For years, WME vp Skip Chasey has led an openly double life as a "master" in L.A.'s BDSM community. But a role-playing encounter involving plastic wrap went horrifically wrong, leading to the demise of a UCLA professor, whose partner speaks out for the first time.
For nearly three decades, Skip Chasey, one of Hollywood's top dealmakers, led a delicate balancing act of an existence. One Sunday last November, it all came tumbling down around him.
That something tragic had occurred became known to his many friends the following morning, when on Nov. 20, 2017, Chasey posted a troubling Facebook message: "I've just experienced a traumatic loss that necessitates my having to withdraw from the madding crowd and grieve for a while," he wrote. "I'll be back, I promise you, but for now I must tend to myself and a few others as well."
The post received 130 notices of support and condolence. No one questioned what happened, or to whom. Certainly none of the messages expressed even an inkling that the traumatic loss in question occurred as the result of a sex ritual gone horribly awry — one in which Chasey oversaw the mummification of a partner in plastic wrap, who then proceeded to expire in front of him.
To say Chasey leads a double life would be an understatement — not that he makes any secret of it.
In his professional life, Chasey, 62, is a senior vp business development at William Morris Endeavor — a position he's held since 2010, where he structures agreements for A-list talent like Aaron Sorkin and Peter Berg. For 15 years prior to that, he was an executive vp at Imagine Television, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's company, overseeing dealmaking on long-running hits like 24 and Parenthood.
But in his personal time, Chasey is Master Skip — a respected figure in the Los Angeles leather scene. Google his nom de dungeon and dozens of links and videos turn up, including an entry on Leatherpedia.com, which provides some biographical highlights. Born in 1956 in Port Huron, Michigan, he gravitated in his 20s to America's gay meccas — first San Francisco in 1978, then New York City in 1981, and finally laid roots in Los Angeles in 1992, where he fully immersed himself in the gay bondage scene.
While his unprepossessing Midwestern looks are far from the Tom of Finland ideal, Chasey has fashioned himself into a sadomasochistic spiritualist and community leader, leading workshops on how "leatherfolk [can] merge sex and spirit." His résumé touts a starring role in the 2005 documentary Pup, which chronicles his involvement in the "pup play" scene (in which a "handler" and human "puppy" interact for sexual gratification); his certification as a grief counselor; and his invitation to address, as Master Skip, a "crowd of nearly one million at the Millennium March on Washington."
It's an impressive testament to Hollywood open-mindedness that none of these pursuits has ever bothered Ari Emanuel or any of Chasey's other powerful bosses at WME, where he has earned a reputation for being a gifted negotiator and all-around nice guy.
Elfin both in looks and stature — he stood 5-foot-6 and weighed just 128 pounds — Doran George was a frequent playmate of Master Skip's.
George was 47 when he first came into contact with Chasey in April 2017. "I believe they met online," says Barry Shils, George's romantic partner of 16 years, who soon learned that the two had entered into a semiregular S&M arrangement and that "this person was a so-called 'master.' We would giggle about it. 'Oh, you're going to see Master Skip? Is he going to spank you tonight?' I was terribly naive about it in a way. In my mind, it was Fifty Shades of Grey crap."
Originally from England, George was a dancer and performance artist who relocated to Los Angeles about 15 years ago. He earned a Ph.D. in performance studies at UCLA in 2014 and then taught classes there. By all accounts, he was a hugely popular presence on campus. "Vibrant, vital, and alive, George was highly respected, revered, and adored by faculty, peers, colleagues, students, and friends," reads a tribute on the university website.
Through his performances, which often involved being encased in small spaces, George developed a reputation in avant-garde art circles. One of the most elaborate involved being enclosed in a freshly masoned brick tomb in a London shopping center. In another, George was suspended against an art gallery wall in a duct-tape cocoon, from which he emerged like a chrysalis.
Shils, a filmmaker (he produced 1988's Vampire's Kiss, the film in which Nicolas Cage infamously ate a live cockroach), says theirs was an open relationship. Shils has no interest in BDSM — an acronym for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism — and was comfortable with letting George explore that side of himself elsewhere.
In Los Angeles, one of the world's BDSM meccas, there is no shortage of places to do so: The city is home to countless S&M play spaces catering to men, women, straights, gays and everything in between. Add to that the number of personal dungeons installed in homes like Chasey's, and George was beautifully situated to explore the most extreme reaches of his sexual psyche. In Master Skip, he thought he'd found the most knowledgeable docent to lead him there. Shils generally asked few questions, comfortable that his partner was taking the necessary precautions.
The encounters would always occur at Chasey's home, a residence perched on a Los Feliz hillside, just a few blocks from the bustle of Hillhurst Avenue. From the street level, the house looked as unremarkable as its owner. Inside was a different story.
