In February, a month before his 55th birthday, Timothy Dean took the plunge into a rooftop pool in West Hollywood. It was a baptism at middle age for a man who was open and proud about his life’s roundabout journey.
“I will never have everything all figured out at once,” Dean wrote at the time, “but I have enough sorted out now that I can honestly say I’m happy, healthy & centered in my life.”
Dean’s life was cut short earlier this week. Authorities were called early Monday to the West Hollywood apartment of Democratic activist and donor Ed Buck and found Dean unconscious and not breathing. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
The cause of Dean’s death has not been released. But Buck’s attorney, Seymour Amster, stated it was an apparent overdose after Dean ingested a substance at another location and “came over intoxicated.”
In the days since, the circumstances of Dean’s death have prompted a homicide investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and become a subject of national interest. He is the second black man to die in Buck’s Laurel Avenue residence — a fact that has stoked outrage and suspicion among activists and community members.
In July 2017, Gemmel Moore, 26, died of a methamphetamine overdose in Buck’s apartment, which was littered with drug paraphernalia, according to a Los Angeles County coroner’s report. Buck, 64, was investigated in the death, and prosecutors last summer declined to file charges.
As part of the investigation into Dean’s death, detectives have said they are giving Moore’s case another review.
For Dean’s friends, the painful jolt of his death has been compounded by what they view as a false caricature of their friend played out in the media, with accusations of drug use and conjecture about his adult film roles that misconstrue the man he had become in recent years.
“He wasn’t an angel, he wasn’t a devil. He was in between, like everyone else,” said Mark Chambers, who said he met Dean in 1991 through Lambda Basketball League, a gay men’s basketball group.
Chambers, 54, said he knew Dean as a caring and outgoing friend who preferred to call on holidays and birthdays, not text, and showed up in person when someone was in need.
“Tim was not reserved. Being a 6-foot-5 black man, you have to learn how to make people comfortable quick,” Chambers said. “He’d smile, he’d laugh. Tim put you at ease.”
Dean worked as a fashion consultant at Saks Fifth Avenue, and previously, at Bloomingdale’s in Century City, Chambers said. As befit his job, he had a dapper fashion sense: well-fitting suits, stylish glasses and a collection of bow ties. He also helped dress Chambers and his husband in Armani suits for their 2015 wedding in Long Beach.
He wasn’t an angel, he wasn’t a devil. He was in between, like everyone else.
For years, he played in the Lambda Basketball League, and this summer, traveled with Chambers and others to Paris to compete in the Gay Games. Dean was mostly a power forward, with “an aggressive, attacker kind of style” on the court, Chambers said.
His initials, T.M.D., became his nickname. Chambers said it was for “too much drama,” because “he was very dramatic on the court.” Each year, teammates gave him the “most dramatic award,” while others received lauds for “butchest player” or “best defense.”
“It was a term of endearment,” Chambers said. “He knew, and he took it well.”
Dean grew up in Florida and lived for decades in the same two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. Charlie Sanders, 34, lived a few blocks away and said while jogging each morning, he saw Dean leaving for work.
“He was the nicest person,” Sanders said. The pair also played in the same basketball league in L.A. and traveled to Paris for the Gay Games this summer.
“You mention his name, and even if you didn’t spend time with him, you knew who he was and knew him from his smile.”
For the last three years, Dean had allowed Ottavio Taddei to live in his spare bedroom while Taddei, a native of Italy, worked as an actor and dancer.
Taddei said that as roommates they couldn’t have been more different — separated in age by 20 years and having a different sexual orientation — but Dean was welcoming. His apartment reflected how precise he lived. The household was tidy, with “everything in a specific spot and nicely folded.”
“He cared about living in a beautiful environment,” Taddei said.
Dean enjoyed a drink while socializing or watching sports, but friends said he did not imbibe to excess.
“I’ve never seen him doing drugs or taking drugs,” Taddei said. “He doesn’t even smoke weed or cigarettes…. If he drank something, it was at the end of the day, after work. Not someone who had a problem.”
A close friend of Dean’s had been coping with addiction, and Dean had gone to great lengths to help his friend by giving him food and mediating conversation with the friend’s family, Taddei said.
Chambers said Dean had long ago grown out of any casual drug use.
“He talked about the years when he was running wild,” Chambers said. “But that hasn’t been in his life.”
Dean was especially afraid of needles, and “ran down the street when he had to get blood drawn” for an HIV test, he said.
Over the years, Dean performed in adult films, a side job that some friends knew of although they did not speak about with him. An online database of adult films credits Dean with more than a dozen roles.
“I knew he did it, but when we were coming up, a lot of people did it. It was like, OK, so what?” Chambers said. “Just because he did porn doesn’t equal a drug addict.”
“The fact of the matter: Two black males died in the same apartment and the same man is the last person to see them alive,” Sanders said.
“That’s something deeper to look into than what someone did to make money.”
In recent years, Dean seemed to have abandoned the adult film roles.
In 2015, he graduated with his associate’s degree from Santa Monica Community College, a moment he said was “52 years in the making.”
“I guess something called ‘life’ and maybe having a little too much ‘fun’ kept distracting me,” he wrote around the time of his graduation.
“This degree will not change the world but it will be the first degree earned by anyone in my family.”
He also began attending One LA, a church on La Brea Boulevard, and Taddei said Dean was open about seeking spiritual guidance.
That spiritual commitment led him to the rooftop last year, where he wore a black T-shirt that said “Truth” and stepped into the pool for his baptism.
Afterward, he wrote online about the symbolism of the moment: “I’m surviving & thriving in my life right now.”
Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts and Richard Winton contributed to this report.