Stewart Oksenhorn, longtime Aspen Times writer, dies Sunday
February 4, 2014
Aspen Times arts and entertainment editor Stewart Oksenhorn, widely admired for his creative storytelling, razor-sharp wit, wide-ranging intellect, and most of all, a deep love and affection for his daughter, died Sunday morning. He was 50.
Oksenhorn's death stunned and saddened the very community that he had covered with relentless adoration and interest for 20 years.
"The Aspen Times has lost a part of our family, and the community has lost an amazing and genuine man," said Gunilla Asher, publisher of The Aspen Times. "It will take time for all of us to recover."
The easy-going Oksenhorn was the ubiquitous writer about town — he regularly attended ballets, art-show openings, plays, films and recitals, among other cultural events. He could fire up a conversation about Monet or Mozart — if that was his company's pleasure — or his beloved Denver Nuggets and the Grateful Dead.
“I don’t know how you’ll replace him. I don’t know how this town will replace him.”
Executive director, Wheeler Opera House
He was especially close to his daughter, Olivia, a freshman at Aspen High School. The two had an unmistakable bond and a mutual affinity for the Nuggets, which the older Oksenhorn wrote about in an April 2013 cover story for the Aspen Times Weekly — "Me and My Nuggets."
Olivia shared her fondness for her dad on Facebook with the following post: "Dad, I still can't believe that you're gone and that I didn't get to say goodbye. You were the best dad I ever could have asked for and I'll miss you beyond belief. I hope heaven is a place full of Modern Family and basketball and John Green books. I'll miss you more then you can ever imagine. Rest in paradise dad. I love you."
Oksenhorn's unassuming nature and kind demeanor helped him pave the way toward long-lasting friendships with many local residents, no matter what their persuasion, as well as national and global artists who visited Aspen.
His popularity was evidenced by his 50th birthday celebration in November, when friends threw a party for him at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
"Stewart was the best journalist friend I've ever had in my 25 years in this business," said Gram Slaton, executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, which had provided a gold-mine of stories for Oksenhorn over the years. "He was always eager and curious and had an attention to detail and accuracy, and his passion was unlike any I've every experienced."
Oksenhorn chose to take his own life. A news release issued by the Aspen Police Department said authorities removed his body from the Maroon Creek bed below the bridge that connects the Aspen Recreation Center to the Tiehack lift at Buttermilk ski area. Police were first notified when a passerby discovered an abandoned backpack and jacket on the bridge.
Oksenhorn's wife and daughter were his sole relatives in Aspen. He had numerous relatives on the East Coast; he was raised in New Jersey.
Once an attorney, Oksenhorn earned his law degree from Villanova in 1989. He often noted that the lawyer's life wasn't for him, so at the age of 28, he moved to Aspen and at one time worked at the back cash register at Carl's. While ringing up customers at Carl's, he became friendly with such Aspen Times writers as Cam Burns and John Colson.
"He had just recently moved to Aspen after quitting his job, basically as a Wall Street lawyer," Colson said. "I remember he said, 'Hell with this. I'm going to Aspen and I'm going skiing.' And at one point he said he mentioned to me that he wanted to write. He wanted to be an entertainment writer."
Oksenhorn was later hired on a part-time basis by then-editor Loren Jenkins. Andy Stone, the newspaper's day editor at that time, recalled how Oksenhorn started as a junior writer but quickly seized the A&E editor's post.
"He had amazing enthusiasm," Stone said. "He worked extraordinarily hard and did amazing work and amazing amounts of work. He was always a wonderful, cheerful, happy guy and did his work and never complained. He was astonishing. He was a gift."
Burns said Oksenhorn had no problem fitting in with the Times culture.
"Stewart was a gem," Burns said. "When I brought him upstairs to meet Loren in 1993, I wasn't sure what he'd think. The Times newsroom has always been a bit chaotic and a bit unruly. Stewart looked around and said something like 'this will work for me.'"
Scott Condon, a longtime Aspen Times reporter, developed both a professional and friendly relationship with Oksenhorn over the years. The two had been mainstays at The Aspen Times.
"Man, talk about a feeling of injustice and helplessness," Condon said. "Usually after 20 years, reporters are pessimistic folks at worst or going through the motions at best. Stewie was neither. He reveled in writing lots of stories about people that were trying to make the world more pleasant through arts and entertainment. He was a wonderful colleague and, more importantly, a beautiful human being. We lost a big part of the soul of The Aspen Times."
Burns noted that Oksenhorn had a diplomatic style when things got heated in the newspaper office.
"There'd be flair ups and arguments between reporters, but Stewart didn't let any of that affect him," Burns said. "He'd just make up a very sarcastic joke about whatever was going on and it'd always be funny.
"I miss him terribly."
Slaton said he last saw Oksenhorn on Saturday night at the Dr. Ralph Stanley concert at the Wheeler. "He was just a great guy to hang out with," Slaton said.
"He always had great, fabulous stories about growing up in New Jersey or growing up Jersey, or from his 20 years of being in Aspen and the things he picked up along the way," Slaton continued. "You never had a dull conversation with Stewart.
"I don't know how you'll replace him. I don't know how this town will replace him."