Nena Cherry Is Dead

I frequently tangled with Nena in 1998 and 1999 due to my reporting that she was HIV-positive. Despite her diagnosis, she continued to do sex work and I thought it was a mitzva to report on her. I hate it when you order a hooker and she turns out to have AIDS. Therefore I wanted to treat my neighbor as myself and remove the stumbling block before the blind.

Gary Smith emailed me last week from Texas. He told me that Nena was dead.

Her real name was Dawn Marie Anderson.

I call Gary and ask him how he knew Nena.

Gary: "I met her at a little club I frequented. She was a bartender. It had to have been 1998.

"She had a couple of websites here in Houston. She’d either come to your place or you could go to hers. For about a year, I was a bodyguard for her. I went to various places with her to keep her out of trouble.

"I lost track of her for six months. Then she showed up at my door and stayed here for a few days. She had a boyfriend who lived round the corner. He used to beat the hell out of her.

"Then I lost track of her again for a while. She came back. She stayed for a few more days. She went to work at a couple of bars. She got real sick. In 2005, she died of AIDS."

Luke: "When did you find out she had AIDS?"

Gary: "About six months after I met her. It was in general conversation. I was at her place having a beer, doing some things for her, and she told me."

Luke: "How did you feel about her working as an escort while she had AIDS?"

Gary: "While I was with her, she never had any sexual contact or even touching them… It was a strictly a visual thing."

Luke: "Are you sure?"

Gary: "Oh yeah. I was there three nights a week for a year."

Luke: "In the room with her and the client?"

Gary: "Just outside the room."

Luke: "How sick was she in her final years?"

Gary: "She got real sick. She got down to skin and bones. She looked very old. She did the best she could. I was not around when she died. I didn’t find out for several months. She did one of her disappearing acts. She was a very pleasant woman to be around. She never asked for anything…

"She claimed people were after her trying to kill her. I never knew that. She hung around bikers…

"I met her husband once or twice at the club. Nice guy. Well dressed."

Luke: "When was the last time you saw her?"

Gary: "It was 2004. Her boyfriend had beat the hell out of her and she’d come over here to talk to me. She called him and he came over. They had it out right here and got back together and left. That was the last time I saw her."

"I asked her why she didn’t leave him and she said she was afraid to."

"She tended to clam up if you asked her too many questions."

"She was in good shape then. When she started going down, she went down fast.

"She didn’t look bad. She talked about getting another breast enlargement. She looked real healthy. She looked tired."

"I read about drugs but the only thing I saw her take was SOMA, a muscle relaxer."

"She was an alcoholic. She had one of those breathalizer things hooked to her truck. Most of the time she’d get someone to blow into it. She was always drinking. When she got to drinking, she could be vicious with her mouth. That probably got her into a lot of trouble with the guys. Even her boyfriend knew that she had AIDS. They sat right here and discussed it."

"A few weeks ago, I asked somebody who knew her as well as I did and they said, ‘Oh, Dawn died a couple of years ago.’"

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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