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'Fearless' Chicago comic Dan Ronan dead at 24
As word spread that Chicago-based stand-up comic and Wilmette native Dan Ronan died late last week at age 24, there came an outpouring of grief and appreciation from those close to him.
We love you @dan__ronan. I wish you could see how much you are loved and missed. Thank you for everything.
— The Lincoln Lodge (@thelincolnlodge) June 9, 2014
“If I’m being honest with myself, I lost him months ago,” Ronan’s friend and fellow comedian Drew Michael writes in a lengthy and heartfelt blog post. “Back in December, when I looked into his eyes, I realized he was already gone. Something had taken hold of him so completely and it did not let go. It grabbed his soul by the hair and everyone around him was forced to watch him thrash and struggle against the demon that would inevitably swallow him whole. I saw this in his eyes.”
Shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, Ronan was found unresponsive by his girlfriend at her home in the 3500 block of N. Lake Shore Drive Shortly thereafter, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, an official cause of death is pending a toxicology screen (results of which won’t be released for another four to six weeks), but early signs indicate a possible drug overdose.
In his tribute, Michael strongly hinted at but did not directly address substance abuse.
“I don’t care for the word ‘addict.’ Dan had such a drive, mostly powered by compulsiveness. If only that energy could be funneled toward something productive — comedy, producing a show, being a friend — all would be well! But our humanity kicks in. Stress and insecurity try and knock us off the high wire as we try and keep our balance. Some people are able to walk easier than others. Dan’s walk was a burdened one.”
We are deeply saddened to learn Chicago lost a bright young comedic talent on Friday. RIP Dan Ronan
— Zanies Comedy Clubs (@ZaniesComClubs) June 9, 2014
In another blog post, Ronan’s pal and comedy colleague Joe McAdam praised his late friend’s skills (“Dan created some of my favorite comedy I’ve ever witnessed”) and also ruminated about addiction. Not long after moving out to L.A. in 2013 for what would be only a short stint, McAdam writes, “Dan relapsed into drug use. He was very open about things like that on stage, and made fun of it. It was a part of him that unfortunately couldn’t be separated from his story.”
Ronan, McAdam goes on, “was compulsive about comedy. He would be doing it 24 hours a day if that were possible. When he wasn’t doing it, he didn’t know what to do with himself… He needed comedy, even if it wasn’t his.” Expounding on Ronan’s talents and sensibility in an email, McAdam described Ronan’s material as having “an honest and unusual point of view that was draped in complete madness.”
.@dan__ronan was an immensely talented comedian and great dude. All of us at CYSK are deeply saddened by the news of his death. RIP, bud.
— CYSK (@CYSK) June 9, 2014
Lincoln Lodge proprietor Mark Geary, who worked with and mentored Ronan for many years from the time Ronan showed up as “this kind of crazy kid finding his way,” lauded Ronan’s commitment to comedy in general and the Lincoln Lodge stand-up showcase in particular.
“Comedy itself is an easy mechanism,” Geary says. “Being fearless about it isn’t. That’s where Dan really excelled. It was kind of funny: in a weird way, he was this timid, afraid guy off the stage and yet totally fearless when on it.”
Geary says that for years he was clueless about Ronan’s past battles with substance abuse and that Ronan seemed “totally straight” and “totally focused” while he worked as a senior member of the Lincoln Lodge team, booking guests and plotting marketing strategies. According to McAdam, Ronan “put in more hours behind the scenes of that place than people do at full-time jobs.”
Like McAdam, Geary saw a change in Ronan after he relocated to L.A.
“Recently, as we realized his struggles, a few of us had reached out to him,” Geary says, noting that he was among several people who tried to dissuade Ronan from moving west. But Ronan went anyway, determined as ever to build a comedy career on his own terms.
“The thing we were trying to work through was, ‘OK, how can you have a comedy life that allows you to do what you want to do and still have money coming in to allow you to live?’ ” Geary says.
That “riddle,” however, was never solved.
“He believed in comedy so much that he almost couldn’t countenance the bad side of it.”
Visitation is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, June 11 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Wm. H. Scott Funeral Home, 1100 Greenleaf Ave. in Wilmette.