According to activist Lori Cannon, Grab Magazine Co-Publisher and Co-Founder Mark Nagel was an "old-school, go-to guy" who saw the devastation of the AIDS epidemic in the community in the '80s and "was forever changed by the plague."
"He dedicated his time, his talents, his energy [and] his resources to support those of us who were on the front line," she added.
Nagel passed away unexpectedly Feb. 4; the cause was an an epileptic seizure, according to Grab Magazine Co-Publisher and Co-Founder Stacy Bridges.
The publisher leaves behind a long legacy of work and philanthropy in the the community. Besides his work at the magazine, Nagel also helped produce the annual Grabbys adult entertainment awards and gave both his time and money to several area-charities, especially ones assisting persons with HIV/AIDS.
A longtime veteran of Chicago's LGBT press, Nagel co-founded Grab with Bridges in 2009, after the two had spent several years working together at the weekly Gay Chicago Magazine.
"We met in 1998, and I first started working at Gay Chicago in 2000," Bridges recalled. "That's when we first became friends. He was bull-headed, but he always got the job done. When I started, he took me under his wing and taught me the industry."
Nagel handled all of Grab's editorial content, Bridges said, recalling that he and Nagel initially launched the publication "because we wanted to start our own magazine, one that would reflect what we thought a gay entertainment magazine should be like. Both of us had that dream."
They started Grab with "much help from bar owners. Ten years later, here we are. In June, it will be our 10th anniversary."
Cannon met Nagel in 1985.
"We were rallying the troops to come in a deliver food [for persons with HIV/AIDS] out of Ann Sather [Restaurant]," Cannon added. "Many were friends and associates of Mark's. Mark was tireless in his commitment in finding ways to support Open Hand Chicago [which Cannon founded in 1988]. Some of the best food drives we had in our 30-year history were because of Mark Nagel and his unique talent of reaching out to celebrities, or promoting locations where barrels would be put up for collection."
Nagel would arrange for adult-film stars in town for the Grabbys to help with food deliveries, she recalled. He would also "eyeball the shelves" and quietly note when stock at the pantry was becoming depleted.
"Next thing I know, without my knowing it, he was at what was then Dominick's or Jewel, asking for donations," said Cannon.
Nagel was involved with, among other organizations and projects, Center on Halsted, Ride for AIDS Chicago, Chicago House, Heartland Alliance and Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN); indeed the philanthropic component of the Grabbys ceremony benefits that latter organization. Nagel was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2017.
"What I'll miss most is his dedication and willingness to help whoever he could," Bridges said.
Adult film director Chi Chi LaRue, who each year co-hosts the Grabbys, wrote on Facebook of Nagel's passing: "With all the sadness in my heart, I say goodbye to someone that was not only a friend to me, a great friend, he was also a friend to the entire gay adult industry. He loved each and everyone of us involved in this crazy world of porn and he enjoyed nothing more than our numerous get together's to celebrate our industry. Mark will be greatly missed by his family and friends and so many of us in the gay adult industry."
LaRue's Grabbys co-host, Honey West, also wrote: "I have tried to find the words. I am still shocked over losing someone that was always there for me. … He was always so good to me and kind. He was good and kind to everyone, always looking for ways to help or be of service. I think about him everyday. When you choose family, it runs deep, and he was my family."
Writer Brian Kirst, who for several years wrote adult film reviews for Gay Chicago, recalled how Nagel appreciated his quirky style: "I developed this cast of goofy characters and would weave in stories about them that related to the movie I was covering, while also mixing in weird music references and silly innuendoes. In fact, my first review somehow compared each sex scene to the stages of Johnny Cash's career. … [Nagel] embraced my excesses and encouraged me to be as zany as I wanted to be. He was the first publisher of a major magazine to really support me and my vision, and I know that initial confidence has informed me as I've journeyed throughout my career in the years since."
This year's Grabbys will be a tribute to Nagel, Bridges said, adding, "The show will go on. I'm looking forward to that. He would have made sure that the show went on."
Nagel was also occasionally a character actor and film and television extra, Bridges noted. He is credited as "parking guard" in the 1993 thriller Blink, which starred Madeleine Stowe and Aidan Quinn, and appeared in the background of the current television drama Empire, which films in Chicago.
"I was watching Empire one night, and he hadn't warned me that he was going to be on there. I screamed, 'There's Mark Nagel.' He loved to do that," Bridges said.
"I can't think of Mark as being a dead person," Cannon said. "I think of him out delivering the magazine or hanging with Honey [West]. I'm going to miss him, and he's going to leave an incredible legacy behind in Chicago."
A memorial will be held at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N Halsted, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, beginning at 1 p.m. with an open house. Service and speeches will be 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.