Stories of Friendship

'This is my tribute to those who were alone. They had no friends and no family. I miss all of you, and I continue to remember you and love you.'
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In Remembrance of Those Who Were Alone
Story & Recording by Cosgrove Norstadt

In 1981, I was living in Ohio and dating a man from New York City. Because of him, I became aware of a strange cancer striking gay men in New York and San Francisco. Unfortunately, in Ohio, no one was worried about AIDS because only people in NYC and San Francisco were at risk.

Four years later, I moved to NYC. I met the Reverend Bernard Lynch who was ministering to those afflicted with AIDS. I ask him how I could help. What could a naive youth from Ohio know about such a massive Holocaust? I wasn’t cut out for ACT UP and criticized for my lack of anger and outrage. I wasn’t angry. I was sad. Terribly sad. I was sad for all the men dying alone in the hospitals.

Bernard directed me to St. Clare’s Hospital to volunteer. They wanted me to wear masks and gloves and footies, but I couldn’t. If I was going to hold you in my arms as you died, I was going to let you touch me, cough phlem on me and cry on my shoulder. From a Christ-like point of of view, I could not do less than Christ himself.

Most men at St. Clare’s lasted two weeks, tops. I hadn’t lived in NYC long enough to make friends. My friends became short term and very deep with the men who were alone and dying. I met sex workers who taught me compassion. I met intravenous drug users who taught me to be accepting. Every two weeks, I lost my newest best friend. All of these men shared their most intimate secrets with me and, most of all, their love.

The number of men I held as they died is impossible to calculate, but as my life continues, I remember the patients of St. Clare’s Hospital. I remember how you were ostracized by friends and family. I remember how, as gay brothers, we loved one another unconditionally.

This is my tribute to those who were alone. They had no friends and no family. I was just a 22-year-old boy from Ohio, learning life lessons I wish never existed. I miss all of you, and I continue to remember you and love you.

'Let’s celebrate and enjoy Pride, but let’s also remember why we have Pride and let’s certainly never forget those who lost the battle.'
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Gay Pride 1993
Story & Recording by Scott Fowler

TBT … NYC GAY PRIDE 1993.  We were so young and innocent.  Ok, we were young!

I look at this photo, and so many emotions come up for me.  The obvious:  We had fun!  Yes, that’s my 26-year-old self in a latex wrestling outfit borrowed from Michael Arnold and holding a beer — which is an odd sight to see, considering I’m now sober over 15 years.

The not so obvious:  We were fighting and marching for our lives and the lives we were losing at alarming rates right in front of our eyes at the time.

It was the best of times, the worst of times, and certainly scary times.  We were young, hopeful, driven — but certainly not carefree.

We marched, fought, memorialized, fundraised and lived “full-out with feeling” in the hopes of finding a cure, equal rights, awareness and a better life for all of us to live.

Let’s celebrate and enjoy Pride, but let’s also remember why we have Pride and let’s certainly never forget those who lost the battle.

See and remember them @theaidsmemorial.

'I really miss Demian desperately, and I also miss dancing the Bill T. Jones master work, D-Man in the Waters. It was a tribute to Demian and to so many of the other people we lost.'
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Demian Acquavella, 1958-1990
Story & Recording by Seán Curran

My name is Seán Curran, and back in the 1980s, my last best friend Demian Acquavella and I were dancers in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company.  One day out on the road, we were rehearsing in a gymnasium, and at the end of that long rehearsal, Demian and I decided to go and take showers before the van came to pick us up to take us out for dinner.

We were in the shower together, and Demian very nonchalantly picked up his left arm and pointed to a big splotch on his inner bicep and said, “Hey, Seán, what do you think this is?”

I knew exactly what it was – it was a Kaposi’s sarcoma lesion.  But I took a deep breath and said, “Wow, Demian, I don’t know, it looks like a bruise … Did somebody grab your arm or were you doing a duet with somebody?”

We got dressed and went out to wait for the van, but I said, “I think I forgot something.”

I ran back into the gym, I found a pay phone and I called Arnie Zane back in New York, collect, and I told Arnie that Demian had just shown me his first KS lesion. Arnie sprung into action and made a couple of appointments with doctors for Demian for when we returned back from the tour.

