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.
Archive for the 'R.I.P.' Category
While I was out of the country, the great American stage actress and Mabou Mines co-founder Ruth Maleczech died September 30 at the age of 74. I had the pleasure of watching her work for more than 30 years and give memorable performances in productions staged by JoAnne Akalaitis (Kroetz’s Through the Leaves for Mabou Mines, Genet’s The Screens for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis), Peter Sellars (Velimir Khlebnikov’s Zangezi), and most especially her longtime partner Lee Breuer (Hajj, An Epidog). She had an unforgettable, striking visage, with her flaming red hair and gap-toothed grin (Ben Brantley’s generous obituary in the New York Times mentioned one critic describing her as “a Technicolor Lucy on a binge”).
Beyond being phenomenally talented, she was kind, loving, and extremely honest. I got to interview her a number of times for articles about Mabou Mines in the Soho News, American Theatre magazine, and the New York Times. I remember being extremely touched hearing her talk about the sacrifices she’d made to be the uncompromising artist she was.
“The children have paid dearly,” she said, referring to the son (Lute Ramblin) and daughter (Clove Galilee) she had with Breuer. “They’ve paid with lack of time, lack of parent input when they need it, having to be sick at home alone sometimes when it would be nicer if somebody was there with you. They pay with not having things that their friends have, objects, you know, property. They pay by living in a very dangerous neighborhood because that’s the one that can be afforded. Sometimes I think the kids just look at you and think you’re a real asshole because you blew it. Especially in the ’80s. These are not the times to be a poor, struggling artist. It tends to be that when they need something really badly and there’s no money for them to have it, it just feels bad. Other times that doesn’t seem to be the most important thing. Sometimes they think it’s great because you do it.”
Happy birthday to Harry Kondoleon, who would have been 58 today. Sadly, he was a casualty of the AIDS epidemic who died in 1994 at the age of 39. A blazingly original writer and unforgettably eccentric character, he is best-known for such plays as ZERO POSITIVE, CHRISTMAS ON MARS, and SELF TORTURE AND STRENUOUS EXERCISE, as well as his fiction (DIARY OF A LOST BOY). Actors who appeared in premieres of his work include Frances McDormand, David Hyde Pierce, Harriet Harris, Kristine Nielsen, and Michael O’Keefe. You can download a free PDF of his play THE BRIDES here.
Larry L. King, who just died at the age of 83, will forever be best-known as the author (co-author, technically) of the Broadway musical-turned-Hollywood-movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I got to interview him in 1979, when Whorehouse launched its post-Broadway tour in Boston. I liked him tremendously and, as a young freelance writer, ate up everything he had to say about his own career as a magazine journalist and book author:
“Writing a book takes about a year and a half, plus to make money to live on you have to meet 14 to 16 magazine deadlines a year. Out of all those, maybe three or four are stories you care about, and the rest you don’t want your friends to read. The timetable is killing, and I’m glad to be out of it. I’m 50 years old, and I figure I’ve hustled enough…
“[In the theater] you work long hours when you’re shaping the work, and there’s the frustration of collaborators. But look at it this way. You write books at home by yourself. You get a bunch of reviews and modest sales. Maybe a handful of letters trickle in, most of them telling you that you misspelled a word on page 39. And then that book is over. It makes you crazy. I actually used to hang around bookstores trying to catch people buying my books. But it’s really a kick to stand in the back of a theater and watch people laugh at something you rote. It’s instant gratification! I can see why people thrive on it.”
You can read the whole interview online here.
My favorite uncle, Fernando “Fred” Abreu, passed away July 25 at his home in Mesa, Arizona. He was my mother’s younger brother — she and he were always quite close, and there was always a lot of affection between our families. He’s the last of his generation to go, having survived all five of his siblings. He left behind his wife Claire and five of their six kids — Kevin, Karlene, Kathy, Karolyn, and Kim, aka “the K gang” (their sister Karen died in 2008).
Fred was a character, very involved with Boy Scouts and community service, and as he got older more and more politically opinionated. After years of no particular communication, he and I reconnected at a family gathering in 1999 and became frequent e-mail correspondents. He liked being able to share his liberal politics with me, because they were not so popular in Arizona or even within his family. When I took a trip to Portugal and decided to make a pilgrimage to Madeira, where his parents met and married, he was thrilled and helped me track down my grandfather’s last residence and his burial place. I think more than anything else, he admired my openness as a gay man and told me stories about his own sexual/romantic past that I don’t think he ever told anyone else in the family. I felt honored to know him and am sad that he’s gone.