds, it seems appropriate to catalogue some of the classic moments of Grosso’s public life. Here are some videos and words to remember and celebrate a legend that will be sorely missed by his family, his friends and countless others who never even met him.

Am Ramp Winner, Border Wars, 1985

‘Hey Jeff, congratulations. When are you going to go pro? That’s the big question.’ Grosso’s answer: ‘Talk to Stacey. No comment.’ At this point in time, Grosso was an amateur on George Powell and Stacey Peralta’s company, Powell Peralta. He thought he was going to turn pro for them and become the next member of the Bones Brigade. But as Grosso explained in an interview with Juice Magazine many years later, ‘[Stacey] called me and said, “You need to finish school. We want you to stay amateur for another year.” I basically laughed at him. I said, “I quit. I’m going to Schmitt Stix with Lucero, and we’re going to rule the world. The Bones Brigade sucks anyway.”‘

Grosso was pro from 1986 until 1990 when street skateboarding left vert for dead. But he was always going to be more of a rebel than the Bones Brigade guys anyway. Later in that same interview, he explained, ‘The whole pro world was kind of a trial by fire. The money started rolling in. I started smoking pot and drinking and living the rock star lifestyle that I’d come to covet.’

Dead on Arrival

The ‘rock star lifestyle’ turned out to be a slippery slope for Grosso. Before now, he had died and been resuscitated three separate times. In a Transworld column called ‘What It Feels Like…‘ back in 2012, Grosso spoke openly about the times he overdosed on heroin and was taken to the hospital and declared ‘dead on arrival.’ He goes through some pretty heavy details, explaining how he got shot up in the jugular vein with a drug called Narcan, which was formulated to counteract opiates and save people who are overdosing. ‘It basically feels like they lit you on fire from the inside out. It hurts real bad,’ he said. ‘Overdosing on heroin or any opiates is a very long and painful process. It’s not a moment of quick release and then you’re out. It’s basically hours and hours of basically suffocating to death.’

Grosso eventually got sober. When asked by Michael Burnett how he managed to get off the hard drugs, he said, ‘I got arrested, went to jail, and they said I could either go to prison or go to rehab. So, of course I chose rehab…’ Grosso’s willingness to be open about his ups and downs with addiction had some positive effects though. He explained: ‘People have hit me up and told me I gave them hope and helped them get clean. I didn’t do anything, you did it.’

‘We’re a joke, at best.’

Just about every episode of The Letters is chock full of Grosso gold and this is just one among many. It’s pretty much just Grosso ranting and raving but the bitter, seething reproval is somehow charming. In a shirt that simply says “FUCK YOU…”, Grosso expounds some of his firmly held opinions, ripping on everything from corporate greed to Jereme Rogers to the Olympics. There are countless pull quotes—the dude could blow his nose and something funny or profound would come out—but this one, about skateboarding as a whole, is a standout:

‘We are fucking pathetic. I’m so glad we’re not a sport and we’re not a legitimate industry. We’re a fucking horror show. We’re a joke, at best.’

The Body Corporate

The Body Corporate, documented an Antihero trip to New Zealand in 2017. In true 18 fashion, they camped, drank, fished, skated crusty bowls and street spots. Grant Taylor caught a staph infection and it spread through the van. The Super 8 production is a visual splendour. Grosso’s article in Thrasher, was also a masterclass in how to write a tour article for a magazine. It was poetic, informative and included some great yarns along with Grosso’s classic self-deprecating humour.

He wrote, ‘By day three I personally became a casualty of the intensity, a chance encounter with a kneeslide and a giant kidney bean leaving me with a dislocated pinky, a couple of broken ribs and a golf ball for an eyelid. I spent the next few days acting like a petulant child, feeling sorry for myself and chain-smoking cigarettes.’ But Grosso had a great time overall, rounding out the article with, ‘I only wish I could have skated more. My advice: grab your friends, get a plane, train, or bus ticket. Pitch in on an old VW van. Get out there—go! The world awaits…’

This broken feeling, 2020

One of the most heart-wrenching parts of all this is Grosso’s last Instagram post, which begins with his son, Oliver, dancing to Leonard Cohen’s classic, ‘Everybody Knows’. Then it appears that Jeff puts his phone down, leaving it recording, and gets up to dance around the living room with Oliver. It’s a pretty special father and son moment. Cohen’s lyrics couldn’t be more relevant: ‘Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died.’

Rest in peace, Grosso. The world will miss you.

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