Andreas Pittinger’s father Hans (left) and brother Stefan, who gave the Pineapple Man his first bongo as a teenager. Photo: Tyler Harper

Radio host Andreas Pittinger’s tropical persona hid depression and alcoholism

The Kootenay Co-op Radio host died last month

The Pineapple Man, the man with the year-round tan, was desperate for cheddah.

His talent agent Max Dough was not returning his calls and Pineapple Man needed a gig because, as he liked to note on air, his radio show Pineapple Express did not pay the bills.

But Dough — who always answered the phone with a jolly “Max Dough! Let me make you a star!” — was notoriously difficult to get a hold of, and a recent photo shoot for Tan Line Magazine for his favourite client had not gone well.

“It wasn’t tasteful. You said it was going to be tasteful, Max.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Dough. “They sent me the photos, they look pretty good. I didn’t know you were so flexible. You’re possibly going to be the next Spider-Man with those poses. It’s almost dignified, and nudity is no longer the taboo it used to be.”

Dough suggested a concert gig at a petting zoo in Cranbrook, but Pineapple Man reminded him of an incident with a llama that banned him from stepping onto the property.

“Look on the bright side, Pine Baby.”

“What is the bright side, Max?”

“I don’t know. That’s just something you say when things are hopeless and you’re at a loss for words.”

Andreas Pittinger, the one and only Pineapple Man, played a recording of his call with Dough during a three-hour Christmas special on Kootenay Co-op Radio. Pineapple Express first aired in 2010, returned in 2013 and for parts of the next five years filled the station’s airwaves with the sounds of ukuleles and bongos.

But Pittinger struggled with depression and alcoholism. For its final two years, with the exception of a short-lived return in 2018, the station only played reruns of Pineapple Express after Pittinger was told he could no longer host a show.

The station’s news director Anthony Sanna, a close friend, agreed to let Pittinger put together the Christmas show as long as he was sober and the show wasn’t recorded live.

Pittinger agreed, but arrived drunk anyway on the day the episode was put together. There was debate among station employees if it should air, but Sanna eventually gave it the green light.

It ended up being the last new episode of Pineapple Express. Less than two months later, Pineapple Man was dead.

Pitt and the Palm Trees

Andreas Pittinger was not Hawaiian, nor did he ever get a chance to visit the islands that ended up defining much of his life.

He was born in 1971 in Montreal to an Italian mother named Grazia and Hans, his German father. Hans Pittinger ran a logistics company, and moved his family to Malaysia for five years with Andreas and his brother Stefan before eventually settling the family in Massachusetts.

When he was 16, Andreas tried committing suicide by slitting his wrists. His family was stunned. Andreas had never previously showed signs of depression, but from that moment he struggled with it publicly for the rest of his life.

The family relocated Andreas to a treatment centre in Miami, where Hans remembers watching his son suffer.

“He was in his bedroom, he lay in bed, didn’t want any light and just cried. I didn’t know what to do. It was terrible,” says Hans.

“Andreas told me, ‘Pops, if someone breaks an arm or a leg, you get a cast, in four or five weeks you can walk like new. But in his case, he told me, there’s two halves of the brain. One is 110 volt, the other is 220, and they cannot communicate.’ That’s what his dilemma was.”

To cheer him up during a later bout of depression, Stefan bought Andreas a bongo. The instrument, gifted as a joke, was a revelation for Andreas. He taught himself ukulele and started a band called Pitt and the Palm Trees.

“They weren’t that great, but it was a lot of fun,” says Stefan. “It wasn’t a high school event unless Pitt and the Palm Trees performed.”

Hawaiian music has existed for hundreds of years, but the dreamy sounds of ukuleles, steel guitar, bongos and crooning that soundtrack the islands’ sunsets and beaches first caught mainstream imagination in 1915 at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific Exposition.

The genre’s popularity started with the song On the Beach at Waikiki by Henry Kailimai, then continued into the 1920s with artists such as Johnny Noble and Lena Machado. Commercial appeal spread as the 20th century went on. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, for example, each recorded Hawaiian-influenced songs during their careers.

“Anybody who was anybody had a Hawaiian album or produced a Hawaiian-themed album,” says Sanna. “There’s this ocean of music that existed out there that [Andreas] totally loved. That was his theme.”

‘Stay tropical!’

The Pineapple Man moved to Nelson a decade ago in need of a fresh start.

Andreas left Massachusetts to finish an English degree in Eugene, Ore., with the intention of returning to Malaysia and teaching in Kuala Lumpur. But instead he got married and afterward moved to Toronto to work in sales and marketing for one of his father’s companies.

Toronto, however, didn’t fit the couple, and they relocated to Vancouver. Andreas stayed working in logistics for a decade, but continued to suffer from depression. He took leave to spend three months at a treatment centre in Nanaimo, but when he returned home found out he’d been laid off. His marriage ended shortly after.

Andreas moved to Nelson in 2008, and contributed cartoons to the now-defunct Express newspaper and Comment Canada magazine. But it was at Kootenay Co-op Radio where Andreas found his voice.

The station has always had an eclectic slate of shows, but Pineapple Express was special. The show kicked off with a propulsive horn and bongo intro, faded to a short greeting from Andreas (“We’re going straight to Hawaii!”) and transitioned into an hour of hula-inspired music.

It was a local hit.

“If [listeners] said anything about KCR, invariably they’d say something about Pineapple Express,” says Sanna.

As Andreas became more confident broadcasting, he started adding unique flourishes to the show. An old recording of a tour guide describing Hawaii’s sights (“This river here is called the Wailua River, which has an average depth of 20 feet deep”) filled the transitions between songs, and Andreas ended every broadcast with a reminder to listeners to “Stay tropical!”