But then when I went back outside to wait with the dancers for the van to go to dinner, I noticed the other dancers were standing around talking, but that Demian had laid down on the very cold marble steps of this gymnasium building and he had fallen fast asleep. I thought to myself, there’s kind of a fork in the road for Demian and me today. And I don’t know why, but I took out my Instamatic camera that I had in my dance bag and I took a photograph of Demian asleep on the steps. After I got it developed, I put it in a frame and it’s been in my bedroom ever since and it’s a tribute to Demian and it’s a way for me to remember him.

I really miss Demian desperately and I also miss dancing the Bill T. Jones master work, D-Man in the Waters.  It was a tribute to Demian and to so many of the other people we lost.

The epigram for Bill T. Jones’ piece is a truism by artist Jenny Holzer: “In a dream you saw a way to survive and you were filled with joy.”

'I’m not here in Washington to make people like me.  I’m here to speak about a national scandal, a scandal of neglect, indifference and abandonment.'
- Elizabeth Taylor
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Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011
Story by Sharon Stone and Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Sharon Stone
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation

Elizabeth Taylor was one of the preeminent film actresses of all time: the winner of two Academy Awards for Best Actress, a five-time Oscar nominee, as well as the recipient of the French Legion of Honor, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the 1993 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

Married eight times, including twice to Welsh actor and frequent co-star Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor was the first actress to be paid $1 million for a movie role, assembled one of the world’s most valuable private collections of jewelry, and amassed a fortune in the fragrance business.

Some of her best-known films include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Butterfield 8, Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, National Velvet, A Place in the Sun and Suddenly Last Summer (both with friend Montgomery Clift), and Giant, in which she formed a lasting friendship with co-star Ruck Hudson. Both Clift and Hudson were gay but had never publicly acknowledged their homosexuality.

In 1985, Elizabeth leveraged her super-stardom to raise money for and garner attention to the cause of AIDS research, education and advocacy.  1985 was the year in which Rock Hudson died of AIDS and her former daughter-in-law, Aileen Getty, was diagnosed with HIV.  In that same year, Elizabeth served as Chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life fundraiser, which raised over $1 million.  But the fundraising didn’t come easy and lots of her friends refused to lend support.

Recalling that effort, she said: “I realized … that this town — of all towns — was basically homophobic, even though without homosexuals there would be no Hollywood, no show business!  Yet the industry was turning its back on what it considered a gay disease.”

In the same year, she and Hudson’s doctor, Michael Gottlieb, formed the National AIDS Research Foundation with $250,000 in initial funding from Rock Hudson’s estate. Later that year, it merged with Dr. Mathilde Krim’s AIDS organization to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research, known as amfAR. She served as its Founding National Chairman and leading spokesperson, bringing worldwide attention to the fight against AIDS, expanding its reach from American to international efforts, and raising huge sums of money for the cause.

Appearing in the American capital to advocate for expanded federal funding for research about HIV and AIDS, the famously outspoken Elizabeth pulled no punches: “I’m not here in Washington to make people like me.  I’m here to speak about a national scandal, a scandal of neglect, indifference and abandonment.”

In 1991, the same year her personal secretary took his own life after receiving an AIDS diagnosis, she created The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to fund direct AIDS services.

I’m Sharon Stone.  When Elizabeth was unable to attend an event in 1995 for amfAR, little did I know that it would be the start of a decades-long commitment to follow in her footsteps and carry on the fight for education, treatments and a cure to HIV and AIDS.

She famously quipped, “It’s bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.”

My friend Elizabeth died in 2011.  Former President Bill Clinton observed: “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.”

'I am coming out as a woman with AIDS because a lot of lesbians still think that they cannot get AIDS and I’m here to say that this can and did happen.'
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Joan Baker, 1966-1993
Story & Recording by Judith Cohen

My friend, Joan Baker was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and died on September 3, 1993. She was a tireless and outspoken activist who unfortunately had to deal with ignorance and misunderstanding from her own (lesbian) community … ergo, she would often say:

“It doesn’t matter how I got it, it’s that I have been diagnosed and I am coming out as a women with AIDS because a lot of lesbians still think that they cannot get AIDS and I’m here to say that this can and did happen.”

