After the Pulse Nightclub massacre and the election of a very gay unfriendly pair of candidates, we thought the worst was over. But added to the list of irreplaceable artists we lost were three more this week: Movie immortal Debbie Fisher, her daughter Carrie, who will forever be our Princess Leia, and our unapologetic gay hero, George Michael.
Prince and David Bowie
You can draw a line from the cultural relevance of Elvis in the ‘50s and the Beatles in the ‘60s to ‘70s David Bowie and ‘80s Prince. But it’s also worth noting that all of them reimagined notions of manhood. With his face paint and carrot-colored shag, Bowie delivered daring androgyny, and Prince pushed even further: “Am I black or white,” he asked in Controversy; “Am I straight or gay?” Losing them this year reminded us that they left a world changed by their presence.
Free At Last
Michael had two hits titled “Freedom,” and his wish to create art and live life on his own terms defined him, and widened the door for many who followed in his footsteps. It’s impossible to think of an Adam Lambert or a Sam Smith without realizing that George Michael paved the way more than 30 years ago. That he never tried to be one of those safe, assimilationist, United-Colors-of Benetton monogamous gay men made him much more of a rebel than beard stubble and aviators. He died, as he lived, free. And the world is better for it.
She was a force of nature, Miss Fisher.
She made a strong debut in Warren Beatty’s ’60s epic, Shampoo, then took on the role of tough-talking Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga. Although she appeared in numerous other hit films, among them The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, she could never completely escape the cinnamon-bun hairdo or the slinky outfit she wore as captive to Jabba the Hut. She was also briefly married to composer Paul Simon, who titled an album Hearts and Bones in reference to their rocky relationship. The album was also recorded during the short-lived Simon and Garfunkel reunion, and was originally intended to be Simon and Garfunkel’s first album of new music in a dozen years. Paul and Artie had another falling out, and Simon wiped his vocals off the record and replaced them with his own. Here’s the title song:
Not Without My Daughter
Reynolds will forever be remembered by today’s audience as the mother who died within a day of her daughter. But Debbie Reynolds was a genuine bright light in Hollywood for decades, and starred perhaps most famously opposite Gene Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain. She also held her head high when Carrie’s father, singer Eddie Fisher, walked away from their marriage to run off with Elizabeth Taylor.
Glen Frey and Maurice White
There Go the ’70s
Glen Frey was half of the power couple (along with Don Henley) at the center of the most successful country-rock group ever, the Eagles, whose Greatest Hits album is in the Top 5 of best-selling albums of all time. His was the high lonesome tenor on display in “Tequila Sunrise, “Lyin’ Eyes” and “New Kid in Town.” Maurice White was the mastermind of Earth, Wind and Fire, the man who brought us such sunny gems as “September” and the group’s terrific take on “Got to Get You Into My Life” originally one of the Beatles’ best-loved album cuts. He was also the drummer on Fontella Bass’ great one hit, “Rescue Me.” He’ll be sorely missed, but as he reminds us here, “That’s the Way . . . of the World.”
Fearless Master of the Stage
Few playwrights of the last century could explore the human condition as masterfully as Albee did in such pieces as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — one of the best plays in the English language and part of a lifetime legacy of challenging the nature of how well we know one another and how completely we can deceive ourselves. He was openly gay and never afraid to ruffle feathers — once accepting a Lambda Literary Award by insisting, “I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay.” But he may have saved his most beautiful words for posthumous release: ”To all of you who have made my being alive so wonderful, so exciting and so full, my thanks and all my love.”
A Reminder to Stand United
When same-sex marriage equality became law, many wondered what our next community goal could be. Some even wondered if our acceptance might mean our disappearance into mainstream culture. Then came the attack on the Pulse nightclub, a chilling reminder that until homophobia is wiped from the face of the Earth, those in the LGBT community will need to continue to stand up together for each other — not simply for legal victories. But for our very survival.
Last modified: August 22, 2017