Deaths Feed

Tears Over the Death of Princess Diana (August 31, 1997)


Princess Diana's life was cut tragically short when she was killed in an auto accident in Paris late Saturday night on Aug. 31, 1997.  She was only 36 years old.  And although we're not British subjects, her death cast a pall over Labor Day weekend here in the US.  Indeed, grief over Diana's death reverberated throughout the world.




Diana was especially beloved by the gay community because of her AIDS charity work.  Ten years before her death she visited a newly opened shelter for gay men with AIDS and shook their hands - the first high profile celebrity not afraid to touch AIDS victims.  She further endeared herself to gay men because of her sense of style and the ability to rise above the adversity she encountered while married to Prince Charles.




The Pet Shop Boys wrote a beautiful, dirge-like song (with a beat) called Dreaming of the Queen.  It tells of a dream in which Queen Elizabeth and Diana discuss, over a spot of tea, the futility of love.  It was from PSB's album Very which was released four years before Diana's death.  In 2000 I saw them in concert at Radio City Music Hall where I saw them perform this song.  Behind them on stage was a video showing the hearse bearing Diana's coffin, its windshield wipers famously working overtime to clear flowers thrown by the millions along the funeral route.   




(I was spending Labor Day weekend out in Fire Island when I heard the news about Diana's death.  I've written a blog post about what I remember of that night on my history blog "History As You Experienced It".)


Remembering lllustrator Robert de Michiell (1958 - 2015)



Robert de Michielle


While watching last week's Tony Awards I was surprised, and saddened, when, during the In Memoriam segment, Chita Rivera said the name of illustrator Robert de Michiell (who had died in October 2015 at the age of 57).  Although I didn't know him personally I knew of his work through a friend who participated in an erotic drawing workshop that met weekly at the Leslie Lohman Gallery in SoHo.  Robert was one of the regular attendees and I bought a number of his sketches (two which are shown to the right) at the gallery's first Dirty Little Drawings show in 2003.  It exhibited work by participants of the workshop (all submissions were 4X4 inches square).  Once I knew his style I recognized his work in Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker.  He also produced a series of colorful Fire Island postcards that captured the carefree, body-beautiful atmosphere of the Pines. 


One of the postcards in de Michiell's Fire Island Pines collection


Robert de Michielle chest
Another of his drawings that I own


Robert de michiell man on beach towel
Having spent a number of summers in the Pines, might I have been the inspiration for this sketch? 


New yorker cover by robert demichiell
March 1, 1993 cover illustration


I often found myself confusing de Michiell with another gay illustrator, Robert W. Richards (still alive, at the age of 80), who also participated in the erotic art workshop.  Their drawing styles, however, differ - de Michiell's hot and masculine men are a blend of caricature and cartoon while Richards' men are more lifelike and have pretty faces with a high-fashion flair.


Robert richards
An example of Robert W. Richards' work


After a number of Dirty Little Drawings exhibits the organizers of the workshop compiled nearly 300 of the sketches and published them in a handsome hardbound book (like the drawings, 4X4 inches) titled, you guessed it, Dirty Little Drawings.  de Michiell had four of his sketches published and eight of Richards' were chosen.


Dirty Little Drawings


Remembering Our Gay Ancestors

Barbara.jordan2Truman.capoteFour years ago I wrote a post about popular LGBT personalities, and another about gay icons over the age of 75.  This latest post provides an overview of accomplished gay men and lesbians who are no longer with us.  I've drawn up a list of just over 250 individuals who've made their mark in their respective professions.  Of them, about two-thirds were open about their sexual orientation. (Please note that this post was published in 2014.)


The median age of these gay pioneers at the time of their death was 63.  Taking out the 20% who died of AIDS (at a median age of 45), the median age of those who died from other other causes rises to a still relatively young 68.  The oldest, architect Philip Johnson (in photo below) was 98 when he died in 2005.  Del Martin and Mabel Hampton were the oldest lesbians, both 87 at the time of their deaths in 2008 and 1989, respectively.  The youngest person on the list is Pedro Zamora, a cast member of MTV's The Real World, who died from AIDS at the age of 22.  He's followed by actor James Dean who was 24 when he was killed in a car accident.  The woman who was youngest at the time of her death was Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote Raisin in the Sun.  She was 34.




