Filmmaker Josh Gilbert passed away at 53-years-old on November 26, 2016. He was best known for his award-winning documentary a/k/a Tommy Chong. Memorials took place in New York City and Los Angeles. Family and friends gathered on both coasts to honor his life and swap stories about him.
In the late nineties, I met Josh through his long-time friend, Tommy Chong. Several years later, I became the co-producer of a/k/a Tommy Chong. Josh put his heart and soul into making the documentary, and he fought many battles behind-the-scenes to protect his creation.
Josh Gilbert was a one-of-a-kind character. When he set his mind on something, he had a persistent personality trait that verged on pestering until he obtained his goal.
I remember the night before Tommy Chong reported to federal prison in 2003. The family gathered at the Chong’s home in the Pacific Palisades. Tommy, Shelby, Rae Dawn, Robbi, Precious, and Paris. I had been in town for two weeks, staying with the Chongs. Josh and I were the only non-family members present at this farewell gathering, which was full of laughter and sadness knowing Tommy was leaving us. I was Tommy’s publicist at the time.
The evening began with everyone trying to stay upbeat around Tommy and masking our sadness. We wanted to enjoy our last night with him. In true form, the comedian emerged in Tommy, and he joked about heading to prison. I think he did it to break the tension and stress of the situation for everyone, including himself.
We gathered around the television watching the race for the next governor of California. Tommy made a comment about how the intelligent people of California would never vote Arnold Schwarzenegger into office. During his early days in Los Angeles, Tommy knew Arnold “the bodybuilder” from the gym in Venice Beach, and Rae Dawn had co-stared with Arnold “the actor.” Now, Arnold had set his sights on a new title “Governor Schwarzenegger.”
Later in the evening, a group conversation escalated into an intense argument between Rae Dawn and Shelby. The air became thick like a suffocation chamber. I was so uncomfortable witnessing the verbal thrashing I prayed for invisibility superpowers, but my prayers went unanswered. I glanced over at Josh, who appeared to be in filmmaker heaven, documenting Tommy’s last night of freedom. Josh was running around the room shooting from different camera angels and zooming in for close-ups. He wasn’t about to shy away from capturing a family quarrel between the ladies. Everyone’s attention focused on the commotion. The realism of a camera rolling seemed to be a distant memory until one of the ladies looked into the lens of the camera. You could see the horror blanketing her face. She scolded Josh for filming and ordered him to turn off the camera. His filming had come to an end that evening and he found himself excluded from the last supper. I was nicely asked to stay behind at the house to ‘babysit’ Josh.
Josh and I laughed about that night for years, and we dubbed it the “scolding footage” as an inside joke. A happy clip from this footage is in the DVD bonus features for a/k/a Tommy Chong, and my voice is in the background mentioning a bandana.
Shelby Chong always told me that one day I could write a compelling book about my life with them. She is right. There are so many intriguing stories. My time with them was definitely an adventure of living the “high” life with the Chongs.
Last week, I found this email from Josh that made me laugh. He sent it during the pre-promotion of my novel, Hollywood Under the Covers, in 2010. He used to call me, Brang, and after this email, he upgraded my nickname to Brang Scandalous.
We shared laughs, turmoil, accomplishments, and lived through the mayhem of the entertainment industry. I will miss you, Josh Gilbert, and your way of making life more theatrical. Your award-winning film is immortal. Long live Blue Chief Entertainment. Rest in peace, my friend.