R.I.P.: Robert Ott Boyle, 1950-1989

March 28, 2014

bob boyle
Today I am remembering my friend Bob Boyle, who would have turned 64 today. Bob was an actor and singer whom I met when we were both volunteers with Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Aside from being crisis management partners (visiting, bringing food to, shopping and doing laundry for people with AIDS) and team leaders, we traveled, marched, sang, laughed, cried, went to the theater, and loved a lot. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and his health was fine for a couple of years. On his 39th birthday in 1989, his friend Susan Drew and I took him out for dinner to Cafe des Artistes. In the taxi on the way back to his apartment in Manhattan Plaza, he started acting strangely. He began slurring his speech and struggling to find words. It turned out that he had a brain tumor. He’d been taking AZT, which at that time was prescribed at dosages that later seemed massive, and it had caused lymphoma. Within days he’d lost the ability to walk, talk, or feed himself. He died May 16,  at the age of 39. That was 25 years ago, and the emotions generated in those days are never far from the surface for me.

24 Responses to “R.I.P.: Robert Ott Boyle, 1950-1989”

  1. Charlie Fontana Says:

    Thanks, Don, for this remembrance of Bobby Boyle.

    I met him when we acted in a play together (THE CHANGELING) in New York in 1978.

    After I moved to Japan in ’82, I of course saw much less of Bob.

    But he was the best friend a guy could have.

    • dshewey Says:

      great to hear from you, Charlie!

      • Charlie F Says:

        Hello again, Don —

        Would you happen to know where Bob Boyle is buried?

        I believe his hometown was Patton, PA, kinda near Altoona.

        When driving to Buffalo (my hometown), I periodically pass through that part of Pennsylvania. Am thinking perhaps I could make a stop thereabouts.


        Charlie Fontana in DC


  2. dshewey Says:

    Hi Charlie, Bob is buried in the town cemetery in Patton. I’m sure he’s buried next to his father and possibly his mother, who was unwell last time I heard from her. Say hi for me!

  3. Kristin Weixel Says:

    thanks for sharing your remembrance of Bob, Don. I adored him, as did my parents and siblings, and we think of him often. My first trip to NYC was to stay with Bob and see him in Alice in Wonderland (also my first Broadway show). I think of Bob all the time, especially when I go to a play or see a part I know he would’ve been perfect for. Thank you for taking care of him when he was sick and for giving him such a beautiful eulogy at his funeral.

  4. Ann Mantel Says:

    I met Bob through Glenn Rosenblum. Just so happened we were Manhattan Plaza neighbors- then friends. The end was rough, but I try to remember his performances, how funny and talented he was- and those Feast of Kings parties. My son is named for him. It is so important to remember. Thank you for this.

  5. Kat Weixel Says:

    I was just thinking about Bob tonight and you, even though I only met you twice. I have very few memories of Bob, but the ones I have are so strong and so filled with love and emotion. Please consider yourself hugged, just as I hugged you at Bob’s funeral all those years ago. Sending love your way…

  6. Charlie Fontana Says:

    I believe Bob would’ve turned 68 years old today. I miss him….

    • Kat Weixel Says:

      Looks like he would have been 69 today. I wish I could sit and talk with him. And hug him. I was 12 when he passed away. I wish I’d had more time to get to know him. Luckily my family shared letters and photos and stories with me so I can feel closer to him. What a beautiful person who touched so many lives during his all-too-brief time on this earth. Hugs and love to all of you who loved him, as we are all connected because of him.

  7. Charlie Fontana Says:

    I had a dream last night – actually early this morning – in which the featured character was Robert Ott Boyle.

    Not sure why, at this particular moment, my old buddy Bobby was on top of my subconscious. Maybe it had to do with the news I’d received late last night that a longtime friend of my older brother had recently died of a combination of cancer and the coronavirus. Or maybe it was that I’d watched the Sondheim 90th birthday celebration, bringing back memories of the performers in it that I’d known back in my New York days.

    Whatever the reason, I’m certainly delighted to have crossed paths again with Bobby.

    The dream was set in a theater that was sort of a cross between Arena Stage, here in Washington, and a summer stock establishment in the Berkshires. After a lot of other theatrical shenanigans, I was now sitting in on a rehearsal as a staff member of the theater where a play (that unfortunately I can’t identify) was being produced.

    Bob – wearing civvies and looking exactly like his diminutive, bearded self of the late ‘70’s – was rehearsing with his leading lady – perhaps the only other cast member. She was mature and was not unlike Georgia Harrell, a beautiful, talented actress with whom Bob and I had the pleasure of acting in a New York production of THE CHANGELING in 1978.

