On May 30, 1971, the TV documentary An American Family began filming in Santa Barbara, where the Loud family — including then-20-year-old Lance — opened their lives to the world. Considered the first reality TV show, the ground-breaking 12-episode documentary first aired on PBS in January 1973 on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. Lance Loud became the first reality TV star.
By coming out to an audience of 10 million TV viewers, Lance was the first openly gay person on American television and became an icon to the LGBTQ community. Although he was initially scorned by the media, the American public loved him and were inspired by his courage to be openly gay.
I’m Rufus Wainwright. I met Lance about 30 years ago in Los Angeles when I first arrived here and was signed to a big record label, and he interviewed me for — I think it was — Out Magazine. We then became great friends and had many a wacky night together doing all sorts of crazy things. And I miss him terribly.
In 1973, he moved to New York City, where he met Andy Warhol (whom Lance had long idolized). Lance and his high school friend Kristian Hoffman reunited and brought back their band The Mumps. His music career flourished for five years in the club scene, regularly selling out venues like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, but the band failed to secure a deal with a major record label.
After the Mumps disbanded in 1980, Lance relocated to Los Angeles and became a writer. For 20 years, he wrote articles
for magazines, including Details, Interview, American Film and Vanity Fair. Lance also had a regular column in The Advocate, “Out Loud,” in which he mused on the ups and downs of living as a gay icon. He struggled with life in the public eye and became addicted to crystal meth.
Lance had long been dissatisfied with how An American Family ended, and wanted the public to see the Loud family as he knew it to be. With his health failing from Hepatitis C, liver failure and HIV, and realizing that he didn’t have much longer to live, Lance asked the original documentarians from An American Family, Alan and Susan Raymond, to film a final episode in the Loud story.
The Raymonds filmed Lance, along with his family, as he lived out his final days at the Carl Bean Hospice in Los Angeles,
and this would become the 2003 PBS special Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family.
In an article he wrote for The Advocate shortly before his death, Lance said, “Though for years I had told myself that all my unbridled drinking, drugging, and unsafe sex were going to lead exactly here, I’d never really believed it.”
On December 22, 2001, Lance Loud, the eldest son of a family made famous on TV in the 1970s, died of HIV-related illness at the age of 50. A memorial was held at The Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood, where I sang a rendition of “Over the Rainbow” in tribute to Lance.