A sleek Learjet idled on the darkened runway awaiting its final clearance for take-off. It was close to midnight on September 19, 2008, and this was one of the last flights leaving Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina. Onboard, the jet's six passengers were readying themselves for the five-hour flight to Los Angeles. One passenger, Adam Goldstein – the celebrity DJ and club owner better known as DJ AM – was feeling particularly weary. Having spent the day playing to thousands of fans at a free concert, he was ready for a nap. As the jet taxied down the runway, he settled back in his plush seat, his thoughts turning to his Californian home and being reunited with his beloved cat, Muggsy.
Moments later, Goldstein's reverie was shattered by a gunshot-like bang as one of the plane's tyres blew out. The passengers were thrown forward like rag dolls as the plane overran the runway, smashing into an embankment, before exploding into a ball of flames.
Miraclously, Goldstein, 35, and a fellow passenger, former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, 32, survived, after managing to escape the burning aircraft by forcing open a door and sliding down a wing. However, four others weren't so lucky. Goldstein and Barker suffered second- and third-degree burns.
It wasn't the first time in his short life that the internationally famous DJ had cheated death. At 24, the then morbidly obese Goldstein, who struggled to overcome food and drug addictions, attempted suicide – only for the gun to jam.
But his legions of fans knew little of these struggles, which began with a troubled home life. To them, Goldstein was one of Hollywood's biggest DJs, whose dexterity on the decks saw him play in the world's best venues and become part owner of LA's hip, aviation-themed LAX Nightclub. He led a star-studded life, often playing at glitzy events for A-listers, including Tom Cruise, Jessica Simpson and Leonardo DiCaprio, and he dated some of Tinseltown's most famous women. As well as once being engaged to socialite Nicole Richie, he was also involved with singer Mandy Moore.
Meanwhile, his circle of friends included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, John Mayer and Robert Downey Jr. Yet Goldstein's career wasn't built on his celebrity associations alone. DJ and party promoter Jus Ske, who hired Goldstein to play in some of Manhattan's hottest clubs, said: "He's your favourite DJ's favourite DJ. He's the man, technically, when it comes to scratching, and he's really raised the bar creatively."
Despite his seemingly glamorous lifestyle, Goldstein never fully conquered his problems with alcohol and drugs, and the plane crash left the already embattled star with post-traumatic stress disorder. Few realised just how close to the brink he was and, when news broke on August 29, 2009, that Goldstein had been found dead of a drug overdose in his New York apartment, most of his close friends were stunned. "I can't believe this, I'm in shock. Why? Why? R.I.P Adam," tweeted Lohan, while Hilton posted, "Adam and I were friends since I was 15. He had a heart of gold and was one of the kindest, funniest and most talented men I have ever met."
Adam Michael Goldstein was born to Andrea and "a father who seemed to hate me" on March 30, 1973, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of two children born into a dysfunctional Jewish family, Goldstein admitted that the verbal abuse his father subjected him to regularly was "unbelievably cruel".
Goldstein would later discover the reasons for this behaviour: his father was secretly gay and addicted to drugs. As the DJ once recalled: "If my family went out to dinner, my father would hit on the [male] waiter right in front of my mom."
When Goldstein was 14, his father was jailed for bank fraud; his mother subsequently took the teen and his sister, Lara, to live in LA. Goldstein would later tell interviewers that throughout his traumatic childhood he comforted himself with food. By 10, he was obese, and when he got to LA he was nicknamed "the fat kid from Philly".
Having watched his father smoke marijuana throughout his childhood, Goldstein began using drugs at 14. Within a year he was using cocaine and marijuana every day. At 17 – knowing he had a serious problem – he asked his mother for help. "I actually asked her to send me to rehab," he said. "I didn't know what rehab really was; I thought it would be like summer camp."
But the stay turned out to be anything but. The Orange County centre he was sent to specialised in tough love, and Goldstein didn't see his mother for almost six months. When she finally did visit, Goldstein recalled, "I was praying she was going to say, 'I've come to take you home,' but she said, 'Your father is dying of AIDS. I hope you can deal with that here. I'm proud of you.' And she left."
After his release, just shy of his 18th birthday, Goldstein managed to stay away from drugs and alcohol for five months, but struggled with sobriety, admitting that he'd "learnt nothing about recovery". Soon afterwards, when his father died of AIDS while in prison, Goldstein's mother kicked him out of the family home, and all too soon he was using again. He drifted, took odd jobs and committed petty crimes to fund his drug habit.
His only healthy obsession was music. From the age of 10, when he'd first seen legendary turntablist Herbie Hancock perform "Rockit" at the 1984 Grammy Awards, Goldstein had harboured dreams of being a DJ. He was obsessed with beats and was influenced by a wide range of music. "My parents raised me on Bob Marley and Elton John," he once said. "My sister was a diehard punk rocker, who loved the Misfits and the Dead Kennedys, and I was more LL Cool J and Boogie Down Productions, but then I also liked Tom Petty. I liked everything."
Taking a job in the mailroom of an LA talent agency, Goldstein spent hours spinning records in his spare time, until one night he was invited to DJ at a friend's nightclub. His deft mixing, seamless "mashups" of songs and the ability to fill a dancefloor with an eclectic mix of crowd-pleasers – from samples of The Supremes to The Killers and even the theme from Rocky, as well as the cutting-edge club tracks of the day – ensured DJ AM (a reference to the initials of his name, Adam Michael) soon began to take on a steady stream of repeat bookings.
