DONATO DiCRISTINO could never turn anyone away.
"He was a great listener," said his sister, Dia DiCristino. "I would ask him if he couldn't see through a person, and keep his distance. But he gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.
"As a result, he was surrounded by a circle of people from all walks of life, including people who were down on their luck, whom he always tried to help."
Donato, a native South Philadelphian and a dedicated writer and poet, had been living for the last 3 1/2 years in Austin, Texas, where his sister feared that he "let his guard down even lower and became more susceptible to negative forces."
"He had high hopes for Texas, but they turned into real lows because he couldn't catch a break," she said.
Donato died in his apartment in Austin on April 19 at age 35. He had suffered a heart attack last year, and had written about his drug addiction.
He wrote eight self-published books of fiction and poetry, and was always encouraging other writers.
"He was an advocate for young writers, and encouraged many around the world to keep doing what they loved even in the face of adversity," said his sister, an opera singer who uses a wheelchair since a series of brain surgeries, but is still singing.
"Throughout any difficulties he faced, he always put others first," she said. "He was a great listener and had wisdom and compassion beyond his years."
Donato was born in Philadelphia to Denise DiCristino and the late Joseph DiCristino. For a time, the family lived in Sea Girt, N.J., and he attended Manasquan High School.
He was not happy when the family moved back to South Philadelphia in his sophomore year, his sister said. "It affected him emotionally. He didn't want to be in Philly," she said.
Donato loved Manasquan High, where he played the trumpet in the marching band, she said. He liked to point out that actor Jack Nicholson had been a member of the school's Class of 1954.
Once back in Philly, Donato was enrolled in the Girard Academic Music Program, which his sister had attended. He was involved in choirs and in musical theater. He acted in "Man of La Mancha" and "Camelot," and his choirs performed outside the school, including at the Academy of Music.
He graduated from Girard in 1996 and won a full scholarship to St. Joseph's University, where he studied psychology before leaving after two years.
Donato worked in the telephone-call center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where his sister underwent surgeries.
"He was at the hospital every single day to help take care of me during all of my brain surgeries," his sister said. "His was always the first face I was happy to see when I woke up from a surgery. I wouldn't have lived through any of that time if it hadn't been for Donato."
In Texas, Donato ran a catering business and a house-cleaning service while doing his writing.
He published his first book, The Threads of Life, in 2003. His last book, Compound Delusions, was published in January 2012. His books are available on Amazon.
"Donato was a wonderful brother, son and friend," his sister wrote in a tribute. "If someone he loved was in trouble, he was there to make sure they were OK, and if they weren't, he stayed with them until they were."
In his youth, Donato had a dog named Loco. The death of Loco was a profound shock to him, his sister said. In Texas he had a female Chihuahua named Loca.
"His dog Loca was by his side when he died," his sister said, "and stayed with him until someone found him. He loved Loca and Loca loved him, and she made sure he was found."
Besides his sister and mother, he is survived by two brothers, Joseph DiCristino Jr. and Joshua DiCristino.