In early October 1993, members of San Francisco Lesbian Avengers and ACT UP held a public funeral demonstration and march that went from from Dolores Park to Market and Castro and was covered on television news that night. This would end up being likely the only public funeral for a lesbian with AIDS anywhere, ever.

The images of the demo/funeral posters of Joan which were carried that day are now held at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco.

We love you and we miss you incredibly, Joan. Thank you for your inspiration, your contribution, your life and love.

'About midway through the taping of the series, Pedro’s health began to decline, but he told producers that he wanted them to tell his story until the end.'
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Pedro Zamora, 1972-1994
Story by The AIDS Memorial and Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Wilson Cruz
Photo © MTV

Pedro Zamora’s bravery and commitment to AIDS advocacy engaged and educated TV audiences around the world.  Pedro was a cast member on Real World: San Francisco from 1993 to 1994.  I’m Wilson Cruz, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t remember Pedro’s courage and dedication.

On Real World: San Francisco, Pedro was one of the first openly gay people with AIDS that many people ever saw on TV.  Simultaneously, on My So Called Life, I was the first openly gay actor playing an openly gay character in a series regular role on American TV.  And to this day, Pedro still inspires me as an actor, as a man, and as an activist.

Pedro Zamora was the youngest of eight children living in Havana, Cuba when his parents decided to emigrate to Florida as part of the highly-publicized Mariel Boat Lift in 1980.  Pedro was an honor student, captain of the cross-country team and President of the Science Club at his high school where he was voted Best All Around and Most Intellectual.  But at 17 years old, Pedro learned he was HIV positive after donating blood at a blood drive.

His HIV-positive diagnosis propelled him to become a full-time AIDS educator, so that other young people could learn what he was never taught.  This led to hundreds of speaking engagements; a front page article about him in the Wall Street Journal; appearances on major talk shows hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue; and testimony before the U.S. Congress on AIDS education.

Producers of the Real World wanted to cast an HIV-positive person.  Being cast on the series gave Pedro his biggest platform for AIDS education and won him fans all over the world.  Audiences watched how his HIV status affected his relationships with housemates and his health.  They celebrated his commitment ceremony with partner Sean Sasser, which was the first such ceremony in the history of television.

But about midway through the taping of the series, Pedro’s health began to decline, but he told producers that he wanted them to tell his story until the end.  When the stress from his conflict with a homophobic housemate, Puck Rainey, led Pedro to want to move out of the Real World house, his other housemates instead voted to evict Rainey.  Time magazine ranked that episode #7 of the top 32 most epic episodes in reality TV history.

In late June 1994, the Real World: San Francisco began to air on MTV.  At a cast reunion party only two months later in August, Pedro’s progressing illness was evident.  He was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, a disease that causes brain lesions, and also a rare and often fatal virus that causes inflammation of the brain.  Doctors estimated that he had 3-4 months to live.

In September 1994, he was transferred to a hospital in Miami near his family.  With the help of the U.S. government, the remainder of his family was allowed to move to the U.S., so that they could be with Pedro before he died.  MTV paid for his medical costs, because Pedro was unable to get health insurance due to having a pre-existing condition.

Pedro Zamora died of AIDS at age 22, the morning after the final episode of the show was broadcast.

A memorial fund, youth clinic, a public policy fellowship, a youth scholarship fund and a street in Miami are named in Pedro’s honor.  He was one of the 50 people first included on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor as part of the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument in the U.S. dedicated to LGBTQ history.

Reflecting on Pedro’s death, President Clinton reminded us, “We must remember what Pedro taught us:  One person can change the world — and whether or not we are living with HIV or know someone who is, we all have a responsibility as global citizens to do whatever we can.  Life is short enough as it is.  No one should die from a disease that is both preventable and treatable.”

