HUMBOLDT PARK — Dwayne Thomas, a fixture of Chicago’s punk rock music scene who made waves as an anti-Nazi skinhead in the ’80s and ’90s, was found dead this week, a few days after he went missing.
Thomas, 54, was last seen leaving his job at Rootstock Wine & Beer, 954 N. California Ave., about midnight Friday. His friends and family reported him missing after he disappeared. Police have since found Thomas dead, according to friends and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Thomas’ cause of death is unknown. It is also unclear where his body was found. The morgue couldn’t answer further questions Wednesday.
Thomas’ sudden passing has sent shockwaves across his circle of family and friends, and across Chicago’s punk scene.
“If you were his friend, you were his friend ’til the end,” said one of his friends, a barber who goes by the name Chops.
Thomas grew up in the Cabrini Green housing projects but went to private schools, according to a Chicago Reader profile from 1989.
“His friends at Cabrini made life a bit hard for him because of the private schools; that his stepfather was white didn’t help any,” author Bill Wyman wrote in the profile. “He played football in high school; it channeled his energy, but not his temper, and eventually he got kicked off the team for being in too many fights.”
Thomas left high school early and joined a gang. After he was shot in his leg, he became heavily involved in Chicago’s burgeoning anti-Nazi skinhead scene. He and other anti-Nazi skinheads made headlines for beating up a Nazi from out of town. Around that time, Thomas appeared on a now-famous 1988 episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show, during which he confronted a group of racist skinheads.
“Dwayne is charismatic and mercurial; he’s not really the leader of anything, since he and his friends don’t feel the need for any sort of organization,” Wyman wrote. “But he’s flamboyant and outspoken and he gets into the biggest scrapes. He gets arrested the way other 22-year-olds go to movies.”
For many years, Thomas worked as a doorman at many of Chicago’s counterculture nightclubs, including Medusa’s, and was known by punk and hardcore bands across the country, Adam Gogola said.
Gogola was close friends with Thomas for about seven years, but he had known of him for many years prior. Many involved in Chicago’s punk rock scene knew Thomas.
“He’s a Chicago punk rock legend, one of the original anti-racist Chicago skinheads,” Gogola said.
Earlier this week, while Thomas was still reported missing, his girlfriend, Samantha Creightney, described her boyfriend as a “beautiful person.” Creightney didn’t return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
“I wouldn’t mess with him. I wouldn’t get him pissed off. But he would take his shirt off his back for anyone he loved and cared for,” Creightney said.
Thomas had been living with his friend Chops in Logan Square over the past few months while working at Rootstock and Khepri Cafe. He was only living there temporarily while he saved up to buy a place of his own, his friends and family said.
Thomas’ friends and family started to worry after he didn’t show up for his shifts at Rootstock or Khepri Cafe, 4650 N. Kedzie Ave., over the weekend. Calls to Thomas’s phone went straight to voicemail, his friends said.
Thomas would have turned 55 on Thursday, and his friends were planning to throw him a barbecue to celebrate. Now that birthday party has turned into a memorial. An official, public tribute to Thomas is being planned, Gogola said.
“He always looked out for his friends,” Chops said. “He’ll always be known as that guy who broke stereotypes. Everyone has a story about Dwayne.”
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