March 14, 1991, Twenty Years Ago Today
Howard died on March 14, 1991 – twenty years ago today. For twenty years, Howard’s companion Bill, our good friend Nancy and I have called each other on March 14 and said some variation of, “I just thought I’d call.” After all this time, that’s all we need to say. I’d like to mark this day a little differently, though. I’d like to mark it by telling you about three other men who also died of AIDS in that era of hopelessness.
Howard died too young and with so much more to do and to give. But though he never got to see the incredible impact of his work on generations of people, he did get to use his talents, to know that he had some effect, to enjoy a bit of success, to recognize that what he did with his talent was very, very good.
But these three men died too young without ever fulfilling their promise. Not because they didn’t have their own promise, but because for too many years, a diagnoses of AIDS was a death sentence.
Today, in honor of Howard and all those we lost during that bleak time, I’d like to introduce them to you.
David Evans lived with Howard for a very short time. He wasn’t a theater guy – he worked as a stockbroker for a while and then for Brooks Brothers for a longer while. He had a Brooklyn accent and a Brooklyn swagger that masked a naïveté that was both charming and frustrating. Howard and David remained friends after they broke up and when David got sick, Howard and Bill cared for him.
I went to see David when he was dying at Cabrini. When I got to the room, Howard was waiting for me outside. “Don’t go in,” he said. “It isn’t good.” To my disgrace, I listened to him and never said a proper goodbye to David because I was afraid to see illness that close.
A few years later, when it was Howard who was dying, I realized that bearing witness is a matter of respect and love.
Howard organized David’s funeral. That’s when I found out that David’s real first name was Chester and that his true last name was something unpronounceable that I no longer remember. David had changed his name when he moved to Manhattan – because he had dreams of success and brilliance – dreams he was not able to fulfill.
I didn’t know Albert Tavares very well. He was a casting director with credits in film and theater, including a few things you may have heard of – Little Shop of Horrors, Smile, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. He was a great guy – that’s what he was – boyishly handsome, quiet and kind.
Albert was the go-to guy for everything on Smile, he’d run for burgers and help with make-up, whatever was needed. Jodi Benson, one of the stars of Smile said this about Albert, “He was such a sweet man – he was the person you could go to when you were crying and upset. All the girls would go to him that way. ‘They’re hurting my feelings – Howard hurt my feelings,’ and Albert would make it all right”.
Here’s another thing about Albert – you know those great videos we’ve been putting up on the web? Albert shot them. And then he sent me the tapes. He was that kind of guy. Albert died a year after Howard. He was 39 years old.
Stuart White. It breaks my heart to talk about Stuart, even now. He was Howard’s first love and, before I figured out what was what, I had a terrible crush on him myself. It was hard not to. He was brilliantly talented, funny, smart, handsome and stunningly immature. He and Howard went to graduate school together and then moved to New York. Stuart was a director – the only director Howard ever really trusted with his work. Howard and Stuart and their friend Kyle Renick took over a faltering off-off Broadway theater called the WPA and made it shine. They mounted incredible productions on the slimmest of shoestrings and on the most maxed of maxed-out credit cards.
Then Howard and Stuart broke up – brutally and heartbreakingly -- and Stuart fell away from us all into the disco-beat New York of the early ‘80’s. In 1982, Howard called to tell me that he’d heard Stuart was sick – that he had something called the gay cancer. They thought maybe it came from poppers. That’s how long ago it was – we thought young gay men were dying from using amyl-nitrate. By the time Stuart died in the summer of ‘83 his illness had a name.
Stuart was 34 years old when he died of AIDS. Howard produced his memorial service at the WPA.
Sometime in the early ‘80’s, Howard and Alan wrote a song called Sheridan Square. Sheridan Square is in Greenwich Village, not far from the Stonewall Bar – the emotional center of the Gay Rights movement. It was where men – I’m not sure about women – who were gay and different could go to be gay and not-different-at-all. Howard was funny about the song Sheridan Square, a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t his favorite song. I think the emotions and concerns were maybe a little too raw and certainly too personal. I think maybe he didn’t want to make art out of what was happening. But it’s a good song and, given all that happened then and has happened since, one worth listening to.
Here it is – as played at Howard’s memorial.