Philip Johnson Architect 98
John Gielgud Actor 96
Gian Carlo Menotti Composer/Conductor 95
Paul Cadmus Artist 95
Arthur Laurents Playwright 93
Bunny Breckinridge Actor & Drag Queen 93
Horst P. Horst Fashion Photographer 93
Michael Tippett Composer 93
Van Johnson Actor 92
Virgil Thomson Composer 92
EM Forster Author 91
M. Somerset Maugham Playwright/Novelist 91
Aaron Copland Composer 90
Harry Hay Gay Rights Activist 90
Merce Cunningham Dancer/Choreographer 90
Quentin Crisp Writer/Raconteur 90
Jermaine Stewart Singer 39
Willi Smith Fashion Designer 39
Federico Garcia Lorca Poet/Dramatist 38
Larry Levan DJ 38
Michael Callen Songwriter/AIDS Activist 38
Arthur Rimbaud Poet 37
Marlon Riggs Filmmaker 37
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Director/Screenwriter 37
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 36
Sal Mineo Actor 36
Joe Orton Playwright 34
Lorraine Hansbury Playwright  34
Casey Donovan Porn Star 33
Brian Epstein Manager of Beatles 32
David Cole Record Producer 32
Hart Crane Poet, Life Savers heir 32
Patrick Cowley Disco Producer 32
Franz Schubert Composer 31
Keith Haring Urban Artist/Activist 31
Rudolph Valentino Actor 31
James Dean Actor 24
Pedro Zamora Reality Star 22


Sixty-one persons (about 25% of the total) were born before the 20th century.  The furthest back in time was the Roman emperor Hadrian, followed by Richard the Lionhearted and Henry II.


Roman Emperor Hadrian


Hadrain Roman Emperor 76-138
Richard the Lionhearted English King 1157-1199
Edward II King 1284-1327
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor 1452-1519
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 1619-1655
Jean-Baptiste Lully Composer 1632-1687
Arcangelo Corelli Composer/Violinist 1653-1713
Franz Schubert Composer 1797-1828
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist 1803-1882
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Feminist 1815-1902
Henry David Throeau Author, Poet 1817-1862
Walt Whitman Poet 1819-1892
Susan B. Anthony Feminist 1820-1906
Emily Dickinson Poet 1830-1886
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Composer 1840-1893
Henry James Writer 1843-1916


Looking at how many search results their names turn up on Google, the median number is 440,000 (note: from the summer of 2014).  Sixty-one generated more than 1 million search results, with Alexander McQueen (pictured below) and Leonardo Da Vinci the top two, well ahead of the rest.  After them, the three others with 5 million or more search results are Oscar Wilde, Divine and Andy WarholFrida Kahlo is the woman with the most, ranked twelfth with 2.8 million.  Sixty-four have fewer than 100,000, with the lowest number being for Mabel Hampton, Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge and drag performer Bunny Breckinridge, all who turned up 7,000.




Alexander McQueen Fashion Designer
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor
Oscar Wilde Writer/Poet
Divine  Actress
Andy Warhol Artist
Yves Saint Laurent Fashion Designer
James Dean Actor
Freddie Mercury Musician
Sylvester Disco Singer
Christian Dior Fashion Designer
Frida Kahlo Artist
Perry Ellis Fashion Designer
Virginia Woolf Writer
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist
John Gielgud Actor


By profession, actors/actresses and authors/novelists have the greatest representation, comprising close to 40% of the total.  Then there are occupations with just one LGBT person associated with them, such as architect (Philip Johnson); mathematician (Alan Turing); chef (James Beard); economist (John Maynard Keynes); marine biologist (Rachel Carson); and astronaut (Sally Ride).


