Following the sudden and untimely passing of ED Founder Don Waitt, we received a flood of comments on his behalf from people across the industry. Here, we remember Don in our words, and yours as well.

(NOTE: This story appears in the May 2024 issue of ED Magazine.)

On March 28, we were all stunned to find out that Don Waitt, the Founder of Exotic Dancer Publications and the Annual Gentlemen’s Club EXPO, had passed away at his home in Oldsmar, Florida. He was just 67.

A funeral service was held on Saturday, April 6, at the Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Clearwater, Florida.

After years of refusing the acknowledgment, Don was finally inducted into the ED Hall of Fame in August, 2023, at the EXPO in Las Vegas. ED Publisher Dave Manack provided the following induction speech on Don’s behalf:

This Hall of Fame induction has been a long time coming. Because without this man, there is no ED Hall of Fame. There is no ED Magazine. There is no Gentlemen’s Club EXPO. Without him, it’s likely that none of us would be here tonight, competitors sitting together with one another, sharing a unity that is almost hard to comprehend.

That man, of course, is Don Waitt, Founder of the adult nightclub industry’s only convention, awards show, trade association and trade magazine.

As I look into the audience, I see a lot of young faces that may not know the history of the EXPO or of the magazine, or of Don, for that matter. So let’s flash all the way back to 1991. Bill Clinton was the President, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl and grunge took over the world. And an old-school journalist named Don Waitt was the Publisher of a concert touring trade magazine called Performance which kept him on the road frequently, traveling from concert to concert.

Though he enjoyed music, he had a greater passion for a different kind of entertainment: Specifically, adult nightclubs. The problem was, there was no internet yet, and the Yellow Pages didn’t include “strip clubs” in their listings. So how in the world was a traveling journalist expected to find an adult nightclub in New York, or Miami or Los Angeles?

What’s a horny guy to do?

That’s when the lightbulb went off: He thought, “I’ll make a Directory of adult nightclubs!” It was at that moment — whether he realized it or not — that all of this was born.

It started with the Exotic Dancer Directory, first published in 1991, which included listings on all of the adult nightclubs in the world (or at least, the ones he could find). Again, without the internet, it took an intrepid reporter’s time, patience and ambition to make phone call after phone call, researching where he could, to slowly but surely build up that database of club information. Two years later in 1993, Don hooked up with Michael J. Peter, who was holding a national dance competition here in Las Vegas. While the contest was at night, Don put together a tradeshow and seminars during the day.

That marked the first ever Gentlemen’s Club EXPO, held at the old Stardust here in Vegas. The first edition of ED Magazine, then called the Club Bulletin, was born shortly after, in 1996. And in 1999, Don helped establish ACE, the Association of Club Executives, and is now the acting ACE President.

As we sit here today, the Gentlemen’s Club EXPO has been held 30 times. It went from being an event, to becoming an industry institution, an annual “reunion” of industry professionals who have frequently developed lifelong friendships and business partnerships, while also garnering the knowledge to run their clubs more safely and profitably. While Don is no longer the Publisher — he proudly displays the title of “Founder” now — his love for the company and the convention he built has never waned.

Though every one of our ED Hall of Fame inductees have been deserving of the honor, it’s hard to imagine anyone more worthy of having their legacy cemented for all time. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming into the Exotic Dancer Hall of Fame, the Founder of ED Publications and the EXPO itself, Mr. Don Waitt!

Please note: We asked for comments from industry professionals for this tribute section, and we’ve printed the comments we were able to receive before our deadline. For those who did submit a comment but do not see that comment here, please accept our apologies. We had so many good people reach out to us over the past few weeks that it was hard to keep track of it all. Please know that we sincerely appreciate your thoughts about Don, and your concerns about his family and all of us at ED. For all of those who still wish to offer comments on Don’s behalf, we will be printing a more substantial tribute to him in our September (EXPO) issue.


