Excuse me darlings, but Little Douglas asked me to let him take over my flog for one more memorial piece. Sorry for the downer, but he has a morbid streak. I'll be enjoying a drink while he wallows. Look for me back here in a day or two with a normal posting. Cheers darlings.
The man smiling from the headshot above was named John Andrew Fugiel. He was born on August 11, 1952, and he died of complications from AIDS on October 24, 1987, twenty years ago today, at the obscenely young age of 35. He was my writing and performing partner and my best friend, and I want to spend today remembering him.
This is John and myself performing on The Second City's ETC stage in Chicago on May 18, 1987. It was not only the last time we ever performed together, but was, in fact, the last performance he ever gave. It was an AIDS benefit. You can see even in this picture, how gaunt John had become.
This is John and myself in that same show, singing together, to the tune of Pennsylvania Station, a piece on the Three Mile Island nuclear near-disaster: Pardon Me Boys, Is This the Pennsylvania Meltdown? Not shown in the picture are John and Kate Michalski, who performed the piece with us. (John Michalski also was one of the writers of the piece.)
This is a newspaper picture of us, dated January 26, 1980. We're performing in a Sherlock Holmes Music Hall show I co-produced with the late Mike Hodel of KPFK radio. (According to a book by Mike's brother Steve, Black Dahlia Avenger, their father was The Black Dahlia Killer; not the type of fame I'd want to claim for my father.) At the time, we were half of a sketch comedy troupe called The Justice League of America. The other two members of that group were the lovely Jayne Hamil, these days a TV comedy writer with many a sit-com writing credit to her name, and Rodger Bumpass, who these days is best known to kids everywhere as the voice of Squiddy on Spongebob Squarepants. Here we were performing a piece I adapted from a classic comedy routine. I, as Sherlock Holmes, am explaining to John, as Dr. Watson, the solution of a murder. You see, Who was the murderer, What was the victim, and I Don't Know was the victim's wife.
Watson: But what is the name of the murderer?
Holmes: What is the name of the victim.
Watson: Who is the victim?
Holmes: No, Who is the killer.
Watson: I don't know.
Holmes: She's the victim's wife. Interesting woman. Once lived with a one-legged dwarf in Soho.
Watson: Are you sure you've been taking cocaine and not novocaine?
Holmes: Why do you ask?
Watson: Because you sound like a numbskull!
I still have a video tape of us performing this piece. There's not a lot of surviving video of us performing together, but what there is I treasure.
In this picture, John is the adorable small boy grinning at the camera at his oldest brother's wedding. The older lady is his mother, and the other gents were his brothers. John was the baby of the family. John was raised on his parent's farm in Indiana, not far from Chicago. He is buried on that farm, next to his parents.
This is John in high school. He was a plump teenager, and plump and gay was not an easy combination to bring off in high school in the 1960s. (It's not a picnic now, for that matter.) John was always proud that he was able to take that weight off in college, and never let it come back.
This is John's prom picture. I have no idea what the name of his unfortunate date was. (Unfortunate? Well ladies, is a plump gay boy your dream prom date?)
John became an improviser and sketch comic young, in Chicago, the international capital of improv. He was a mainstay of a group called The Unnatural Acts. This is his formal portrait as a member of Unnatural Acts. John was naturally funny, very, very funny.
This is a picture of the whole troupe. I'm sorry. I met all these people, and did that last show with them, but I do not now, two decades on, remember their names, except for the lady directly below John's head. That is Second City actress and comedienne Jane Morris, and she is a highly-valued friend of mine still. You've seen her on The Drew Carey Show, and many other sit-coms, as well as in the recent Chris Guest movie For Your Consideration, and also in every movie Garry Marshall has made over the last 21 years. John always called Jane his best friend in his Chicago days, the title I inherited when he moved to Los Angeles and began working with me in the late 1970s. John and Jane remained close to the end of his life. Everyone of those people rallied behind John when his illness came, and all of them participated in a benefit to raise money for his care.
