Jimmy Campbell, Dead at 74, Fondly Recalled by Friends, Family, Colleagues

From 2015: Jimmy Campbell, at a friend’s studio in San Francisco. | Photo by Dean Book

Compiled by Scott Stiffler | Artist, activist, and beloved Chelsea resident James Campbell died on Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Lenox Health Greenwich Village (30 Seventh Ave., NYC). He would have been 75 on May 13.

“After he passed, the doctor told me they were going to report his COD [cause of death] as respiratory failure due to pneumococcal pneumonia, probably not COVID-19,” noted his brother, Bob Campbell. “The following morning, hospital staff told me COD would be reported as cardiac arrest. He was tested for COVID-19, but the results were not back at that time. Monday morning [April 5], she told me the tests came back positive. I asked if that would be the COD. She indicated both, cardiac arrest and COVID-19.”

Known to many in his neighborhood as Jimmy, “He was always Jim to me, and, I believe, most of us in our youth,” recalled Bob. “He, however, sometimes referred to himself as JC, perhaps thinking he operated on a higher level than us mere mortals. I am perfectly fine with referring to him as Jimmy.”

The Campbell family is currently making final arrangements, with Redden’s Funeral Home (325 W. 14th St., NYC). “Vic [also one of Jimmy’s brothers] and I would like donations, in behalf of our brother, to be made to Chelsea Community News. We are certain that Jim would approve,” said Bob, in an email to Chelsea Community News founder/editor Scott Stiffler. “Please continue to provide your community with the voice they need.” Those wishing to support this website’s work can donate to our GoFundMe campaign by clicking here.

Below, find testimonials and memories from Jimmy’s family, friends, and colleagues. To visit Jimmy’s website, click here.

The Board of the preservationist group Save Chelsea says: Jimmy was, first and foremost, an artist. He designed sets for the Cockettes back in the day, was at the center of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and Castro scenes, and also very active in New York, where he had lived for the last decade or so.

Like the recently departed Judy Richheimer, Jimmy had many wonderful stories to share—and they often included any number of interesting people in the creative world, from The Cockettes to the great poet Thom Gunn, to many more.

Jimmy was a regular at Cafe Champignon, in Chelsea. The place was practically his salon. He used to love going to events at the Ivy Brown gallery, in the Triangle building in the Meatpacking District. We are so glad that Chelsea Community News is paying tribute to this wonderful member of our neighborhood, community, and the world community-at-large.

Bob Campbell, Jimmy’s younger brother by 15 months, says: I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, friendship and support that I have seen from Jim’s many, many friends. For those of you that don’t know, I’ll try to share a little about his “early” years. We grew up in the country, between Palmyra and Newark in Western New York across the Erie/Barge Canal from the tiny hamlet of Port Gibson, where our father was born. There were four brothers: Jim, myself, Vic and Richie (now deceased from the ravages of Down Syndrome).

Across the street, with very few other homes mostly miles apart, lived a family of four girls, generally the same ages as the 4 of us. Yes, there are stories to go with that. Jim remained in close contact with the oldest. After high school, he went to the University of Rochester. And you may find this hard to believe; he was an active and vocal supporter of Barry Goldwater in his 1964 campaign for President. This is where he began to understand just who he was, and formulated the direction he would take his life. First stop… the campus at Berkeley, across the Bay from San Francisco. Perhaps some of you knew him then.

Next, Haight-Asbury, in the middle of that revolution (coincidentally, I also lived in the Bay Area from the early ’60s to the early ’70s). His political interests continued in SF as he worked, and marched, with Harvey Milk. I believe this is where many of you came to know him, and know well the “rest of the story.” Again, my sincere thanks to all of you for support.

An assortment of Jimmy’s handmade cards, from the collection of Rumi Missabu. | Photo by Missabu

Rumi Missabu, an original member of The Cockettes, says: Sad to learn of the passing yesterday in NYC of dear friend and frequent collaborator Jim Campbell. Your enthusiasm, generosity and selflessness were second to none and you will be sorely missed. Much love, light and bliss my sweet forevermore. There is a hole in my heart today. A collection of new prints of Jim’s recent work with my current dance and theatre troupe, along with a selection of his original handmade greeting cards and vintage fliers, are slated for my vast archive among The Rumi Missabu Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center later this summer.