“WOW! How do I describe, in just a few words, Don Waitt and the legacy he left behind? It would take a book series to come close to accomplishing that. Don belongs to a very small group of people who have changed or made a difference to an entire industry, like Henry Ford did for the automotive industry. Don changed the adult industry in a major way through founding Exotic Dancer Magazine, which gave us, and continues to give us, information on what’s going on in our industry. He was not just one of the founding members of ACE; he was thee founder. Don also brought thousands of club owners together for the ED Convention, where we learned about legal issues, products and the list goes on and on. This is where I met club owners from around the country and became friends with many of them, all because of Don’s vision. He was the man who took our industry out of the dark and into the light.

Don was many things: a visionary, a family man, a businessman. But deep down, at heart, he was a reporter with a pad and pencil, asking the hard questions. For me, he was my friend, and I will miss him dearly, especially at the convention. It just will not be the same without him. Last but not least, whether you are a believer or not, Don was a true believer in a higher power, as am I. In the coming days, months, or years, when you think back on Don, whether it brings a tear to your eye from sadness or a smile to your face from remembering something about him, just know this: on March 28, 2024, Don Waitt quit dying and started to live. May we all be so blessed. You are missed, my friend.” – David “Slim” Baucom, MAL Entertainment

“As the Founder of ACE National, ED Publications and the ED Gentlemen’s Club Owners Expo, Don Waitt possessed an unwavering determination and a keen eye for innovation within the adult club industry. His entrepreneurial spirit was matched only by his passion for writing, as evidenced by his three books: Leaving Early, The Revelation of Chester Thornberry and Sucks to be You. Don once confided in me that he embraced controversy as a catalyst for change, and through his literary works, he unapologetically shared his raw, cynical and often humorous perspective on the world. His words not only provoked me to laughter but also prompted significant introspection about the struggles and hardships that unite us.

In a rare moment of vulnerability, Don also revealed to me the immense love and devotion he held for his family. He spoke of his commitment to prioritizing his health, hoping that, God willing, he would be granted the gift of time with his loved ones. Through the eyes of his family, I was privileged to witness a side of Don that extended beyond our professional relationship. I saw the man behind the visionary, his aspirations, and the depth of his love and care for others, which was reciprocated in equal measure. Don fully understood that life is fleeting and that we are all navigating its challenges to the best of our abilities. He lived his life to the fullest, squeezing every drop of experience from each moment, and serving as an inspiration to those fortunate enough to have known him. He will be missed by many, but his legacy lives on.” – Angelina M. Spencer-Crisp, ACE Executive Director

If ever there was a Mount Rushmore for the most important individuals in our industry, Don Waitt would be number one. We are together today because of him.

– Jim St. John, Spearmint Rhino

“Don Waitt will be sorely missed. He was a friend and icon to so many. His legacy and contributions will continue to reshape and leave an impact in our industry. We give our condolences to his wife Debbie, as well as his children, grandchildren and to his ED Publications family.” – Ed Anakar, President and Director of Operations, RCI Management Services

“We were all cavemen with clubs and torches before Don made us all legitimate. We literally owe our livelihoods to Don; with the EXPO, he brought us all together and made us a unified industry. Because of him and the EXPO, we started to take ourselves seriously, and people outside of our industry also took us seriously. We weren’t hiding in the shadows anymore, we were proud to say we were adult club owners and operators. I can’t imagine where we’d be today if it wasn’t for Don. I’ll miss you, my friend.” – Jerry Westlund, owner of The Pony Clubs chain

“Don Waitt’s contribution to the success and advancement of the adult nightclub industry was immense. He stands and will be remembered as an icon and sorely missed.” – First Amendment Attorney J. Michael Murray, Berkman Gordon Murray & Devan Law Firm

“Having fond memories of Don Waitt is easy. It’s hard to forget someone who gave us so much to remember. Thank you, Don, and to all the industry leaders who paved the way for so many of us. The loss is immeasurable, and I will always be proud of the good times and the fantastic events we shared. May the legends’ and founders’ stories live on forever.” – Jason Mohney, GoBest! and Deja Vu/Hustler Clubs

Don Waitt was a mountain of a man, both physically and metaphorically. His talent was immense, while coupled with his huge modesty. He was the epitome of humble. There was nothing not to love about Don Waitt. Rest in peace, my friend.