"Stairs located on the side of the house go down to the basement doorway," reads a report filed by Coroner Investigator Jerry McKibben, who visited the scene. "The basement is outfitted as a BDSM-style dungeon. The room is equipped with padded floor tiles, a St. Andrews cross, a ladder back chair, a padded examination table and a metal cage. Racks on the walls contain numerous floggers, paddles, crops, canes, leather masks and hoods and ropes are noted in the room. A cabinet of fetish accessories are noted in the room. Numerous eye hooks are observed on the ceiling and ceiling beams for suspension and bondage."
Seven months into their arrangement, George and Chasey made a plan to meet on a Sunday afternoon. Shils was in New York City at the time, participating in an event at the Museum of Modern Art. His partner stayed behind for a teaching opportunity at UCLA.
According to the Los Angeles Coroner's narrative, George arrived at the Chasey residence at approximately 2:30 p.m. Chasey told police that at 4:00 p.m., the two went down to the dungeon and embarked on an elaborate bondage ritual that involved Chasey outfitting George in a "locked metal chain around his neck and a penile chastity gage [sic]." Chasey then proceeded to mummify George "from head to toe by plastic wrap and gaffers tape with small breathing holes at the mouth and nose."
At 6:20 p.m., Chasey noticed that George was "not reacting properly." Upon closer inspection, he realized George was not breathing at all. He then placed a call to 911 and, according to the coroner's report, began cutting all of the plastic and tape off of George's body. Paramedics arrived to find George lying face-up on the ground, naked save for the heavy chain and padlock around his neck and chastity cage on his penis. (A chastity cage is a device which locks around a flaccid penis, preventing erections; only the master holds the key to unlock it, giving him control over when the wearer can get an erection.) A trash can in the corner was filled with the clear plastic and tape that had encased him. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, and George was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m. Two officers with the LAPD arrived at the scene not long after and interviewed Chasey, followed by McKibben from the Coroner's Office.
An autopsy report filed on Nov. 22, 2017, concluded the immediate cause was "sudden death during recreational mummification bondage." The mode was listed as "undetermined." Noted as a possible contributing factor: gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, otherwise known as the recreational drug and nervous system depressant GHB. A sample taken after his death showed George had 11 ml/liter in his blood — roughly one-tenth the amount it would take to get someone high. But with GHB's short half-life and ambiguity as to when the sample was taken, it could have been higher when he was still alive. According to John Duran, a lawyer hired by Chasey shortly after George's death, Chasey told him that "no drugs were present" in the dungeon that evening.
The GHB finding was a shock to Shils, who says that for the 16 years that he and George were together, he never once observed his partner taking drugs of any kind. "He didn't even smoke pot," Shils says. "He wouldn't take an aspirin for a headache — only homeopathic remedies."
Duran's advice to his client was not to speak to anyone about the incident. That included anyone at WME. A spokesperson for the agency tells The Hollywood Reporter that while it was aware of Chasey's outside activities as Master Skip, it learned of George's death only this week, after Mark Ebner, an L.A.-based crime journalist, broke the story on his podcast The Grey Zone, followed up with additional reporting by The Ankler.
"While we were unaware of the circumstances surrounding this personal matter until now, we understand that the police file is closed and no charges were brought. If other facts develop we will re-evaluate the situation and determine any appropriate action to take," the WME spokesperson says.
After an investigation into George's death, headed up by Marta Miyakawa, a veteran homicide detective, the LAPD could find no credible criminal component to his death and passed the case back to the coroner. And that is where the case ended. The cause of death is still listed as undetermined — whether it was the drugs, or the restricted breathing, or the fluid in his lungs (Shils remembers George had a bad cold at the time). Besides some abrasions on his penis where the chastity device was secured, there were no cuts or bruises or signs of struggle — beyond three broken ribs, likely caused by CPR. Calls to the coroner's office and the LAPD were not returned.
Duran is advising his client to remain silent, because the statute of limitation has not yet expired. Shils has explored the possibility of a civil suit but says the legal fees are prohibitive. Chasey's lawyer tells THR that while the death is "a great tragedy, it is not a result of anything they did." He adds that his client acted appropriately as soon as things went terribly wrong. "He didn't try to run or hide or engage in any conduct that would evidence feelings of guilt," Duran says. Asked if his client has reached out to Shils, Duran says Chasey emailed him to say "sorry for your loss." Shils has not been in contact with Chasey since George's death.
But it was Shils who was left to pick up the pieces. He got the call about his partner's death while in New York; he immediately flew back to Los Angeles to retrieve George's belongings, presented to him in a brown paper bag; he made the difficult call to George's mother in England; he cremated the body; and, seven months later, he lives with a gnawing, debilitating guilt.
"In my grief, I'm hitting myself — like it was like watching my lover shoot heroin and not saying anything," Shils says. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think he was going to end up dead."