Vic Campell, Jimmy’s younger brother by six years, says: We had a great time as kids. Jim was always soliciting me to assist in some “prank” he wanted to play on Bob, usually with me getting the worse end. God, did I Iove it when they both went to college and I had no one to compete to get dad’s car on Friday night. Needless to say, as siblings do, we all went our separate ways—but we always stayed in touch and got together when we could. Jim was always a very good friend to my boys, as they went through some troubled times. One thing I can say is, if I needed help I could always count on both of my older brothers. I will miss him dearly. Over the last decade we did not see each other much, but we talked monthly. When my wife passed away in June 2019, he was very concerned about me, because he knew I had not done anything on my own in 32 years. He was calling more often. I was able to convince him that I was doing well. I always new Jim had more friends than rice in the bowl and, as Bob said, we really appreciate the outpouring of love. Thanks to you all.

L to R: Jen Brennan, Lady Isabella Von Craig, Cher Carden, Jimmy Campbell, and Andrew Rai. | Photo by Craig M. de Thomas

Friend and neighbor Cher Carden says: My heart aches at the news of Jimmy’s passing. I can’t believe I will not see his beautiful smiling face sitting on the Gecker’s stoop. He was one of the most cherished members of our 21st Street neighborhood family. I looked forward to seeing him after a long day at work. He always had an inspiring story or an encouraging word. He was the kindest, sweetest and most loving man I’ve ever met and he will be sincerely missed. I am so sad to lose him but so very grateful that I met him. My life is blessed with the memories of this wonderful man.

Friend and neighbor Craig M. de Thomas says:

Jimmy Campbell and Lady Isabella Von Craig (aka, the Duchess of Chelsea). | Photo by Craig M. de Thomas

I would often come upon Jimmy while walking my dog, Izzy. He had a particular affection for her. His already bright, smiling face would light even brighter as he would proclaim, in his funny and campy way, “Well hello Duchess, and how are you today?” I would mention that she came from the doggy spa or the dog park, and he would state, in his cute way, something like, “Yes, of course. How fitting for The Duchess, Her Highness, to live in such a grand manor.”

As many of us here in Chelsea and beyond, Izzy had a particular affection for him, too. She would get an extra wiggle and bounce in her step and pull on her leash when she saw him, and happily snuggled right in to greet him.

I enjoyed hours of conversations with Jimmy at our local cafe hangout, and on our neighbor’s stoop, listening to him to talk about his experiences of the early days of LGBT activism, stories about his childhood, or just talking about current affairs, art, and so many other topics that he was so well-versed in.

As with so many others, Jimmy was always interested in what was going on with me and my world. He was a gentle and kind man who easily shared the love of his heart and soul with humanity. I miss him already, yet I know that he has safely journeyed on to the next place, where he will continue good work, and sowing seeds of love.

We must always remember that his love and good energy continues on here, in ways that are seen, and in some that are not seen—that is a place where I find peace from sadness and grief, because love takes the place of those feelings, and love is most important, and love transcends all. I am sure Jimmy would agree with me.

Jimmy often said to me how lucky Izzy and I are to have each other. Well, I feel the same way about him, too. It was a delight to know him and an honor to be ranked as one of his friends. Many blessings be on you, “James Campbell,” “Jimmy,” “Auntie James,” and your family.

Jessie Ballan, founder and former owner of Champaignon, says: Jimmy Cambell’s death is a loss for everyone who knew him. He was a staple in our community, and put a smile on the faces of everyone who had the privilege of encountering him. As he is part of the Champignon family, I am lucky to have witnessed him live his life with great joy. He will be missed. My condolences to his family, and we are his family.

Longtime friend Lee Mentley says: I had known Jim for over 50 years. So many stories, I don’t know where to begin. Jim Campell was one of my closest friends, a warrior-in-arms. We fought in the streets together back to back. He was the steps of San Francisco City Hall the night of the Dan White riot. Although I am filled with grief, I am filled even more with rage that he was now murdered by scum in the Crime Family Trump—by Trump’s virus, 4.2.2020.

Art by Jimmy Campbell. | Photographed by the artist, provided courtesy of Dean Book
Art by Jimmy Campbell. | Photographed by the artist, provided courtesy of Dean Book
Art by Jimmy Campbell. | Photographed by the artist, provided courtesy of Dean Book


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