Economist John Maynard Keynes


Actors/Actresses 67 26%
Authors/Novelists 34 13%
Activists (Various Causes) 21 8%
Composers/Songwriters 21 8%
Poets 17 7%
Directors (Movie/B'way/TV) 15 6%
Playwrights 12 5%
Choreographers/Dancers 11 4%
Fashion Designers 10 4%
Singers 9 4%
Artists 7 3%
Athletes 6 2%
Photographers 6 2%


Finally, regarding their deaths, more than half died from either AIDS, various forms of cancer or heart attacks.  Additionally, nine were murdered, eight took their own life, seven died in various accidents and two died from drug overdoses.  It should be noted that not everyone who died before they turned 50 died from AIDS as nearly half died from other causes.  







Unusual Circumstances Behind the Deaths of Some Noteworthy Gay Personalities

CemeteryAs I was doing research for an upcoming post about noteworthy LGBT persons from the past, I collected information on the circumstances of their deaths.  And although nearly two-thirds died from AIDS, heart attacks, pneumonia, strokes or various cancers, there were some other causes of death that stood out because they were out of the ordinary.  Here they are, arranged in chronological order:



  • We begin with perhaps the most gruesome death, that of England's Edward II.  Supposedly, a red-hot poker was thrust up his rectum while he was imprisoned in 1327, scalding his internal organs.  However, scholars now believe this story was made-up and that Edward, in fact, may not have been murdered at all.  Read the story behind it here.  




  • Jean-Baptiste-Lully succumbed to gangrene at the age of 54 after the composer and conductor struck his foot with his long conducting staff during a performance in 1687.
  • Famed composer Franz Schubert died in 1828 from mercury poisoning, a result of mercury being administered to treat tertiary syphilis.  He was 31.
  • Hart Crane, poet and heir to the Life Savers candy fortune, was 32 when he jumped from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico after an evening of drinking (and being roughed up by a crew member he made advances on).  His body was never recovered.  In 2012 James Franco played Crane in the movie The Broken Tower.




  • Spanish poet/dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, just 38, was executed in the opening weeks of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 by Nationalist Guards led by General Francisco Franco.




  • Writer Virginia Woolf filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, walked into the River Ouse near her home in England, and drowned herself.  Her body wasn't recovered for three weeks.  She was 59.




  • James Dean was just 24 years old when he was killed in a car crash a month before his movie Rebel Without a Cause was released in the autumn of 1955.
  • Dag Hammarskjold had been the second Secretary General of the UN for eight years when he was killed in a plane crash in 1961 at the age of 56.
  • Marc Blitzstein, renowned composer/lyricist/librettist, was murdered in 1964 by three sailors he picked up in a bar while on a winter vacation in Martinique.  He was 58.




  • Poet and writer Frank O'Hara died from injuries sustained after being run over by a dune buggy on the beach in Cherry Grove on Fire Island during the summer of 1966.  He was 40 years old.




  • Neal Cassady, who ran with the crowd of the Beat Generation's Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, died from hypothermia in 1968 after wandering away from a wedding party in just a t-shirt and jeans on a cold and rainy January night in Mexico.
  • In November 1978 Harvey Milk was murdered in City Hall along with the mayor of San Francisco by a disgruntled former member of the Board of Supervisors.  At his murder trial the defense team used the infamous "Twinkies defense", saying his addiction to junk food produced mood swings.
  • The story is that Tennessee Williams' fatal 1983 heart attack, at the age of 71, was caused by choking after he inhaled the cap from a bottle of poppers he had opened with his teeth.  However, like Cass Elliott's ham sandwich, this has been disputed.
  • Andy Warhol died in 1987 in a New York hospital from a cardiac arrthymia while recovering from successful gallbladder surgery.  Ironically, it had been an effort to get Warhol to schedule this surgery since he was afraid of doctors and hospitals.  He was 58.