But it was his skits that made the show more than just a citrus-flavoured playlist.

Calls to Max Dough, Andreas’s fictional talent agent, became one of the show’s highlights. Andreas would record one half of a call as Dough or any number of other characters, which included at times a foul-mouthed parrot, an aging music star and a radio station manager who is aroused by clouds. Then, on air, Pineapple Man would play the recording and riff off his character.

The results were a riot. One memorable skit featured Andreas trying and failing to sell “Feel the Citrus” to Tropicana for a slogan campaign. “I thought I’d call Tropicana and urge them to take my slogan because lord knows I need the cheddah,” he says as the call begins.

The juice company’s CEO runs through some potential slogans (“We’re going to run this one in the Bible Belt possibly: ‘You have a friend in Juices’”) before asking Andreas if he’d received a cheque for $2,000 from Dough.

All Andreas had gotten was a crate of oranges and a T-shirt.

“But that’s my slogan!”

“Sounds to me like a problem between you and Max. It’s really not my cup of orange juice.”

Sanna says it was a miracle Andreas could run the show as well as he did. Outside the station, Andreas couldn’t hold down a job. Many skits on Pineapple Express, Sanna points out, were based on Andreas’s constant money troubles.

“It was just epic to see him be able to do anything like that, because his capacity to do most things, for whatever reason, was just not there,” says Sanna. “Pineapple Man and Pineapple Express was basically his reason for everything, his reason for living.”

Sunset

While the show went on, Hans Pittinger tried his best to take care of his son.

He bought Andreas a small home in Sunnyside Mobile Home Park on the North Shore, and every two years Hans and Stefan would visit Andreas in Nelson for his birthday.

Sometimes the visits were difficult. One time Hans arrived to find Andreas nearly starved to death.

“We tried from a distance to motivate him,” says Hans. “But if someone suffers from heavy depression, there’s very little you can do.”

Andreas’ mother Grazia passed away in 2004. Hans, now retired, lives in Munich, while Stefan and his family are in Minnesota. Visiting Nelson was difficult because of the distance, but Andreas told his family he felt at home in the city.

“I think what was appealing was the artist vibe and quirkiness here. Hopefully in some little way he was able to add to it,” says Stefan.

During one of their visits three years ago, Andreas surprised his father and brother by taking them along to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

The meeting, it turned out, was Andreas’ three-year sobriety celebration. The memory of it still brings tears to Hans’ eyes. “On that evening, everyone, 10, 12, 14 people, embraced Andreas.”

But sobriety, like most things in Andreas’ life, didn’t stick. It’s not clear what ended his streak. Sanna says Andreas had roommates who would drink in his home and taunt him with their booze, but he needed their rent money to pay the bills.

The same year he started drinking again, in 2017, Sanna met privately with Andreas and told him Pineapple Express had to end. Kootenay Co-op Radio is a non-profit, volunteer-run station, and Sanna worried a drunk host might either damage studio equipment or cost the station its license.

Get sober again, he told Andreas, and Pineapple Express could return.

“My care and concern for him went over and above my job description,” says Sanna. “Like, hey man, I give a shit about you, I want to have this conversation because nobody else is, or nobody else knows how to or is willing to.

“How do you confront somebody with a problem they are having with themselves?”

For a time, Andreas was able to clean himself up. He got a job in February 2018 working at the local Greyhound depot, and in the spring returned to the station once again to record new episodes. But soon he was drinking again, and by September he was off the air.

In October, Andreas’ cat Mango died. American politics depressed him, he was ashamed by his alcoholism, and when the station wavered on airing his Christmas episode Andreas lashed out on Facebook.

He was reported missing on Feb. 7. Three days later his body was found near his home. Andreas Pittinger was 47.

Hans arrived in Nelson shortly after. In Andreas’ home, he found a closet of new suits he had once bought his son. They had never been worn.

“He couldn’t care less what he put on,” says Hans. “He told me, ‘Pops, if I put one of your [suits] on and walk on the street people will think I’m a lawyer.”

Stefan grieved, but wasn’t surprised by his brother’s death. Ten years ago, he said, he set up a Google alert with his brother’s name.

In the end, Stefan hoped, Andreas was able to find his own peaceful Hawaiian sunset.

“We knew he was struggling with demons and we feel like he’s now able to come to rest.”

The Canada Suicide Prevention Service line at 1-833-456-4566 is a toll-free number available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in English and French. Chat support is available online at crisisservicescanada.ca. British Columbia Mental Health Support can be reached at 310-6789 (no area code required). For information on addiction treatment services in B.C., call 1-800-663-1441.

Pineapple Express audio courtesy of Kootenay Co-op Radio.



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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Andreas Pittinger struggled with depression for most of his life, but found his identity as the man with the year-round tan in Nelson. Web photo

Andreas Pittinger is seen here being carried by members of his first band, Pitt and the Palm Trees, which he started in high school. Photo courtesy of Stefan Pittinger

An old picture of the Pittinger family. L-R: Hans, Stefan, Andreas and Grazia. Photo courtesy of Stefan Pittinger

Andreas Pittinger, seen here as a boy living in Malaysia, was born in Montreal and spent his teenage years living in America. Photo courtesy of Stefan Pittinger

Kootenay Co-op Radio news director Anthony Sanna shows off some of Andreas Pittingers’ old Hawaiian records. Photo: Tyler Harper

Andreas Pittinger hosted the show Pineapple Express on Kootenay Co-op Radio for over five years. He was found dead last month. Web photo

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