A Memphis-based news executive with a zest for life — his personal motto was “Live a great story” –was killed Monday in an accidental, 16-story fall from a downtown Chicago skyscraper.
Eric Janssen fell from the 23nd floor of the London House hotel. He landed on a sixth floor roof, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The accident happened at 3:45 p.m. Monday, a Chicago Police spokeswoman told The Commercial Appeal Tuesday.
The 44-year-old Downtown Memphis resident was most recently vice president for audience for the Sandusky Newspaper Group. But the University of Memphis journalism graduate had worked for The Commercial Appeal starting in 2000 as an online content producer and worked his way up to become vice president for digital content.
On Monday, Janssen was with some friends at a rooftop bar and grill, said his former wife, Constance Janssen of Memphis.
“And they were leaving and he said he wanted to get one last picture,” said Constance, who heard the account from an eyewitness. “He climbed over the rail to get an interesting picture” when he fell.
In recent years, Janssen had become a photo enthusiast and a self-described “urban explorer,” posting numerous Instagram photos from inside such places as abandoned Memphis school buildings and atop the roofs of New Orleans and Memphis skyscrapers.
But the accident did not involve such an adventure, Constance Janssen indicated. “He was in a public place,” she said. “He was eating. They were fixing to leave. He just crawled over the barrier to get a better picture.”
Janssen leaves three children, two daughters, Jordan, 22, and Robin, 12, and a son, Robert, 17.
Constance recalled her ex-husband as among the pioneers in digital content for newspapers. “He realized the importance of the internet,” she said. “He was one of the people who developed what he did. He drove business to the website of the Sandusky news group.” Janssen was often asked to speak about his expertise at conferences, she said.
Laura Cochran of New York City was a longtime friend and onetime colleague who helped Janssen start The Commercial Appeal’s digital operation in the early 2000s.
“Eric was all about experience in life,” she said. “He woke up every morning and ran. He ran along the river every morning… That was his way of greeting the day; didn’t matter what happened the day before. He always wanted to get a full day in: Hiking, beach time and delicious food…
“He just really wanted to live a great life in every minute he spent living.”
Janssen loved Memphis, which is probably one reason he became an urban explorer a few years ago, she said, adding, “He met different types of people in Memphis through it.”
Janssen was born and raised mostly in Memphis. He graduated from Germantown High, said his sister, Cynthia Vukmer.
“He was passionate about Memphis,” she said. “…He was passionate in general. He threw himself into things with full vigor.”
Janssen’s Instagram account includes numerous photographs taken during his urban explorations. But the cut lines underneath often contained his motivational or philosophical writings — or even poetry — instead of a description of the picture.
For example, under a rooftop photo he took of a fellow explorer, Janssen wrote, “Some of the best people I’ve ever met don’t quite fit into any particular category. They blaze their own trail (or climb their own tree in some cases) and don’t seem to care whether or not they fit into a nice little preconceived notion.”
Under another photo from behind an unidentified person standing alone on a rooftop, the post asks, “Are you a lone wolf or a pack dog? Do you prefer to spend your free time alone, with your own thoughts, experiencing life on your own terms? Or do you seek out others to share in your experiences and collaborate?…”
Teddy Gorman worked for Janssen between 2007 and 2011 at The Commercial Appeal and remained a friend.
“He rediscovered himself when he discovered his passion for photography,” Gorman said. “He constantly posted pictures where you see his moniker, “Live a great story.”
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