Autumn Payne / Bee file, 2008

Nick Trujillo began playing the guitar after the death of his wife, Leah Vande Berg, in 2004. The popular Sacramento State professor died last week of a heart attack.

Obituary: Nick Trujillo, CSUS professor, musician and author

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B

Nick Trujillo, a popular communications professor and leading scholar on culture, sports and media at California State University, Sacramento, has died at 56.

Friends believe Dr. Trujillo probably died Oct. 29 of a heart attack. He complained of chest pains a few days earlier and sought medical treatment. After failing to show up for a class Oct. 30, he was found the next morning by a colleague who went to his Sacramento home.

The Sacramento County Coroner's Office "seemed satisfied that it was a heart attack" and did not investigate, said his mother, Claudia Trujillo.

Word of his death saddened students and friends at Sacramento State, where Dr. Trujillo taught communications courses for more than 20 years. He consistently scored highly in online student surveys as a rigorous but supportive teacher.

"It's a real loss," communications studies Chairman Steve Buss said. "He was a great teacher. He had a lot of energy."

Dr. Trujillo was an expert on the influence of sports and media in society. Besides writing books and academic articles, he was quoted often by The Bee in stories about the Sacramento Kings, the behavior of sports fans, reality TV shows and other topics. Sacramento State honored him as scholar of the year in 2000.

Outside the classroom, he was a singer-songwriter, guitarist and music producer. He performed as an alter ego, Gory Bateson – the quirky lead singer of a mythical band, The Ethnogs – in music videos on YouTube. He also recorded vocal and instrumental tracks for TV, film and advertising productions.

"Nick was very prolific in a lot of different ways," Sacramento State professor Gerri Smith said. "He was a very creative guy who put a lot of energy into his pursuits."

Dr. Trujillo shared many interests with his late wife of 19 years, Leah Vande Berg, a communications studies professor at Sacramento State. Besides co-authoring a book on how popular TV shows depict jobs and industries, they wrote an unflinching self-portrait about two people in love who must deal with the impending death of one of them.

Their story, "Cancer and Death: A Love Story in Two Voices," was published after Vande Berg died of ovarian cancer in 2004.

"We are communications professors, and we believe that people in this culture do not talk about death or cancer or grief as much as they should," Dr. Trujillo told The Bee in 2008. "The intent was to narrate the experience from diagnosis to death and through grief, to give people a real sense of what it's like."

Born in 1955 in Altadena, Nicholas Lee Trujillo moved with his family to Las Vegas in 1960. His father, Bill Trujillo, was a tenor saxophonist who traveled with Frank Sinatra and was featured in bands led by Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Charlie Barnet.

Dr. Trujillo played baseball and studied communications at the University of Southern California. He earned a master's degree from San Diego State University and a doctorate from the University of Utah. He began teaching at Purdue University in 1982 and was an assistant professor at Michigan State University and Southern Methodist University. He moved to Sacramento in 1990.

Friends recalled him as a caring and fun person who loved teaching. He was an avid tennis player and enjoyed hiking and playing golf. He traveled to many countries and recorded videos of his performances as Gory Bateson on the road.

"Nick was very unassuming," Sacramento State professor Kimo Ah Yun said. "He wore T-shirts and shorts all the time. You never would have guessed that he was an academic."

Nick Trujillo

Born: Dec. 14, 1955

Died: Oct. 29, 2012

Survived by: Parents, Bill and Claudia Trujillo of Las Vegas; sisters, Michelle Khachadoorian of Sunland, and Lisa Holiday of Tustin

Services: 11 a.m. Friday at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 4123 Robertson Ave., Sacramento

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Robert D. Dávila



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