  • Rumors were that 70-year-old Malcolm Forbes didn't die from a heart attack in 1990, but rather by doctor-assisted suicide after being diagnosed with HIV.




  • Gianni Versace was shot to death in July 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in front of his South Beach mansion as he was walking back from a coffee shop with the morning paper (and $1,200 in his pocket).  He was 50.




  • Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, was struck and killed by falling debris on the morning of 9-11.  His was the first certified fatality from the attack.




  • Winner of a silver medal in boxing for Canada at the 1992 Olympics, Mark Leduc's cause of death is listed as "heatstroke" after he collapsed in a sauna in a Toronto hotel in 2009.  He was 47.











Actor Robert Reed, aka "Mr. Brady", Dies of AIDS (May 12, 1992)

Rock_hudson Anthony_perkins Liberace In the early days of the AIDS crisis it was common to assume that any man stricken with it was gay.  As a result, AIDS inadvertently outed a number of its celebrity victims.  Although their close circle of friends may have known about their sexual orientation, the general public was largely unaware.  However, once news that celebs such as Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins and Liberace had AIDS their "secret life" became known.  It was an unfortunate way of being outed.  And in some cases family members vehemently denied that AIDS was the cause of death.


Robert_reed Mike_and_carol_brady Such was the case with actor Robert Reed, best known for his role as architect-dad Mike Brady in the ABC sitcom The Brady Bunch, which aired from 1969-1974.  Until he died of AIDS on May 12, 1992, the viewing public was largely unaware he was gay.  He was 59 at the time of his death, which was relatively old since AIDS victims were largely in their 40s.   Although his Wikipedia bio disputes that he died of AIDS, another Wikipedia article lists Reed among celebrities who died from it.  Other articles site that he was HIV+, which was a contributing factor to his death from colon cancer.


22 years would pass before the next cast member passed away, actress Ann B. Davis, who portrayed the Brady's live-in maid, Alice.



Billionaire Malcolm Forbes Outed by Outweek Magazine (March 11, 1990)

Malcolm_forbesBesides his financial acumen, high-profile billionaire Malcolm Forbes was also well known for his hobbies of motorcycling and hot air ballooning, as well as his much publicized friendship with Elizabeth Taylor.  He died on February 24, 1990 at the age of 70, and two weeks later the fledgling weekly gay magazine Outweek ran a cover story outing him (cover date of March 18).  It was written by gay journalist, and rabble-rouser, Michelangelo Signorile.  (Although the cause of Forbes' death is listed as "heart attack", it is rumored that he actually committed suicide upon learning that he was HIV-positive.)




OutingThe story about Forbes was actually just part of the story as the thrust of the article was about the double standard used by the media when it came to reporting on the private lives of closeted gays and heterosexuals.  The act of "outing" was controversial not only with the general public but within the gay community as well.  Because of its potential negative ramifications a debate raged about how ethical it was to reveal a person's sexual orientaiton before they were prepared to do so themselves.  Twenty years later it seems to be reserved mostly for closeted politicians who support anti-gay legislation. 


Outweek_final_issueOutweek_first_issueAs for Outweek it lasted for just two years.  Both its first (near right) and last issue (far right) were published during Gay Pride Week.

The Village People's "Leatherman" Dies (March 4, 2001)

Glenn_Hughes_(Village_People)in_memoriam Glenn Hughes, the Village People's furry-chested, handlebar-mustached leatherman died on March 4, 2001 from lung cancer at the age of 50.  The other five members of the original group are still alive and range in age from 55 to 65.  (The group's creator, Jacques Morali, died in 1991.)  The video clip below of Hughes is from the Village People's awful 1980 movie Can't Stop the Music:




Brian_wilson_sfgiants2 I thought about Hughes when watching the 2010 World Series because Giants relief pitcher, Brian Wilson, reminded me of him - except he doesn't have a hairy chest or naturally black hair (Wilson dyes it to give him an intimidating look).