    It was a run-through, and Bob was doing a substantial monologue (soliloquy?). He ran into a line problem and asked me to prompt him. He brought me a copy of the script – a photocopy from a book – and pointed to the line at which he wanted to start up again.

    Bob went back to his place, continued the monologue and, when he went dry, called for a prompt. I gave him his line. He continued. And when I turned the page, I discovered that we were now one sentence from the end of the play! He finished – serious, business-like, and vaguely dissatisfied with what he’d done. Nothing climactic, but very much like the Bobby I knew.

    I woke up.

    I rarely remember my dreams. But I’m guessing that the unlikelihood of encountering, after all these many years, one of the closest friends I’ve ever had and of finding him utterly unchanged, allowed me to retain it.

    Clearly I miss him.


    • dshewey Says:

      wow! what a wonderful specific dream to have, Charlie! thanks for sharing it! I only knew Bob in his clean-shaven days, so it’s hard to imagine him with a beard!

    • Kristin Weixel Says:


      I also had a dream about Bob last night. I was visiting CMU and walked into a lecture hall where a professor was showing slides from the 1970s. Bob was in each of the photos, dressed in a brightly-colored paisley shirt (very au courant circa 1974). I was so startled to see him, I exclaimed excitedly, “I know him!” and disrupted the lecture. And then I woke up.

      I also usually do not remember my dreams, but the vision of a young, smiling Bob was so vivid. My parents had many gatherings in the 1970s that Bob attended, and I’ve seen lots of photos of Bob from that time period (never wearing paisley, though). I also spent much of the 1980s exclaiming “Hey, I know him!” whenever one of Bob’s commercials came on the TV. While I understood why my subconscious brain created the elements of the dream (photos of Bob from the 70s and my excitement and pride in seeing him), I wasn’t sure why he crept into my subconscious last night. I often think of Bob (I knew him since I was very small and idolized him), but I do not usually dream about him.

      Now, here’s the really strange part, Charlie: I deduced that he was on my mind because I’d recently watched the celebration for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Bob was the person who introduced me to Sondheim’s genius. He bought me the Sweeney Todd cast album in 1980 and made me jealous that he’d seen the original production of Sunday (even though, according to Bob, Mandy was over-the-top during what Mandy thought was his last performance of George). Watching the Sondheim benefit was not only a celebration for me of my favorite musical composer but also a celebration of the man who shared his love of Sondheim with me. It wasn’t until my dream last night that I realized how much I associate Sondheim with Bob. It is heartening to know that you, Charlie, feel the same way.

      What an extraordinary man Bob was. I love that he is still very much present for so many of us, and I hope he knew how much he was adored.

  8. dshewey Says:

    thanks, Kristin, for sharing your dream — and your theory about the connection between Bob and the Sondheim 90th birthday tribute makes perfect sense! “He would have liked it…no, he would have LOVED it!”

  9. Ann Mantel Says:

    Thank you Charlie and Kristin for the wonder accounts of your dreams. I’ve had Bob on my mind, but not in a dream. I’ve been going through boxes of photos. A couple of days ago, I found a group of photos from a weekend on Fire Island (’85 or ’86)? There was one of Bob and I in a dance pose “Tradition” style from Fiddler. Not Sondheim, but a wonderful memory. Also, today is my son,Sam’s 29th birthday. His middle name is Robert, in memory of Bob.
    Again, thanks for sharing. These are affirmations of his presense, and I love that. And Don, I couldn’t agree more, he would have loved the Sondheim tribute. I imagine him watching in rapt attention, taking mental notes. I’d love to ask him about a few of the performances. Maybe in a dream.

    • dshewey Says:

      Is it too vain, or too sad, to imagine that if he’d lived, Bob might have been among those performers knocking themselves out with Sondheim tunes?

  10. Charlie Fontana Says:

    If he were amongst us today, we together would be celebrating our buddy Bobby’s seventy-first birthday.

    He’s been gone over thirty years, and I miss him still.

    Charlie in DC

  11. Charlie Fontana Says:

    Imagining the guy that Bob Boyle – on his seventy-second birthday – would be today.

    Am sure he’d have plenty to say about show biz, America, and the big, wide world we find ourselves inhabiting at this moment in history.

    RIP, Bobby.

  12. dshewey Says:

    thanks for remembering, Charlie!

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