Darius Weems has died after his battle with muscular dystrophy. The 27 year-old Cedar Shoals High School graduate rose to national prominence in the critically acclaimed documentary Darius Goes West.
Logan Smalley was a counselor at a 'Project REACH' camp, a facility set up to give the experiences of being at camp to children with disabilities, when he met Darius Weems. He had first met Darius' brother Mario, who was himself suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Mario asked Logan to "look out for my little brother," and Logan took that promise to heart.
After reading a copy of a letter Darius had sent to MTV's show Pimp My Ride in which he asked them to consider refurbishing his wheelchair, Smalley organized a cross-country trip for Darius to Los Angeles, which became known as the Darius Goes West Project. After having previously been to the Cannes Film Festival, Smalley recognized the opportunity and importance of documenting the trip. The 7,000 mile, 25-day trip resulted in 300 hours of video.
According to DVD Talk, "including Weems, over half of the documentary team was under the age of 20, including Smalley's younger brother Ben, 18. The oldest person on the crew was Daniel Epting, 24. The group not only handled the camera and sound equipment, they cared for Weems, helping him with day-to-day tasks like using the bathroom."
The film revolves around Darius Weems, a teenager with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who, because of his disease, had never left his hometown of Athens, Georgia. In the summer of 2005, with the help of eleven young friends, 15-year-old Darius embarked on a road trip across the United States, with the goal of reaching Los Angeles in the hopes of appearing on MTV's show Pimp My Ride in order that Darius's old and worn-out wheelchair might be customized on the hit show. The group traveled in an RV and tested wheelchair-accessibility across America during the course of their trip.
Darius felt the ocean for the first time at Panama City Beach, Florida. The group also made a stop in New Orleans. They celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act in the bat caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico and were very impressed by the wheelchair accessibility of the old caves. Darius also got to see the Grand Canyon, his most anticipated site before they had embarked. Darius's favorite stop, however, was Las Vegas. In Temecula, California, he experienced a hot air balloon ride. While in San Diego, Sam and Jason got commemorative tattoos, and the group visited Sea World. Darius also visited the zoo in San Francisco, California.
In the end, Pimp My Ride denied the request for Darius's wheelchair to be "pimped out." But near his hometown of Athens, Georgia, a local car customizing dealer created a new design for Darius's wheelchair, which included a television, speakers, and connection for an iPod. The most symbolic part of the new wheelchair was wheel spinners; this was the one thing Darius wanted most, because they would keep spinning even if he stopped.
In 2008-2009 Darius and his crew spent an entire year going back on the road visiting middle schools, high schools, and colleges and hosting screenings all over the country. In May–June 2012, Darius took a 32-day "Believe" tour of the northeast, where he performed raps and hosted Q&As at 18 schools. In Maine, Cynthia McFadden and the ABC Nightline crew followed Darius to two schools and devoted an entire show to Darius and his continuing quest to raise awareness of DMD on Thanksgiving of 2012.
Darius turned 23 on September 27, 2012, and wrote a rap about it that he called a tribute to all of his fans. The single, "Thank You For 23," made it to #35 on iTunes in the hip hop genre. On February 16, in honor of his late brother Mario's birthday, Darius released his first album, "My Life In This Chair."
Darius continues to visit schools and Skype with students all over the country.
All proceeds from the film go to Charley's Fund, named for DMD sufferer Charley Seckler, and set up as a non-profit foundation investing in scientific research to help cure DMD. The filmmakers had originally hoped the film might raise $70,000 for DMD research, but by March 2009 they had raised $1.5 million, and by June 2009 they had raised $2 million.