– Industry ‘founder’ Michael J. Peter (Thee Dollhouse, Solid Gold)

“Don was a true leader of the adult industry. His quest to document adult clubs across through his ED Directory America was the first step in bringing adult club owners together at the Annual ED Expos. I have many friendships throughout the industry because of those Expos! Don liked to ‘think outside of the box.’ It was always enjoyable to converse with him. Sometimes he would float an idea or a thought by me, and then sit back to listen to my answer. Just like the good investigative reporter he was! We will all truly miss Don, but take comfort in the fact that his legacy lives on!” – Curtis Wise & Kevin “Rich” Richardson, Owners, Bucks Clubs

“I go all the way back to 1996 at the Sahara with Don. I was wide-eyed and broke, and Don made it easy to get to get to know the industry leaders… took me under his wing. As the years rolled on, he became a friend and mentor, always great to have interesting conversations that had nothing to do with business.. but life. Don had a great ability, like the super cool teacher in high school monitoring the cafeteria, of being able to keep the peace among the many ‘cliques’ that make up this crazy industry. I will miss him so much!” – Warren Cato, Club Control Systems

“Don was a hallmark of this industry! More importantly, he was pivotal in making us a ‘legit’ business. He always took time to talk to me at EXPOs although I know he was crazy busy.” – Joe Kovera, Industrial Strip, Hammond, IN

“Don Waitt will always be the legend that created a space for all of our industry to become an unity, a family, one industry. The EXPO has always been the family reunion. He always extended his hand and smile to all of us. He always treated everyone with respect no matter who you were. His aura and sense of humor made all feel welcome. Our mentor, our friend and sometimes even our counselor. He never forgot all that surrounded him and supported him. As he always said it takes a village, and all of us we were his village.” – Rio Rivers, Miss Nude World Pageants

“I just wanted to send my condolences and say I’m sorry for your loss. Don was an incredible man and did some incredible things for us all in the industry. How fitting that he was (inducted into the Hall of Fame) at the last Expo and recognized for his contributions. That made me smile and it was well played. It seemed he obviously appreciated the participation of the ‘mega club’ and ‘big chain’ clubs, but he also had a spot in his heart for the independent and smaller clubs.  He made us all feel welcomed and appreciated. 

When we lose someone great, who influenced us, we have an obligation to keep that influence going! I know that you guys (and girls) will take that influence and keep a great thing going.  That’s obviously what he would have wanted. Take all those lessons and advice that you learned from him and continue his legacy.” – Brian Hopkins, On the Border, Franklin, WI

Sadly we say goodbye to the most valuable thing we can possess, ‘a friend.’ Don Waitt gave us ED, which brought our industry creditability and pride! His legacy will live on forever.

Harry Mohney, Founder of Deja Vu

“Don had a heart of gold and a personality to match. Not only a great boss and mentor, but a true friend. He made sure you were okay if he thought something was wrong. We didn’t lose a Founder, we lost a friend and family member. The man, the myth, the legend! Don, you will never be forgotten.” – Kevin Pennington, ED Art Director

“24 years ago, I walked into your office as a young 20-year-old, still living at home and with no real direction in life yet. You took a chance on me, and because of that, I’ve become so much more than I ever knew I could. Over the years, you have given me so much guidance and respect in work and in life. You were there for some of the most important times in my life and helped me through some of my worst. You were an amazing boss and even better person and I am honored to have had so many years with you.

The office will never be quite the same without you. I will miss your smile every day, and your teasing and jokes, but mostly I will miss our talks. I have the utmost respect for you today, tomorrow and always, and I hope you know how much I appreciated you and how much you mean to me. Rest in peace Don Waitt. You will be truly missed.” – Teresa Rodriguez, ED Publications’ Finance Manager

“Over the years, Don’s advice (often given as a masterful and funny retelling of his own experiences), helped shape not just my career, but also forged the bonds and friendships that I embrace everyday. Don’s wisdom, humor and unique perspective will be dearly missed, and I will be forever proud of the legacy he leaves behind. Don united us all in his quest to legitimize our industry.” – Jake Record, IT ED Publications

(Don) was a friend, confidant, mentor and someone I will miss forever. Rest in peace, my friend, you accomplished a tremendous amount in your time. You were a major piece of my life.

