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Duluth strip club manager takes own life

A man who fought City Hall and faced public criticism while operating a downtown Duluth strip club died Wednesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said.

The body of Jim Gradishar, the 47-year-old operator of the NorShor Experience strip club, was discovered outside his truck shortly after 2 p.m. at the Island Lake boat landing near the dam.

"All indications of our investigation are that this is a suicide,'' St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said. "A note was left, but I don't know the content of the note or what it alluded to."

Eric Ringsred, Gradishar's friend and business partner, blamed the media's coverage of Gradishar's legal problems and operation of the NorShor as part of the reason for his suicide.

"It was a lynching by proxy," said Ringsred, who owns the NorShor Theatre. "He was a perfectly healthy guy for two ... years. Then he started slowly going downhill."

He also blamed harassment by the City Attorney's office and the Police Department for the suicide.

"It was more than just the newspaper," he said. "They've all got blood on their hands as far as I'm concerned. He was a decent man. He was as decent a man as you could find."

Gradishar's problems with the city date to running the Wabasha Book store. The city ordered him to temporarily close it in 2006 due to city code violations.

The business community and other members of the public greeted Gradishar's move to turn the NorShor Theater into a strip club with dismay and opposition.

Gradishar also fought with the city administration and council over attempts to revoke the club's liquor license, which the council approved last August but a judge overturned in October.

He also had other legal problems. He was charged in Cass County with possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle, possession of drug paraphernalia, having an open bottle in a motor vehicle, transporting a firearm in a motor vehicle and disorderly conduct during a July incident. He pleaded guilty in St. Louis County District Court last year to carrying a firearm in a public place -- his club -- while under the influence of alcohol and received a probationary sentence.

Attorney Randall D.B. Tigue of Golden Valley, Minn., knew Gradishar for 18 years and represented him in several matters related to the NorShor and bookstores Gradishar operated in Minneapolis and Duluth. He called him a "terrific guy." He understood that Gradishar's business has been struggling lately.

"He's been terribly depressed by everything the city did,'' Tigue said. "I know he was under a lot of stress and has really been bothered a lot, but I really didn't see this coming. It's a tragedy."

How would Tigue explain the avenue Gradishar chose to earn a living?

"There's nothing to explain,'' he said. "It's an absolutely legitimate business. It's legal and I think it's beneficial to the community. It provides an entertainment form that people want. It provides a needed service to the community and all kinds of women have worked their way through college by dancing."

Who was Jim Gradishar?

"He was a really good guy, bright, capable and he didn't like getting pushed around,'' Tigue said. "I think I'll remember him as one who didn't back away from a fight and whose cause was just."

The NorSor Gentlemen's Club opened for business as usual Wednesday night despite Gradishar's death.

Sullivan "Sully" Kim manned the door of the establishment and said it was still too early to know what would become of the business.

"We really don't know what's going to happen yet," Kim said, explaining that Gradishar's business partners would meet in the next few days to discuss the NorShor's next chapter.

"People are taking it hard," Kim said. "Jim was a very likeable person."

Despite a sense of shared grief, Kim, a janitor, said he felt it was important to show up for work Wednesday.

"We've all been together for a long time," he said. "Everyone here is like family, and when you lose a family member you need to come together and console each other."

In September, emergency crews responded to a call at Gradishar's rural Duluth home after a 45-year-old house guest died there of natural causes. At the time, Gradishar told a reporter that Ronald Raymond Price had stayed with him about a month and a half before his death. "He was just a good friend,'' Gradishar said. "Mostly he was hanging with me, getting his life back together."

Duluth News Tribune staff writers Brandon Stahl, Peter Passi and Christa Lawler contributed to this report.