AIDS Strikes Down Famed Graffiti Artist Keith Haring (February 16, 1990)




Few well-known personalities have died of AIDS at such a young age as graffiti/pop artist Keith Haring, who was 31 at the time of his death on February 16, 1990.  And with the exception of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele, who died in their late 20s, no other accomplished artist was younger at the time of his death as Haring.  But he accomplished a lot during his career in the 1980s and was known worldwide.  He left behind an estate worth $25 million.


I remember seeing Haring's curious "creature graffiti" on the walls of the Sheridan Square/Christopher St. subway station in 1981 when I moved into Manhattan.  His art was playful and otherworldly with a touch of foreboding. (Not only was he known for his art but for social activism as well.)  The style evoked that of the Incas and Mayans.  His work has appeared on T-shirts, exterior and interior walls, postcards, greeting cards and CD covers.  Many books have been published about his life and work including Keith Haring: Life for Art as well as a number of documentaries including Universe of Keith Haring




Three other noted pop artists died in the three years preceding Haring's death (pictured, from right to left): In 1987 Andy Warhol died at age 57 (complications after surgery); Jean-Michael Basquiat died in 1988 at 27 (heroin overdose) and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died from AIDS complications at the age of 44 in 1989.


Andy_warhol Jean_michel_basquait Robert_mapplethorpe





Remembering Arpad Miklos (1967-2013)

Arpad_miklos Arpad.smilingLike so many of his fans, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Arpad Miklos on Feb. 3, 2013, apparently by his own hand.  Of all the persons I've had any personal interactions with in my lifetime, he is the first to commit suicide (that I'm aware of).  I had two face-to-face encounters with him.  The first was ten years ago, a $250 "investment".  A lasting memory of that evening encounter was that his body was beautifully muscled, but not excessively so, and his skin was smooth like the marble of Michelangelo's David



My second encounter with him came five years later.  I was returning from a vacation at Yosemite National Park and during my flight back to New York my iPod fell under my seat.  Not able to find it, I got up to ask if the two passengers seated behind me could look around to see if it was in there space, when none other than Arpad Miklos handed it to me.  I got a kick telling friends that Arpad found my iPod




The last time I saw him was three months ago (Dec. 2012) when he exited the E train at the West 4th Street subway station.  He was such a hot and masculine man with a cute, puppy dog look.  Because of the small connection I had with Arpad, I always got a frisson of excitement whenever I'd see a photo of him in the pages of Next Magazine, usually with a smile on his faceI hope he's now at peace.   



The Death of Songbird Karen Carpenter (February 4, 1983)




Singer Karen Carpenter died on Feb. 4, 1983, one month shy of her 33rd birthday (the Post headline has her age wrong).  She died from heart failure brought on by the strain of weight gain after struggling with anorexia (which at the time was a relatively new medical condition).  She and her older brother Richard formed the popular singing duo known as "The Carpenters".  Besides singing, Karen also played the drums. The Carpenters had twelve top-10 hits in the first half  of the 1970s, beginning with Close to You, then quickly followed by We've Only Just Begun, and Merry Christmas, Darling.  In addition to their initial burst of hits, other favorite Carpenters songs of mine include For All We Know, Top of the World and Touch Me When We're Touching (and an honorable mention goes to Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft!).




Gay men seem to be drawn to Karen, but why?  Perhaps it was the pretty songs she sang about love and heartache that "sensitive" boys could identify with.  Or was it the gender incongruity of Karen expertly playing the drums while singing so beautifully (and often while wearing a gown)?  Seeing Karen sitting behind the drums made her different from "girlie" girls, almost like a big sister. 





The first 45-single I ever bought was the Carpenters' Rainy Days & Mondays in the summer of 1971.  Back then I had no clue about my sexual orientation, but a survey of my album collection was certainly an indicator.  In addition to the Carpenters you'd find Carly Simon, Carole King, Bette Midler and ABBA.  




Finally, on Jan. 1, 1989 a TV movie about Karen's life, The Karen Carpenter Story aired on CBS.  It was the third highest rated TV movie of the 1980s.