But as his DJ'ing career moved to a higher level, so, too, did his drug addiction. At 20, Goldstein began freebasing cocaine. "For the next four years," he admitted, "that's about all I did – with the exception of DJ'ing."
One day, in 1997, while at home in his LA apartment, the then 24 year old caught sight of himself in a mirror – and was disgusted by what he saw. "I was dripping wet because I always sweated when I smoked crack. I was hugely fat because whenever I wasn't high I was gorging on food." Disgusted and in emotional pain, Goldstein reached for his loaded handgun, cocked it and put it in his mouth. Squinting his eyes, he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. "I thought, 'Are you kidding me? I'm such a fucking failure I can't even kill myself?' I dropped the gun and broke down."
Recognising he'd reached crisis point, Goldstein began attending rehab meetings again, distanced himself from friends who still used, and began to exercise. "I'd wake up in the morning and run my ass off," he recalled. "Right away I lost 60 pounds [27kg] and soon went from 270 to 210 [122kg to 95kg]."
At the same time, he was honing his DJ skills, and the jobs started to roll in. But despite his best efforts and his sobriety, Goldstein's weight continued to fluctuate, and that troubled him. "As the years passed, I grew stronger in recovery, but my food issues spiralled out of control," he stated. "I hated my body more than anything. I heard the word 'fat' floating in my head at all times." Finally, in 2003, he resorted to gastric bypass surgery and lost 45kg.
With his addiction demons seemingly defeated, Goldstein's career continued to flourish. However, it wasn't until his friend Oliver Hudson asked him to DJ at celebrity sister Kate's 20th birthday party in 1999 that Goldstein's star truly began to rise. It was here that he was invited to DJ at Ben Stiller's 2000 wedding to actress Christine Taylor. Soon, Goldstein was commanding more than $25,000 per three-hour set. "I have never made flyers or mix tapes or anything," he said. "I've just always worked my ass off. I've always gotten hired from one job to the next."
With his DJ'ing, plus lucrative side projects such as his nightclub, money started flooding in. In 2007, he bought a plush four-bedroom pied-à-terre in Beverly Hills with sweeping canyon and city views (it was recently listed for sale for $4 million), and also owned a chic $2 million apartment in SoHo, New York.
A devoted "sneakerhead", Goldstein amassed more than 800 pairs of trainers. Late last year, the collection was auctioned on eBay, with the proceeds going to the DJ AM Memorial Fund, which helps supports those recovering from addiction. As well as his club bookings and chart success with Crazy Town – an alternative band he belonged to with several friends – Goldstein also worked on albums for Madonna and Will Smith.
In early 2004, Goldstein's own A-list credentials were cemented when he began dating Nicole Richie, whom he'd met through Hilton. A year later, in February 2005, the high-profile couple announced their engagement. But after 10 months, the wedding was inexplicably called off. The pair refused to reveal the reason why, but they remained on good terms; Richie was said to be devastated when she learnt of Goldstein's death.
Following a fling with Gossip Girl star Michelle Trachtenberg in late 2006, Goldstein began dating Mandy Moore after they met at a New Year's Eve party in Miami. While their relationship lasted only two months, they stayed friends, and when news reached Moore of Goldstein's plane crash, she immediately flew to be by his hospital bedside.
Despite his undoubted talent as a DJ, many knew of Goldstein through his high-profile Hollywood relationships rather than his career. It irked him, but his reputation as a serial dater of celebrity women was difficult to shake. Recalling the moments after the plane crash when he was in the back of an ambulance, Goldstein recounted, "Just before they turned up the juice I heard someone say, 'Hey, this guy dated Nicole Richie.' It was a nightmare."
In December 2008, Goldstein began another high-profile relationship with 22-year-old American Apparel model Hayley Wood.
While he recovered physically from the plane crash, his emotional and psychological nightmares continued. In the months afterwards, Goldstein suffered from a fear of flying, in addition to post-traumatic stress. But still his career flourished – he even filmed a TV show where he helped stage interventions with drug abusers – and few people realised just how precarious his mental state was.
On Friday August 28, 2009, Goldstein was due to play a gig in Las Vegas, but his friends were unable to contact him by phone. Concerned, they called the police, who went to his New York apartment, broke down the door and found him in bed. Lying nearby were a crack pipe, cocaine and prescription drugs – including anti-anxiety medication he took before flying. He could not be revived. Eerily, his BlackBerry was already filled with text messages from worried friends, one of which read, "Some c*** just said you're dead. Better text me back."
As Goldstein's body was found surrounded by photos of Wood, who had reportedly split with him that week (a fact she has since denied), the media speculated that his death was suicide. However, the New York City medical examiner ruled the death an accident caused by "acute intoxication" from a combination of prescription and illicit drugs.
Whatever the case, Goldstein was undoubtedly a very troubled man. In an age where every emotion is shared electronically, he cryptically broadcast his inner pain in his final Twitter posting, quoting one of his favourite Grandmaster Flash songs: "New York, New York. Big city of dreams, but everything in New York ain't always what it seems."
But to many, Goldstein's death came out of the blue. Soon after the plane crash, he told reporters he felt lucky to be alive. "I'm alive and I'm here and I have another chance," he mused. "So I have to do something better with my life this time."
When he was laid to rest on September 2, 2009, the ceremony pulled together the many threads of his troubled life. The private burial was followed by a star-studded memorial service at the Hollywood Palladium that was conducted to resemble a 12-step addiction recovery meeting. The marquee above the venue read: "DJ AM – One Last Time."Photo: Getty Images