Celebrity Death

Jojo Baby Cause of Death: How Did Chicago Nightlife Icon Die? Revealed

Legendary Chicago Nightlife Has Died: JoJo Baby, the original club kid, artist, and nightlife legend, has passed away after an illness. Her fame began in Chicago and grew throughout the world.

What Happened To Jojo Baby?

The legendary performer and party host was remembered as someone who was “so near and dear to us all and to many in the drag community” when Smartbar shared the sad news on Tuesday, March 14.

“JoJo’s spirit will go unmatched. His kindness, warmth, and generosity will be sorely missed. Until we see you on the next dance floor. Rest in peace,” the venue added, though it didn’t reveal the cause of death. That said, smart bar previously hosted a benefit event to help with JoJo’s medical expenses after he was diagnosed with cancer last year.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a place where I’ve had to deal with a sluggish computer, but I’m back. Smartbar held a fundraiser on December 3rd, 2022, to assist with their medical costs as they endured a series of cancer treatments.

Cause of Death

The Chicago-based artist received a cancer diagnosis in 2022 and passed away in hospice care while being visited by friends and relatives.

According to the adage, “the number of lives you touch defines your life,” Jojo Baby was a giant by any standard. There has been an outpouring of grief but also love as the news traveled around Chicago this morning from those whose lives were made better by knowing, or even just meeting, Jojo Baby.

Jojo Battling Cancer

When Jojo revealed he was battling cancer in November 2022, we wrote a story about it. While he was still alive, we wanted to say all the lovely things that people frequently reserve for an obituary.

Jojo was a pioneer in ways that would astound outsiders and leave people who never knew him wondering whether he was a myth or a tall tale. This isn’t empty praise. Jojo Baby was a cherished icon, but he was also neither. Loved by many, Jojo Baby.

Jojo described his first night out with 5 Mag’s Boogie McClarin in our 2007 cover story. He recalled as a young child wanting to be one of the “beautiful animals strolling around,” saying, “I was a kid.”

To “encourage the next generation of gorgeous animals to come up,” Jojo would eventually turn into one of them while hosting at Reddog, Boom Boom Room, and Queen! at Smartbar. Sal E. and I kind of resemble old-school geishas, Jojo claimed to 5 Mag. “We consider it an insult to be seen in the same thing twice.” It was tough to find a shot for this piece, considering Jojo was nearly never photographed alone.

Who is JoJo Baby?

You’ve certainly seen him around town—a walking art piece in Wicker Park wearing a tutu and a cotton candy-colored wig, or perhaps a Keith Haring-inspired outfit and painted face in Boystown.

This is Jojo Baby, and Bullett Magazine, a leading national publication focusing on art and fashion, invites you to peek inside his wardrobe.


Bullett’s 13-minute documentary “Jojo Baby,” which debuted Thursday, is a digestible look into the club kid’s Wicker Park studio Jojo Baby’s Closet, a curated fantasy land of handmade dolls and shrines to previous crushes. It is significantly shorter than Clive Barker’s nearly 90-minute expose on the local nightlife celebrity.

But more than that, it exposes the interesting creature’s true nature by taking off the makeup and harlequin disguises before a night out at the Debonair Social Club.

Producer and Bullett editor Justin Moran remarked, “What’s so great is he’s kind of untainted by this internet culture that we’ve become so familiar with.

“It resembles a window into a time before Instagram and creating internet personas. It’s amazing to give him that platform because when you enter his place, you see him for who he truly is. He doesn’t need to project that online.”

Read Jojo’s Life story

Jojo’s story is striking even in a setting where diversity is exemplified. The Logan Square native, 51, tells how their mother worked as a bunny at Chicago’s Playboy Club in the late 1950s and early 1960s to pay for medical school. Her mother gave her the nickname Jojo Baby. She afterward started working for the Teamsters’ health maintenance group.

Jojo’s grandma played the organ for silent movies at the Chicago Theater and grandfather made trumpets for bandleaders Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

But, Jojo’s mother was the one who taught them how to sew, explaining that it was a talent that would free them from ever having to rely on a woman. Later on, I made her eat those words, Jojo stated.

The use of elaborate costumes would become a brand. Similarly, matching makeup would. Jojo recalled accompanying their mother to Mary Kay parties as a young girl and learning how to apply cosmetics “far before anybody should.”

Because their father didn’t want a gay in the house, Jojo fled home at the age of 14 in the middle of the 1980s. Jojo dropped out of Quigley Preparatory Seminary when a priest told them they were too dramatic and should enter show business. Jojo had previously planned to become a Franciscan monk to “pray for everyone” and had decided to leave the school.

“So I listened,” Jojo said, and began working at Shelter, a club on West Fulton Street, even though they weren’t old enough to even go in. Jojo and other club kids resided in a Lake View “shanty,” which was perched above a network of subterranean tracks leading to the Music Box Theater, a remnant of the Prohibition era when the residence served as a speakeasy. Jojo claimed that their scene went much beyond the well-known New York City club kid era or the current crop of drag celebrities.

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