– former ED Sales Director, Gary Daugherty

Don with Peggy & Gary Daugherty

“Someone once asked me what Don Waitt was really like and the best I could come up with was, ‘Think Hunter S. Thompson meets Clark W. Griswold.’ It may have gotten a laugh, but if you knew Don then, you know that sort of madcap dichotomy was always there. Sincere, fiercely intelligent, endlessly kooky, inquisitive, joy-driven, a connoisseur of what life was willing to offer him. Don lived long enough to have never settled on a single adjective to describe who he was. He’s Don Fucking Waitt, and don’t you forget it.

Don intimidated many due to his stature, but to me I found him welcoming since he resembled my own father. While the similarities stopped there, what I came to find in Don from the 18 years I was under his guidance was someone who cared immensely for those who he let in; someone who enjoyed deep conversation about trivial matters, as well as the most existential of queries; a seeker who devoured pleasures both man-made and god-given, and a searcher who achieved amazing success through their own singular vision.

I will miss our debates about politics, our adoration of films and music, and our beliefs on what makes a happy marriage. That last part is specific for a reason, because without Don, I wouldn’t have met my wife, ergo I wouldn’t be the father I am today. (He liked to take credit for that, too.) Don was never one to heap praise upon you; if he did, he would do it in a gesture or a kind mention after the fact, but overt sentiment wasn’t his style. Concurrently however, he wouldn’t forget what you did, either. Kindness was currency to the man, which, at least I believe, is a trait of the best of men.

I know he was proud of me, because he knew I listened to him all those years. He reminded me of my father, but I often referred to him as my sensei. He never asked why. He didn’t need to.” – Kristofer Kay, ED Publications’ Sales Director

“Don was more than a friend to me, he was a mentor. His determination and humor taught me more than I can grasp.”Caroline Ashe, ED Publications’ Marketing Coordinator

“Don was the most innovative and trusted person I know in the business. Rest easy, Money Penny!”

– Chris London, former DJ and club owner

“Thank you Don for always being a pleasure to do business with, but even more for the laughs, words of wisdom and the endless great stories you shared. We will miss you.” – Keith & Jason at Gentry Printing

“Don and I spent 32 years together. I respected his business sense, his wisdom, compassion, intelligence and sense of humor and teasing. We developed many areas of Performance and ED Publications together, because he was one who ran things by you and asked your opinion. He was a friend, confidant, mentor and someone I will miss forever. Rest in peace, my friend, you accomplished a tremendous amount in your time. You were a major piece of my life.” – Gary Daugherty, former Sales Director at ED Publications

“I knew Don Waitt for many years. We were close to the same age, both published magazines, both based out of Pinellas County in Tampa Bay and both involved in the adult entertainment industry. Watching Don grow his business throughout the years was amazing, and I always looked up to him. NightMoves gave Don our ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1998, and it was well deserved. To say he will be missed by people would be a gross understatement. Our condolences go out to his family. Don will be remembered as a great man, an innovator and an icon in the business.” – Paul Allen, NightMoves Magazine

“Don Waitt’s wisdom and guidance have proven invaluable to us. His unwavering support and encouragement (Don helped us get into ACE National) have empowered us to pursue our dreams with unwavering determination. His selflessness and generosity have inspired us to give back to our community in meaningful ways. Don loved life. He loved to talk, eat and gamble a bit. Don took us under his wing. He was so much more than a friend. He was a mentor, and, most of all, family.” – Club owners Charles, Jordan and Darren Bass

Sincere, fiercely intelligent, endlessly kooky, inquisitive, joy-driven, a connoisseur of what life was willing to offer him. Don lived long enough to have never settled on a single adjective to describe who he was.

– ED Sales Director, Kristofer Kay

L-R: Don Waitt, Kristofer Kay, Dave Manack, Teresa Rodriguez, Kevin Pennington

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For over 25 years, ED Publisher Dave Manack has been the Editor-In-Chief for ED Publications, the national business magazine (ED Magazine), convention (Gentlemen's Club EXPO) and websites for the multi-billion-dollar gentlemen's club (strip club) industry. Dave coordinates and produces several events at the Annual EXPO including the seminars and the ED's Awards Show, and is also the founder and producer of the EDI (Exotic Dancer Invitational) national contest for the industry's top "showgirl" entertainers.