'Everywhere he went, he’d have his chalk, of course, in his pocket ...  All of the sudden, he’d just get down and just start drawing, and instantly there would be a crowd around him.'
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Keith Haring, 1958-1990
Introduction by Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Kenny Scharf

Introduction:

Keith Haring’s art is immediately recognizable.  Keith was inspired by cartoons, and by the graffiti and murals on the streets and in the subways of New York City, where he moved in the late 1970s.  His work is known for the thick lines that define his crawling, dancing or barking figures and by clear messages about universal topics such as love, birth and death, sex, drugs, and war. 

Keith’s career took off in the early 1980s and became known worldwide, visible in major museums, in over 100 solo and group shows, and in public art in dozens of cities across the globe.  There’s the “Crack is Whack” mural on FDR Drive in Manhattan, the mural for the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary, a mural on the western side of the Berlin Wall just a few years before the wall came down, and even the interior of the Palladium nightclub. 

Keith made his art more accessible and available to the public by opening the Pop Shop, a retail shop in SoHo that sold merchandise displaying Keith’s art.  The whole inside of the shop was a giant mural he painted.

He loved to create art in public, like a public performance, often with hip-hop playing as he painted.  He could watch his audience and their reactions.  He created art for regular people, not for the critics, and so when prices for his art sky-rocketed, Keith wanted regular people to be able to own his art, even if it was just on a t-shirt.

Keith found out he had AIDS in 1988 when he was only 29.  I’m Irwin Rappaport, chair of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for The AIDS Monument.

The following is taken from an interview with artist Kenny Scharf, who met Keith in art school and quickly became one of Keith’s best friends:

I met Keith in 1978.  I had just arrived from LA to New York, and I was at the School of Visual Arts.  

I remember feeling a little let down that my idea of what New York City art school students would be like.  Oh, they look the same, kind of suburban kids just like back here … and then I heard some Devo music blasting, and I’m following it.  And I come to this room, and there’s Keith, alone, painting himself in — literally — into a corner. 

And I just sat there and looked at him, and I thought, “Oh, well, that’s what I was looking for when I wanted to meet artists in New York City.”

Well, you know, we didn’t have him for very long, so luckily, at that moment, we became instant friends.  And we hung out quite a bit, and we ended up actually being roommates for some time, which was also a quite amazing moment in his career, when he started doing his drawings — his chalk drawings — in the street. 

We shared a loft near Times Square, so he used to go down in the subway on 42nd Street.  You would instantly be hit by his magic.  And he had this amazing drive and ability to get himself out there.  And I remember he irked a lot of the other students, because they would say, “Oh, he’s so self-promoting” — like it’s a bad thing.  And we were like, “Yeah, he’s self-promoting. That’s the idea!”  There’s nothing shameful about it, when you have a message. 

So, it was amazing how he did that, and how it caught on so quick when he found that niche — which was basically every single black paper in the subways of New York City before they got an ad on them.  It’s pretty amazing and ingenious, you know?

His ability to draw and his language that he made up – basically, his symbols are language.  So, he created his own language and a universal language … he crossed boundaries and barriers.  Every stroke is there for a reason, and there’s no waste.

I used to call him the Mayor — he should be the Mayor of New York City – because everywhere he went, he’d have his chalk, of course, in his pocket.  And it wasn’t only for drawing on the subways, he would draw all the time on the sidewalk.  All of the sudden, he’d just get down and just start drawing, and instantly there would be a crowd around him.  And then he would give out all his buttons to all the crowd.  Everyone loved him.

And so when I heard about these symptoms of the swollen glands, I [long pause and exhale] I immediately thought of the time probably four years prior, his neck was like that and we had no idea what it was.  And all of the sudden he got better and he was back, he was Keith.

It was around the time that Klaus Nomi died, before AIDS had a name, they were starting to talk about some of the things, the signs that meant, you know, you were carrying this.  But we didn’t really talk about it, because it was so scary as a subject.  

Believe it or not, way before AIDS existed, way before he had that swollen gland, he used to say to me that he was going to die young.  He had that urgency way before any, any of that existed and that’s part of it.  Like, there was something he knew.  He was like a flaming star.

