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The fight of strip club owner Joe Redner's life

With politicians and journalists ready to descend on this city for the Republican National Convention — and some of them likely to seek entertainment beyond the official receptions and rallies — surely Tampa's strip club king is busy readying his world famous Mons Venus club.

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Surely Joe Redner, the city's best known antagonist and atheist, has his dukes up over protest zones, free speech rights and the sort of libertarian causes that have landed him in jail before.

But lately, Joe has been busy with a different kind of fight.

Last fall he was in Las Vegas for, what else, a gentleman's club convention, when the pain hit his back and middle. Stage four lung cancer, the doctors said. Inoperable.

"I could tell they thought I was a goner," Joe says.

And this was the New Joe, the vegan gym addict who had quit booze and cocaine 25 years earlier. But he smoked pot, he says, lots of it, figuring his diet and workouts would balance things out.

"I did it," he says. "I did it to myself."

So Joe did what Joe does: He stuck out his chin and started a fight, like back when politicians pushed for that six-foot rule to keep his dancers and the customers apart. Like when he was arrested for protesting at a Jeb Bush rally attended by his president-brother and then he sued over it. Like when he claimed to be gay and gave himself standing in a federal lawsuit over a discriminatory county policy against gay pride. Like when he called out holier-than-thou types and then scared them by running for office himself.

Joe did not ask about his odds. He also declined to make a news story of his condition. He knew people would say they were praying for him. "Praying, sympathy and all that — I didn't want that. I'm not very receptive to it," he says.

He tells me all this in the warehouse space he owns not far from the Mons, where his son Joey runs the busy Cigar City Brewing operation. Joe looks thin, but still in better shape than any 71-year-old I can think of. He takes off his ball cap, which has ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Sierra Club pins decorating the bill, to show his hairless dome. He shaved off what the chemo didn't take.

The office is like a Joe Redner scrapbook. The Nation and Mother Jones litter his desk. Provocative signs from protests past lean on walls, and stuffed orange cats are piled on a shelf, each one a prize for asking the best question of whatever Important Person spoke at Tiger Bay Club that day. There's a newspaper clipping of a political cartoon when he was running for office showing him as the devil, horns and all, walking the streets with his campaign sign. And you would think the big yellow Buckhorn for Mayor placard near his desk was a joke, since the two of them got into it pretty good over that lap dancing ban way back when. But Joe is a practical man, and he thought Buckhorn was the best choice in the runoff.

Today, he will tell you he loves the very police chief he once called an ugly name, and he actually thinks the City Council is doing a pretty good job.

But then he gets up a head of steam over the lack of compassion in the city's recent panhandling ban, and don't get him started on Marco Rubio, or health care.

"This stopped being about cancer, didn't it?" he says, and smiles.

During his treatment, he kept on working out. Contrary as always, he did not suffer the worst effects of the chemo and radiation. His family and others close to him rallied. He never even had to ask.

And a couple of weeks ago, he got news.

"He's had an excellent response," says Dr. Scott Antonia from the Moffitt Cancer Center, as in remission.

"It still can come back," Joe says. "I just don't believe it will." He says he doesn't put anything he shouldn't in his lungs anymore. He won't even wear cologne.

And that big Republican party in August? He says he's not an anarchist and doesn't do violence. But a 60-minute limit on a public gathering? Forget it.

Count on Joe to be there, exactly where he belongs.

The fight of strip club owner Joe Redner's life 04/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 9:32pm]
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