LOS ANGELES — In 1995, Keith Griffith forever changed the face of the industry — and gay sex — when he launched free site CruisingForSex.com, a portal devoted to helping men find each other in bath houses, restrooms, parks or even the comfort of their own homes.
The business grew year after year, helping Griffith to expand his scope — leading to success in the director’s chair with his own line of films. But one chapter in the influential man’s success story came to an end on Tuesday, when Griffith passed away at the age of 53 after a bout with cancer and AIDS.
“Keith was a groundbreaker and never afraid to push the envelope. He was known as the ‘Cruisemaster’ by legions of gay men," said Miranda Leaver, a longtime friend and a founding partner of sites Men4SexNow, Men4RentNow and HardcoreGaySexxx.com. "He was really the founder of the hookup industry.”
Leaver added, “Our relationship started with Keith in 2002. He was caught late one night spamming our membership on Men4SexNow.com and quickly became a strong business partner to that hookup site and to the Men4RentNow.com escort site. Keith was always happy to discuss different ideas and share insights, realizing that the industry grows if we work together.
"Our friendship is one that I hold very dear. Times we have spent together are filled with incredible memories, ranging from Mardi Gras in New Orleans discussing gay prison rodeos to steeplechases in Charlotte, N.C., wearing fabulous hats and drinking mint juleps. Keith Griffith was truly one of the best men I have ever known, and lived life to the fullest.”
Griffith’s keen business sense and knowledge made him a rare esteemed expert in the art of cruising, one called upon by Newsweek in 2007 when the story of former Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his lewd men’s room behavior made national headlines.
“I know our traffic has jumped dramatically,” Griffith told writer Brian Braiker after the Craig scandal broke. When asked if he feared the incident could help threaten his site, Griffith replied: “I welcome the scrutiny. I welcome an open and honest discussion about the real sex lives of millions of Americans. I personally don’t think there's anything shameful about this.”
At that time, Griffith told Braiker that he had about 30,000 visitors a day, and that when he started the site it was “just a fluke, like many of the people who eventually came to do something on the Internet. It was just a hobby of mine, and I was shocked to find out that it had become popular. When I started this website there was no business plan and no investment money. It was just a little simple page.”
Griffith helped pave the way for highly successful sites like Manhunt (which launched in 2001), Adam4Adam (2003) and Men4SexNow; smartphone apps like Grindr (2009); and surely had a hand in influencing the direction of the Craigslist classifieds section. Bob Sienkiewicz, who runs CruisingForSex, met Griffith in September 2000 when he responded to an ad Griffith placed looking for a programmer.
“His CruisingForSex ‘sex listings’ website had been online for a few years, but it had grown so much that it needed to be changed to a dynamic data-driven site that he could manage more easily," Sienkiewicz said. "We continued to work with several of his websites to improve the way they worked, always trying to deliver a better experience for his users."
Sienkiewicz continued, “Over the 12 years we worked together, I saw him as a very honest and honorable person, a total professional and someone with an amazing eye for detail. He was always looking for ways to make things better. More than that, he was a true gentleman and a friend. I recall when his business was threatened by Hurricane Katrina and we had to relocate his sites from New Orleans to another location. He showed so much trust in me to take care of things that I knew I would always be loyal to him, no matter what happened.
"Shortly afterward, I had to evacuate my own home in Galveston because of Hurricane Rita, and he showed so much understanding and compassion. He was always a deeply caring and passionate man, for his causes and the people he loved. I feel that knowing him has changed my life for the better.”
Karl Edwards feels the same way, developing a strong bond with Griffith after they met 15 years ago.
“He had heard about my site and was in Toronto, so he called to set up a meeting. I remember walking back to my place to meet him and seeing him sitting on the grass. I was thinking, ‘That can't be him. That guy looks so normal...’ Little did I know!” said Edwards, who created YouLoveJack.com in 2006 (the site features self-made videos created by amateur performers).
“I immediately found Keith to be warm and inviting, respectful of everyone and never stepping on anyone else to get ahead. It felt from the very first minute I met him that I’d known him my whole life. I have to say I was incredibly fond of Keith. We worked together on advertising deals through the years, but even when business didn’t bring us together I always felt that I was welcome anytime I talked to him—and was always delighted when I could see him in person.”
Edwards credits Griffith with not only shaping the landscape of online hookups with CruisingForSex, but with planting the seeds. “This is before the internet became a self-consuming profit machine," he continued. "I always felt Keith did this because he felt it was the right thing to do... he was invested in his subject matter because he was his own audience.”
But it’s the friend, not the businessman, that Edwards will miss most.
“Keith introduced me to the joys of bourbon and water at Mardi Gras one year. Before you knew it I was hanging off a balcony flinging beads while Keith called out, ‘Heeeyyy boooyyysss!’ There were a lot o’ wieners shown that year!” Edwards recalled. “The last time I saw Keith was in Provincetown a couple years ago. He came by our condo and we had a drink on the patio while he marveled at my ridiculously colorful shoes. He said with a glance down at my feet, ‘Well I’ll tell you one thing: Your shoes never fail to disappoint.’ Neither did you, Keith...neither did you.”