Charlie Russell, aka Chasterus, died sometime in the night between Tuesday, May 10 and Wednesday, May 11. It was natural causes of some kind but we don't know yet exactly what happened. He was a well-known art car artist and the founder and mayor of East Jesus. For anyone who doesn’t know, East Jesus is a habitable, extensible, experimental art environment-in-progress that has been Charlie’s home since December of 2006. His website is currently still online but I don't know for how much longer since no one but he had the password.
Charlie wasn’t feeling well the weekend before his death. He had stomach and lower back pain. A friend took him to the hospital Monday morning. I don’t know what all they did but they ended up prescribing antibiotics and an antispasmodic and sent him home. A trusted friend stayed with him through Tuesday and, in the evening, Charlie said he was feeling a little better. The friend went home. At 7 AM the next morning (Wednesday) he cam back to check on Charlie and found him sitting where he left him - apparently a peaceful death.
Most of the time, when someone dies in Slab City, their camps are disassembled within weeks by the locals who take what they can use and sell the rest for scrap. We did not want this to happen to East Jesus. Almost immediately word was spread about what happened. Jon Alloway, the producer and director of an upcoming movie, “Into the Zone”, was instrumental in contacting those close to Charlie. Close friends, Greg Hill, Flip Cassidy and Joe Holliday arrived the very same night to protect East Jesus from looters. More friends arrived over the next few days, including myself, until over a dozen supporters were present to decide how to preserve East Jesus. It was a good weekend. Not a happy weekend, but good. If only Charlie could have seen the love shown for him and his creation.
At this time East Jesus is being maintained and even expanded. Friends have been erecting a perimeter fence around the compound and another, higher, fence around the containers and living space. The site is occupied 24/7 so that nothing gets damaged or stolen. Keeping it going through this summer will be the biggest challenge since it is brutally hot, especially in August and September.
Charlie will be missed by many, many people. He was a renaissance man. His expertise covered so much ground. His singing was amazing. He had technical knowledge about so many things. He was way into ham radio and other electronics stuff. He had a refined sense of design when he created art. He had strong, well thought out, opinions about most things. He had a great sense of humor. To his friends, he was kind and generous and he had almost zero tolerance for mean or dishonest people. He followed his own path with little regard for convention or social norms. I loved and respected Charlie and will miss him greatly.
A memorial celebration is being held on June 5th at NIMBY in Oakland, CA. I can't make it for this but I created a short video to be played at the event. There is a collaboratively created sculpture area in East Jesus that serves as a memorial to Charlie. We started it the weekend after he died. If you knew him, you are invited to add to it.
To stay informed about East Jesus, or help it continue, you can view the East Jesus Facebook page.