What really was hard was, well, around the time he came out – which was so brave — about his diagnosis in Rolling Stone magazine, and nobody was doing that — there was such a stigma of shame — and I just thought, “Wow.”  He was so brave.

And then sadly, a lot of the invitations dried up, parties and things like that that he was so into, and what was left was, you know, people that, you know, really cared.

Everything he did had meaning behind it.  He wasn’t just taking the rage and, you know, internalizing it and make a crazy Rashomon.  He would spend his money and make a stack of posters and be giving them out with the buttons.  Not dogmatic at all.  He was full of life and art and generosity, you know, of giving to people.

He created this language now that everybody reads — that’s huge.  All over the world, everyone knows those images, and it’s just kind of amazing.  The way he went about himself as an artist in the public, in so many ways, he was way ahead of his time.  He didn’t get to see the whole explosion of social media, but I can imagine he would’ve taken it to a level that we don’t understand and that we’ll never know.

He was a very important person in my life – still is, obviously.  The generosity that he had of himself was pretty inspiring.  So, I try to keep that up.

The last thing I said to him, I basically told him that I would do what I can to help him keep his legacy alive.  And I do whatever I can, so I’m happy to do this.

'The last time I saw [Jack] was at County Hospital when he was toward the end of his life.  It was a very sobering sight to see my good friend – who was so vibrant and funny and full of life – fading away.'
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Jack Foster
Story & Recording by Sandra Bernhard

I met Jack Foster in the summer of 1974, waiting in line to see The Rocky Horror Show up on Sunset at the Roxy Theatre.

He and his whole crew from the San Gabriel Valley were fun, irreverent, crazy and gay as you can be.  Jack and I hit it off and started hanging out all the time.  We’d go dancing at Studio One, and raise the roof off the joint.  He became a bartender and worked at clubs all over Los Angeles, so we could get in for free.

We went to see Tina Turner in 1980, when she struck out on her own after leaving Ike.  It was one of the most memorable concerts I have ever seen, and Jack and I bonded over that like nobody else possibly could.

When he first got sick in 1986, he said the doctor told him “Yeah, I can’t eat hotdogs or be anywhere near birdshit.”  He goes, “What does that mean?”

And we laughed about it.  He kept his spirits high all during his fight against HIV and AIDS.  We talked all the time; he’d moved back home and lived with his parents back in the San Gabriel Valley.

The last time I saw him was at County Hospital when he was toward the end of his life.  It was a very sobering sight to see my good friend – who was so vibrant and funny and full of life – fading away.  I’ll never forget that.

I miss Jack, and he left me a vinyl Tina Turner record that his parents gave to me after he left us.  I still have it, and I still miss him to this day.

'Paul was full of passion and immensely loyal to those he befriended ... He was funny, smart, gossipy, flirtatious, curious, fully present in the moment -- which is to say that he was fully alive except, of course, that he was living with AIDS.'
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Paul Monette, 1945-1995
Story & Recording by David Roman

Paul Monette was my mentor. We met in 1990 when I first moved to Los Angeles.  It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and PauI was one of the era’s most insightful and accomplished voices. I was just beginning my academic career.  Mutual friends in the arts and AIDS activist communities introduced us.  While we were a generation apart we were kindred spirits and forged a quick and easy friendship that lasted until his death in 1995.

I was the first scholar to take his work seriously, something that came easy to me given the beauty and power of Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog and Borrowed Time: an AIDS Memoir, his late 1980s masterpieces, books I would teach in my undergraduate courses and write about in academic journals.

Here’s an excerpt from his memoir Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, which he wrote during the AIDS years.  It gives you a sense of his passion and purpose:

“But the fevers are on me now, the virus mad to ravage my last 50 T-cells.
It’s hard to keep the memory at full dazzle with so much loss to mock it.
Roger gone, Craig gone, Cesar gone, Stevie gone.
And this feeling that I’m the last one left in a world where only the ghosts still laugh.
But at least they’re the ghosts of full-grown men,
proof that all of us got that far, free of the traps and the lies.
And at that moment on the brink of summer’s end,
no one would ever tell me again that men like me couldn’t love.”

