Joseph Gordon Levitt criticizes GQ over their claim that his brother overdosed

Yesterday, I covered some highlights from Joseph Gordon Levitt’s GQ cover story for the August issue. Most of you ignored the GQ excerpts to focus on an unfortunate comment JGL made during Comic-Con (“let’s face it, most pretty girls aren’t funny”), but now it’s the GQ story that’s causing controversy. But not for something JGL said – what’s at issue is the GQ writer’s claim that Joe’s older brother, Burning Dan, died of “an alleged drug overdose”. Here’s the relevant part of the GQ story:

“Ever since I was a kid, I’d always played with video cameras,” Joe says, explaining his answer to this tectonic shift:, a site into which he has poured $500,000 of his own money. The site describes itself as “an open-collaborative production company” where “we make things together.”

Built around a simple idea most of us learn in nursery school—sharing—the site allows users to post things and others to remix them and mash them up, all with the goal of making them better. HitRECord also hosts live events, giving Joe the opportunity to draft his famous (but not more important than you) friends: Anne Hathaway, for example, who recently sang a duet with Joe in French. Joe launched the site with his older brother, Dan. A photographer and fire spinner who went by the moniker Burning Dan, the elder Gordon-Levitt died of an alleged drug overdose in 2010. “It was an accident” is all Joe will say about that. Recently, when hitRECord published an anthology, RECollection, which includes a book, a DVD of short films, and a CD of music, he dedicated it to Dan.

[From GQ]

Burning Dan died in August of 2010, and JGL memorialized his brother publicly at the time, but he hasn’t spoken a lot about Dan since then. And now JGL is kind of pissed off at GQ for saying Dan died of an “alleged drug overdose”. Back in 2010, E! News spoke to the LA Chief Coroner, Ed Winter, who told them that Burning Dan’s death “was initially reported to us as a possible overdose. There were two friends present and one of them also was taken to the hospital.” At the time, they were waiting for the toxicology reports, and I don’t know if the full autopsy was ever made public. So it’s possible that Burning Dan didn’t die from an OD, but something else altogether. So Joe took to his website and posted this message:

First of all, I’d like to thank both of the Jims and everyone else at GQ for putting me on the cover of their magazine this month. That kind of exposure is a huge help to all the work I love to do, and I’m deeply appreciative.

I’m writing this because I have a problem with what their article says about my brother. I’ll be honest, it really made me feel terrible. Here’s a quote:

‘…the elder Gordon-Levitt died of an alleged drug overdose in 2010. “It was an accident” is all Joe will say about that.’

Using the word “alleged” technically allows the writer to say whatever she wants. The “allegations” to which she must be referring were made by a handful of gossip websites. They are factually incorrect according to the coroner’s office and the police department. I don’t like publicly speaking about my brother’s death, but I’m making an exception to correct this irresponsible claim.

By the way, while I asked the writer not to dwell on how he died, I did say quite a bit about how he lived, and how much he means to me. Dan was a brightly positive, genuinely caring, and brilliantly inspiring person, and I liked the idea of such a wide readership learning about him. My parents and I are disappointed with what the article chose to focus on regarding this sensitive subject.


[Via JGL’s Tumblr]

I don’t have any problems with the way Joe handled that – at all. I wouldn’t personally call GQ “irresponsible” for saying that Dan died of an “alleged drug overdose” – but I’m not related to Dan, you know? I think Joe really just wants people to remember his brother’s life, not the details of his death, which is completely reasonable and lovely. I like that Joe didn’t come out swinging – he’s just correcting the record in a respectful way. This story made me sad. *sniff*

Photos courtesy of GQ, Fame and JGL’s Twitter.

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22 Responses to “Joseph Gordon Levitt criticizes GQ over their claim that his brother overdosed”

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  1. marie says:

    I have no problem with the way he handled it, it’s a sad story..

  2. tripmom says:

    I think he handled this well, too.

    I do think, though, that he has to realize that being deliberately vague about the cause of Dan’s death is only going to add fuel to the fire. Obviously he is under no obligation to say what really happened, as it is a private, personal family matter. But the only way the end the “allegedly” is to come out with the truth.

  3. beyonce's bump says:

    JGL’s vagueness surrounding his brother’s death, does not give any “journalist” the preemptive right to make up sh*t that did not happen or “fill in the blanks”. This is a mad sensitive subject and for the interviewer to guesstimate what happened in such a public forum is just wrong.

    JGL handled it very well.

    • tripmom says:

      I agree completely. It was very irresponsible reporting. But I do think he should realize that the first question that pops into most people’s heads when reading his response is “wait, so what did he die of exactly?” It’s none of our business at all, but curiosity is a very human trait. And that curiosity will just lead to more of the speculation he doesn’t want.

  4. Amelia says:

    Very dignified, very eloquent.
    Personally, if someone started speculating about the cause of death of one of my relatives, I’d kick up merry hell. And this was only 2 years ago as well. RIP Burning Dan

  5. TheOriginalKitten says:

    That’s rough…ugh. If something ever happened to my big bro…smh.
    Anyway, he handled it in a very classy manner. I like that he started out by thanking GQ instead of just criticizing them right off the bat.

  6. gee says:

    I don’t understand why GQ had to include the alleged overdose comment at all. They could have just said his late brother. Speculative ‘journalism’ like this is disrespectful. This isn’t an investigative piece, it’s and interview.

  7. Tillie says:

    Very classy approach of him. Sad that he has lost his brother.

  8. WickedSteppMom says:

    If you look up my father’s death certificate, cause of death is listed as “other”…which is what they use when one of the little boxes by heart failure, respiratory failure, etc cannot be checked. I was 12 when he passed away, and I know how, but that doesn’t mean that I’d want everyone in the whole wide world to know…and I’m not famous. (BTW, that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of how, either…it just means there are some things that aren’t meant to be EVERYONE’S business.)

  9. I Choose Me says:

    I agree with what most of the above posters have said. Love the way he handled this and it goes along way to taking away the bad taste his Comic Con comment left in my mouth.

  10. Vera says:

    I remember on HitRECORD the memorial video made by him and the staff – made me cry so horribly. It didn’t help that when Hesher came out he looked so much like Dan.

    I think he handled it fine; you can tell by the videos on their site they made together that they were so close.

  11. skuddles says:

    Good for him! And he made his point in such an intelligent, non-prickish way. Looks AND brains… can I adopt him??

  12. Down and Out says:

    I agree it was neither respectful or necessary for GQ to mention the cause of death. But how is it “factually incorrect”? Because it was accidental? According to the LA Coroner, he OD’d on ketamine. JGL could’ve just left it at the fact that it was insensitive to dwell on it.

  13. Frit says:

    He looks very young for 31. I thought he was like around 24 or 25.