I’m Tai Babilonia. When my ice skating partner Randy Gardner and I turned professional after the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980, we had a new family called the Ice Capades — which at that time was the number one touring ice show in the country.
In 1983, after we completed our three-year contract with the Ice Capades and started touring with other shows, I started hearing that some of the guys that Randy and I toured with from the Ice Capades chorus, a.k.a. “Ice Cadets,” were suddenly dying from this mysterious disease called GRID (gay-related immune disease), which would later be named AIDS.
It seemed like we were losing someone every month. I started keeping a list of our friends from our beloved skating family, and also started including friends from the dance and entertainment world.
My list was getting long. It was at least 62 friends that had died by the early ’90s.
Because it was getting too emotional and heartbreaking for me, I stopped adding names of loved ones that we had lost. I was numb. That list is now tucked away in a very special place, and I honor the beautiful friends that we have lost by sharing my story and bringing awareness to this horrific disease.
Talking through all of this, it reminded me of a very special show we were in. Randy and I performed in the first AIDS-related skating benefit in 1989 called “Skating for Life” at the New York State Armory. The show benefitted the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS (or DIFFA) and the St. Vincent’s Hospital Care Program, as well as a fund for skaters and other athletes with AIDS.
There are two notable skaters, and the dearest of friends, that I’d like to remember now.
Robert Wagenhoffer was a national-level medalist in the late ’70s who competed in both singles and pairs. In 1979, he won the silver medal at the U.S. Nationals and was on two World Teams. He retired from amateur competition in 1982. He then joined Ice Capades, participated in many professional events, and became a two-time World Professional Champion in Jaca, Spain.
Robert was known for his innovated skating, the height of his jumps, and entertained thousands. Randy and I knew Robert since we were all kids, as we took from the same coaches. He was like family to us. Robert died from complications of AIDS in December 1999.
And of course, there’s the legendary John Curry, of Great Britain. John was a five-time British Champion, and the 1976 European and World Champion. In one of the most memorable free skates in history, he won the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal. He is remembered as one of the greatest stylists and artists in figure-skating history.
Following the 1976 World Championships, John turned pro and founded a touring skating company that mirrored the same lines as a traditional dance company. He even expanded his repertoire to choreography in both skating and dance, and appeared in two shows on Broadway as an actor.
In John’s last professional appearance in 1989, we worked together on a CBS televised special called the “Ice Stars’ Hollywood Revue.” It was the last time we saw John.
John’s legacy remains strong even today, as the Ice Theatre of New York and the next Ice Age have both been greatly inspired by John’s Olympic status to elevate figure skating as a legitimate performance art.
John Curry died from complications of AIDS in April 1994.