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PASSAGES David Wilshire, one-time owner of Cheetah Gym, dies
by Matt Simonette
2017-09-20

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David Wilshire—who, at one point, owned Chicago's Cheetah Gym—has passed away in California, where he had been living for the past several years. He died Sept. 5.

Family members posted to Facebook: "David's immediate family would like to thank everyone for the kind words and thoughts of support at a very difficult time. Many of you know that David struggled for many years with a serious mental illness and depression. His fight with this was lost last week [on] Tuesday, Sept. 5th, 2017, in Santa Rosa, California. Thank you for the outpouring of love and memories of David. He will be missed terribly."

Wilshire had been working as a realtor in the Bay Area when he passed away.

An active and charismatic member of Chicago's LGBT community for several years, Wilshire dropped out of the public eye around 2007, after difficulties at the Cheetah Gym resulted in his unexpectedly pulling the plug on the health clubs' operations for several days. The establishments were subsequently reopened under new ownership.

Several of Wilshire's friends said that, while he struggled with his health, he remained a generous and caring friend to many.

"Talking about David is complicated," his friend John Regalado said. "Members of Chicago's gay community are more than able to remember the not-so-pretty parts of David's life. People remember Cheetah Gym closing and the mistakes he made around that time. There's no denying David had demons. He suffered from a mental illness that confused him, led him into bad decisions and that ultimately took his life."

Regalado added, however, that, "All of that seems periphery to me compared to his good parts. I will always remember David the brilliant cook, who I was always trying, and failing, to one-up in the kitchen; David the social butterfly, who walked into the room like a prince entering his court; David the philanthropist, who supported the gay community every chance he got. And more than anything, I'll remember David, my kind-hearted friend, and in many respects my hero, who left us too soon."

Rev. Stan Sloan, the former CEO of Chicago House & Social Service Agency, recalled Wilshire's generosity as well.

"As was true for so many organizations, both LGBTQ and beyond, David gave selflessly to Chicago House, to its staff, and to its residents," Sloan said. "Free memberships to Cheetah Gym were a phone call away to kids or adults who lived at Chicago House and needed a physical outlet. When mental illness and the calamity that it can bring befell David himself, the kindness he so freely gave to others was hard to find. Ultimately, he escaped to a life in San Francisco to build a fresh start, and he did a great job of forming a life and a network of people who cared about him. At the end of the day, David, with the beautiful intensity that characterized his life, knew the extremes of both riches and plenty, and of poverty and depravity, that the rest of us will never know. Those of us who love him remain proud of who he remained throughout. And we will miss him horribly."

Wilshire's friend Peter Houle has carried a check for a million dollars in his wallet that Wilshire wrote out to him in 1988. The check was obviously never any good, but Houle has kept it for daily inspiration ever since, he said.

"A day doesn't go by when I don't just chuckle at it," Houle said. "We were talking one night, and I said something like, 'I'm never going to be a millionaire.' David said, 'Just a minute,' and he took out his checkbook. He said, 'Here's a million-dollar check. Now you can be as rich as you want.'"

Houle said that the gesture was "indicative of the heart and soul of a very complex, kind and thoughtful man. … He was beautiful on the outside, and beautiful on the inside. He had the kindest heart and would give you the shirt off his back."

In a 2003 interview with Windy City Times, Wilshire said he wasn't sure where he saw himself in the future, speculating even about a career as an artist.

"Most likely it will be this, but I need a lot of stimulation so I'll probably venture into other types of businesses," Wilshire said. "I'm not clairvoyant but I have so many interests."

"David always looked for new opportunities and new challenges and he took them on," Houle added. "Unfortunately, after all that he went through in Chicago, it was very challenging for him to get back on his feet. We talked a lot about relationships, and the past. I have the fondest memories. I don't have any bad memories of David. They all put a smile on my face. He made me a millionaire on paper and he made me a millionaire in my heart."


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