There was a time when the familiar chorus hook in Ghostbusters — Who you gonna call? — could have been answered: Mark Leventhal.
Such was Leventhal’s reputation in the DJ community in South Beach. When Madonna and Prince needed a tunesmith to spin upbeat favorites for one of their private parties, they called on Leventhal. He was the DJ at ’90s hotspots like Fat Black Pussycat at Glam Slam, Warsaw and The Spot. More recently, his ’80s-themed parties at Lincoln Road’s Haven brought the Me Decade back to glorious neon and raspberry beret-colored frivolity.
Girls (and boys) just wanna have fun. And that’s where Leventhal, who died Tuesday following a mysterious infection that struck in late January, thrived.
“It’s humility, really. People are drawn to a DJ for a lot of things,” said friend Ben Arndt, manager of Haven. “He was looking to make people happy and play parties the way parties should be played and to provide the ambience, whether it was a celebrity wedding or a gallery opening or something unrelated to nightclubs. He brought his humble presence and, having that over the years, people enjoyed him and his humor and caring ways. That is what created his legacy.”
Leventhal, 50, was born in Boston and raised in Maplewood, N.J. Mom Judie Leventhal remembers a spirited lad. OK, a rambunctious, hyper young man. But one who found his voice and his calling in music. And thus, cliché be damned, he became the life of the party when others tapped into his infectious buzz.
“As he got to bar mitzvah age he discovered he was a great dancer and he knew a lot of music and everyone wanted to invite him to bar mitzvahs because he led all the dances,” Judie Leventhal said from her home in Milwaukee. “He was interested in all kinds of music. Well, he grew up in my house. My brother was a jazz drummer and he learned something about jazz at 10 or 11. He loved all kinds of music and rock ‘n’ roll was his thing. As he got older, he made it into a business and loved DJing and that was his real life. Music was his life. And he taught [his] boys the same thing.”
Leventhal laughs when she remembers one of her trips to see her son at work in one of South Beach’s mega-clubs in the 1990s. It could have been Amnesia where Sunday T-dances reigned. Or Warsaw. Or Prince’s palace, Glam Slam. Point was, it was slamming and Mom, like her son, was hip and happening.
“He liked to be in big clubs,” she said. Big clubs generally mean long lines outside the velvet rope.
“I said to one of the bouncers, ‘How long do I have to stand in line?’ I said, ‘I’m Mark’s mom’ and he starts yelling in this big voice, ‘Everyone step aside! This is his mom!’ I almost dropped dead in there. They were using a lot of steam. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. But it was great,” she said. “I would go every once in awhile and go with him on a job and I only lasted an hour. He came home at 4 in the morning. And you could never walk down a street without hearing, ‘Hey, Mark, what’s going on?’ He knew everybody and everybody knew him. He taught a lot of people how to DJ and they went out on their own.”
Conrad Gomez, owner of Foxhole Bar in Miami Beach is one of those people.
“Mark and I were business partners for 10 years,” Gomez said. “We did all the parties on the Beach, the one-night parties, and Mark was instrumental to what I am today. He brought me my first cellphone. Got me my first pager. Opened my first bank account. I was living a crazier life and he paved the way for me. On every block on the Beach, where someone lived, Mark definitely touched them.”
That community rallied in January when Leventhal suddenly fell ill and began fighting for his life at Jackson North Medical Center. He had complained of back pain. He was pale. A trip to an urgent care center turned into an emergency room visit when he became incoherent.
His sister Amy Leventhal told the Miami Herald at the time that her brother had an infection in his brain and throughout his body.
Party promoter and Ricochet co-owner Alan Roth said that the DJ was “such a big part of the early days, bringing that smart and creative energy to the ‘good old days.’”
Friends, family and fellow DJs turned to fund raising website, youcaring.com, to help the family deal with spiraling healthcare costs as he did not have insurance. Haven hosted a bash where local DJs worked the turntables in his honor.
“Mark was always a friend to everybody at Haven — to our chef, our owners, our bartenders,” Arndt said. “Even if he wasn’t playing their favorite song nobody could ever be upset with Mark.”
Fellow DJ Jenni Foxx, who spins at Buck15 on Miami Beach, posted one of Leventhal’s favorite songs on his Facebook wall, which has now swelled into a memorial page. In a SoBe demimonde once given to banging, throbbing ’90s dance anthems from the likes of Crystal Waters, the Bucketheads and M People, Leventhal once told Foxx of one of his own favorite memories: slipping the Doobie Brothers’ 1972 soft-rock hit, Listen to the Music, into one of his mixes.
“He was super-talented and a really genuinely nice guy as well,” she wrote. “I have this visual in my head of him up in the clouds looking down on Earth like he’s in a celestial DJ booth and the whole planet is the crowd.”
In addition to his mother, Leventhal is survived by his children Alec, Kyle and Zoe and sisters Nancy and Amy. There will be a service and celebration of life Sunday at a location to be determined.