Paul was full of passion and immensely loyal to those he befriended.  He was drawn to my commitment to his legacy and to AIDS awareness in general, and grateful for my efforts to make his work accessible to a younger queer generation.  He was funny, smart, gossipy, flirtatious, curious, fully present in the moment — which is to say that he was fully alive except, of course, that he was living with AIDS.  He looked out for me, affirming my life choices in ways I very much needed at the time.  I saw him as a tribal elder, some full of wisdom, experience and generosity.

His triumphant moment, when his memoir Becoming a Man won the 1992 National Book Award, remains a milestone in LGBTQ history. I will always remember the joy the recognition offered him and the pride he felt for the various communities he was honored to represent.

We had a very tender inter-generational dynamic, made all the more immediate given his health challenges.

Were we friends? I wasn’t inner-circle by any means, but we spent time together during his final years.  He single-handedly took it upon himself to help me get hired at Yale University, his alma mater, for the first-ever LGBT studies position through The Larry Kramer Initiative.  He advocated for me with letters and phone calls that almost certainly were the reasons I got the job. I owe him everything for that alone.

He died the first year I was teaching at Yale.  Along with David Groff, his editor and friend, I organized his New York City memorial, which we hosted at the Public Theater.  It was essential for us to gather together and celebrate Paul’s life and legacy.

My name is David Roman. Paul Monette was an important figure in my life and the lives of so many others. I loved him for his passion and authenticity and I remember him for his deep love for queer people everywhere, especially those living with HIV.

'It’s fair to say that Paul Jabara wrote some major chapters of the Gay American Songbook.'
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Paul Jabara, 1948-1992
Story by Bruce Vilanch and Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Bruce Vilanch

It’s fair to say that Paul Jabara wrote some major chapters of the Gay American Songbook.  Paul was the songwriter for mega-hits.

“Last dance, last chance …” — that’s Donna Summer.  He also wrote “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls — two girls who were in my weight class — and with his co-writer Bruce Roberts, “No More Tears,” (singing) “Enough is enough is enough); a duet by, yes, Donna Summer and uh, Barbra Streisand — that’s the woman.  Paul and Bruce Roberts also co-wrote “The Main Event” from the movie The Main Event starring Ryan O’Neal and uh, Barbra Streisand — yes, that’s the woman.

I am Bruce Vilanch.  Paul was a dear friend of mine for 25 years.  I met him … actually, I didn’t meet him the first time I met him.  The first time I met him was at the Billboard Theatre in New York.   He was in the original cast of Hair, and as part of the opening number “Aquarius,” he crawled from the stage over the seats.  He crawled the entire length of the orchestra, going – stepping on seats as he went, and people ducking and all of that, you know.  And he passed right over me, and he was wearing bell bottoms and no underwear.  And I was immediately interested in him as a performer … [lecherous laugh] … of course.

And some years later, he did a musical called Rachael Lily Rosenbloom and Don’t You Ever Forget It, and it was written for Bette Midler, who was a creative collaborator of mine of long-standingAnd she didn’t do it; Ellen Greene did it.   And it came to Broadway, but it never actually opened.  It was a way over-the-top disco musical.  It was insane.

Ellen was in it with André De Shields and Paul and a bunch of other people.  The producer was Robert Stigwood.  As it got closer and closer to opening night and previews, Stigwood decided it was never really going to happen.  And the word got out that he was going to close it on Saturday night.  So it was the must-see event of the season.

I was in New York with Bette and her piano player Barry Manilow — music director, I should say — and we went.  We got tickets and it was like going to the Academy Awards.  It was spectacular.  And the show was insane, ridiculous and awful — and Paul was brilliant.  And that was the second time.

And years later, a few years later, we were both in Hollywood, and we collaborated on a couple of musical projects that never happened, but we became very close friends.  And I remember having dinner at his house.  In the living room, he had a huge picture of himself.  It was a replica of Barbra Streisand’s first album, called My Name is Barbra, and her picture on the cover.  And instead of her, it was Paul, who had been photo-shopped in.  And above it, in the same font, it said My Name is Jbara — and he had removed the first a from his last name, as she had removed the middle a from her name — so it was My Name is Jbara.

