The truth about Dan Kaminsky

From a long-lost friend.

Whenever someone well-respected or successful passes away, there’s always a million glowing, positive stories about them. People who knew the deceased after they gained their fame or success will always come out and tell you how great the person was. As someone who’s spent quite a bit of time around “respected,” “successful” people, I can tell you that most of these glowing, positive accounts hide the fact that a lot of these people were actually terrible, especially to those who weren’t “on their level.” Even in the fair-seeming world of 2021, the victims of these people’s bad behavior are often left silenced.

Although we hadn’t spoken in recent years, there was a time when Dan Kaminsky and I were really, really close friends. I stayed at his house; he stayed at mine; we went on a few random road trips; we went to Taiwan together. I wasn’t going to write anything about Dan, or what I knew about him, but I thought about how Dan and I often talked about the wild differences between public narratives and ugly realities, so I decided it was my duty to provide you with the honest truth about the guy. It’s exactly what he would have wanted — I can hear him laughing and saying, “give it to them straight, Numie.”

And so, here’s the truth of what we are left with after we strip away the accomplishments, the fame, all of it.

Dan Kaminsky was truly, utterly, awesome. He was one of the few great guys in a tech industry and a “hacker” scene that is utterly toxic and disgusting once you dig beneath the surface. Dan wasn’t nice “for someone that famous and respected,” he was actually nice — and, in fact, he was actually even nicer than any of the glowing stories would lead you to believe, because they hide the truth that he was an extremely sensitive, emotionally fragile person who was truly dedicated to doing the right thing. He was one of the best people I ever knew.

When I first met Dan in my mid-teens, 20 years ago, he wasn’t famous for doing anything; in fact, he was introduced to me by his roommates as the messy loser of the house, whom they planned on kicking out. When I last saw Dan, he was struggling to deal with the pressures of his celebrity status, and with his health. Dan wasn’t amazing because of his accomplishments, which everyone cannot seem to get over — in fact, Dan’s lack of care about such things is a large part of why he was such a great human being. He understood the thin line between being considered a loser, and being respected; this was the topic of many of our conversations. Unlike so many people who re-write their past lives as a string of pre-destined success, Dan remained humble and self-aware; he knew how to look in the mirror and remember how he got there.

A lot of you who are reading this won’t ever get the chance to meet Dan; others who met Dan after the success might be wondering what the “real Dan” was like. I think the best way I could put it is, nobody was a nobody to Dan. You might think of yourself as a loser who hasn’t done anything of significance, and is thus unworthy of an audience with the Great Dan Kaminsky, but he would find that laughably absurd — everyone was an equal to him, and the truth was that those accomplishments everyone talks about were a massive stress and burden. He was genuinely a good guy trying to do good things, and it just happened to be that some of those good things turned out to be a very big deal.

So, there you have it. There’s the truth: we lost one of the good ones, who was actually good. And the biggest lesson I learned from my time with Dan, which I pass on to you, is that you shouldn’t judge people on their “accomplishments” — judge them on how they are as a human, and how they make you feel on a human level.

Dan didn’t have to break the Internet to be one of the greatest people I ever knew. He was incredibly kind and supportive, and took the time to understand me, a random kid who showed up at his house, in a way almost nobody else ever did — and he remained that way long after the world was obsessed with him. Way before Dan Kaminsky had “accomplished” anything, he was far more of a winner than any of the losers who labeled him a “loser.” And then he just kept getting better. And that’s the truth.

It’s important that I disclose the fact that Dan wasn’t happy with me at the end of our friendship, for which he had every right. I had ditched him at a very critical moment in his life, but there were so many reasons why it would have made sense to him when I emerged from exile and explained the full story, as I was planning to do very soon — he was, after all, one of the few people who truly understood why I lived the way I did, which he aptly labeled a “comic book existence.”

In my mind, I could always hear Dan laughing (always lots of laughing) and concluding with, “just another day of living in the comic book, Numie,” after we finally caught up and I made amends. But alas, I’ll never get that opportunity, and I’ll have to live with the fact that Dan Kaminsky probably died being upset with me.

I wish I could explain how incredibly depressing it was to write that statement, but alas. Sorry, Dan.