And at the time, I said, “You know, Paul, you have proven my theory about every gay man in Hollywood: They either want to be Barbra Streisand or have dinner with Barbra Streisand.  And you have managed to do both.”

So for “The Last Dance,” the Donna Summer tune, Paul won a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues song, and an Academy Award — yes, he won the Oscar — and a Golden Globe — which, of course, is much more valuable — from the film Thank God It’s Friday.  You remember that one; it was set in a disco.  He wrote songs for other major artists, including Bette Midler, and Diana Ross, Billy Preston, Julio Iglesias — even Raquel Welch sang one of Paul’s songs.  Of course, no one heard her — they were too busy watching her lungs.

Paul was also an accomplished actor and singer.  He was one of the original cast members of Hair, as I mentioned, and Jesus Christ Superstar — two Tom O’Horgan shows.  He replaced Tim Curry in the role of Doctor Frank-N-Furter in the Los Angeles stage production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Roxy when Tim went to England to do the movie.

Paul and John Schlesinger were good pals, and he appeared in some hilarious roles in a few of John’s movies, including his Oscar-winning 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, in which Paul played a hippie handing out pills and asking partygoers if they wanted to go “up or down” — [laughs] an elevator operator!

In Schlesinger’s movie The Day of the Locust, Paul appeared in drag singing a cover of the Marlene Dietrich song “Hot Voo-Doo,” which you’ll remember is the one she sang dressed as a gorilla.  In 1981, Paul starred in another John Schlesinger film, the comedy Honky-Tonk Freeway, as a songwriter named T. J. Tupus whose day job was as a truck driver hauling lions and a rhino.  In the 1978 film Thank God It’s Friday, which featured “Last Dance,” he played Carl, the near-sighted disco patron blindly looking for love.  Paul also sang two tracks on the original soundtrack album. 

If you had to choose one of Paul’s songs to define his life, it might be his duet with Donna Summer, which is aptly entitled “Never Lose Your Sense of Humor.”  Paul may have lost his battle with AIDS in 1992 at age 44, but he left us with a treasure trove of hits that you still cannot help but hear at your local dance club or bar, especially if you stay until closing and shake your money-maker to “Last Dance” — which has become the anthem of closing time at every disco in the world.

If you look up one night and see a flash of light across the sky, no doubt it’s a reflection from Paul’s disco ball, up there in gay heaven.

'He tried to live his life as normally as he could. He even went out to Fire Island, but when his skinny, KS-purpled body entered the pool, everyone else got out. My heart broke again.'
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Lawrence Baker Wilkins, 1962 -1994
Story & Recording by Richard Phibbs

Lawrence Baker Wilkins, born November 10, 1962, died July 12, 1994

I have wanted to write this for years, but remembering brings back so much pain that it often seems unbearable. I must do this, though, for my beloved friends who endured so much physical and emotional suffering.  Baker Wilkins was my best pal from our 20s into our 30s. He became my brother. We were both new to New York, curious and excited to be away from our small hometowns.

I was terrified of HIV and its mystery. This was New York City in the early 90’s, and it was almost impossible not to equate sex and intimacy with a dark horrible death. Baker was not full of fear the way I was, and that worried me.

We met for lunch one day, and he revealed to me he had tested positive. We held each other and wept. To us, the diagnosis meant that within three to six months, he’d likely be gone. I was devastated, but held myself together for him and hoped. From there it went downhill.

A red spot showed up on his nose. I said, let’s go to the makeup counter and get a cover-up. The woman at the counter sold us a concealer and told Baker to stay out of the sun. She had no idea the spot was Kaposi’s Sarcoma. The cover-up worked for a week until the KS began to take over Baker’s body. He declined rapidly. My most handsome friend was now covered in KS lesions and had wasting syndrome.

He had to have a shunt put in his chest as his veins could no longer stand up to the IV medications. He went home to North Carolina to see his family, and the local massage therapist refused to touch him.
My heart broke for my beloved friend. His courage was remarkable and he wanted to live, so with the help of his longtime partner Rolf Iversen, we investigated everything.

Shark cartilage was said to have healing properties. We tried that. Urine therapy — drinking one’s own urine — was said to stimulate the immune system. He tried that. He tried to live his life as normally as he could. He even went out to Fire Island, but when his skinny, KS-purpled body entered the pool, everyone else got out. My heart broke again.

The next phase came when they had to amputate his foot because the KS had spread. In the hospital,
I held his hand as the excruciating “phantom pains” took over his body.

Baker died. My best friend and my brother was gone at 32. He was a remarkable man.

Selling art was his passion; collecting art was his dream. He was kind to everyone. He was so handsome that everyone wanted to talk to him, and he would spend time with each person that did.  Most of them were strangers and he would make them feel heard and important.

After Baker died, Rolf died too, then Bill, then John, then Jose, then 12 other friends. Then my boss, my dentist, and then my doctor. All dead.

I was overwhelmed with sadness, then guilt that I was still alive. Depression set in. I got myself to a therapist and onto an antidepressant. I knew that, as sad as I felt, the gift of life was mine. Seeing Baker fight so hard for his life was a reminder that I had to fight for mine.

Then came a medical miracle. If Baker could only have held on for six more months, he could have received antiretroviral treatment and still be with us. At the time I didn’t believe they would find something. I just couldn’t believe it.  I think about Baker everyday. I think about Rolf and all the rest. Sometimes I think I still have PTSD from all the losses.

Sometimes I still equate sex with death, though I remind myself this is a different time. I still weep when I walk by the new condominiums that have gone up where St. Vincent’s stood. I look up and remember those cinder block cells of rooms and the hallways packed with the gurneys of young men with skeletal bodies and KS lesions. I walk by the nearby New York City AIDS Memorial hoping to feel something. I don’t, except a sadness that the names one sees on other war monuments aren’t displayed here, the names of the lost.

Before I go to sleep and when I wake up, I see this photograph of Baker, and somehow this comforts me.

I love you, my dear brother. You fought hard and with such dignity. You were so kind and sweet to everyone. You were brave until the end.  I am so sorry the world was not kinder to you.

'For me, there is a sweetness to remembering our close friendship of those early years and the extraordinary evolution of the pretty faced, slightly chubby blonde boy in the hideous blue velvet cape.'
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Leigh Bowery, 1961-1994
Story & Recording by Scarlett Cannon

I will always remember the moment when a pretty faced, slightly chubby blonde boy turned up at the door of The Cha Cha Club wearing a rather hideous blue velvet cape.  He told me his name was Leigh Bowery, followed by, “Graham sent me to you!”  It was late October 1981.

My friend Graham Parnham had met Leigh at Andrew Logan’s “Alternative Miss World” earlier that month.  Leigh didn’t know anybody on the club scene in London, so Graham had sent him along to my club, telling him that I would look after him.

“You’ll like him,” Graham had told me.  “He’s Australian and a bit bonkers.”

Graham was right.  I liked Leigh immediately.  He had a generous spirit and sharp wit, was extremely polite and charming.  I told him I’d be glad to let him in to the club so long as he promised me that he would never wear that velvet cape again. We laughed, the first of many laughs that we were to have.

It would be two or three years before Leigh started creating looks and dressing in his extraordinary and very outrageous style.  Back in 1982 and 1983, he wanted to be a fashion designer and would create 1940s-inspired pyjama suits for me, Trojan (1966 – 1986) and himself.

He’d make me dresses to wear to the club, shrewdly knowing that they would be photographed aplenty.  He’d hand write labels with indelible laundry marker and stitch them into his creations.  I would look forward to the Tuesday afternoons when Leigh would arrive with something new to wear out that night.

The world quite rightly remembers #LeighBowery as the brilliant and unique performance artist that he became.  Though we remained friends throughout his life, for me there is a sweetness to remembering our close friendship of those early years and the extraordinary evolution of the pretty faced, slightly chubby blonde boy in the hideous blue velvet cape.

We lost Graham Parnham to AIDS in the Spring of 1994.

We lost Leigh the same year, on New Year’s Eve.

Happy birthday, my friend.