Here's a candid shot I took of John getting ready for a performance in 1985.
This silly shot was taken after a performance of The National Void, a sketch comedy review we worked on back in 1985. That's John, Chris Pina, myself and Will Rogers. I know I look stoned out of my gourd in this picture, and I was, but so were all three of them. Why do only I looked wrecked? These days Chris co-writes with Rick Overton a terrifically funny webpage called Humor In The News. Click on the link and enjoy it. Will is a columnist. You can learn way too much about our political world if you click on his webpage: Will Rogers Columnist, but if you adore President Bush, you won't like it. But then, if you adore President Bush, I don't like you. (Incidentally, Will took the picture of Martine Beswick, Tallulah, and myself in Burbank two weeks ago that appeared in the last posting.)
Like all struggling actors, John had a horrible, soul-eating day job, in his case, as a bank officer at Wells Fargo Bank. Here's a shot of John the banker at his desk in the Lankershim Village branch in south Hollywood. John was a personal banker for a number of celebrity customers, including Regis Philbin prior to his relocating to New York, and Greg Evigan. Greg came to see John in the hospital when he was dying, the only one of John's celebrity customers to do so. It brought real joy into John's day at a time when he was experiencing mostly misery and pain. Don't ever speak ill of Greg Evigan around me. As far as I'm concerned, the man is a saint. My friend Ken Levine put it even better, Greg Evigan is a mensch.
John hated that bank job, but he never escaped it. At his memorial service, I said "That John never achieved the level of success his great talent warranted was not his loss; it was everybody else's."
This was John's last Halloween. He worked at the bank all day in this elaborate make-up. This picture was taken in his living room.
A small side-trip here. This gentleman was Bill Hudnut. Bill was a wonderful acting teacher and casting director. John, Jayne Hamil and myself studied with Bill for a number of years. I love this picture of Bill, as it perfectly captures him. That folder he's holding is his book of comedy exercises. I typed up most everything in that book, during a stint as Bill's secretary, which, believe you me, was a LOT more fun than working in a bank. By a horrible coincidence, Bill also died of AIDS on October 24, in 1992, five years to the day after John's death, so this is always a double death anniversary for me.
There's Bill with the lovely Jayne Hamil, upstairs at Budd Friedman's The Improv in Hollywood, our regular hangout in those long-dead days. Bill was from Baltimore, where he was born on June 2, 1945. If you've seen either version of Hairspray, you should know that The Corny Collins Show and it's "Council" of teenager dancers was based on a real Baltimore TV show, The Buddy Deane Show. Bill was one of those teenage "Council Members" that the ones in Hairspray are inspired by. He was the real deal. He was also one of The Kids in the Kingdom, a musical group that used to perform at Disneyland, where he met his best friend, Richard Herkert. (If you remember the episode of Cheers where Frasier and Lilith fall in love playing footsie across the knees of a bemused Asian talk show host, that host was Richard Herkert.) The legendary film star Pat O'Brian was a lifelong friend and mentor to Bill.
I took this picture of Bill. He had an explosive laugh. When you heard his "HA!" blast out, you knew you'd landed your gag right. Among the performers he mentored were Billy Moses, Ted McGinley, Martine Beswick, and even Fee Waybill of The Tubes, and the one and only Carole King. (I remember Carole's last day in class, EVERYONE except me brought a copy of Tapistry for her to sign. I'd thought it might be a tad crass, so I'd left my two copies of it at home, and ended up looking like I was the only person in class who wasn't a fan. Carole was great fun to improvise with.)
If you ever wonder if the money you have donated for AIDS research actually does any good or not, consider this wonderful and horrible fact: John died from Kaposi's Sarcoma, a then-incurable form of cancer that ravaged him. Today it is curable with a few injections. Were John alive today, but suffering the same malady that took him from us, he could be easily saved. That's what your money has done. It's way too late for John, but at least now few others will follow him down that unspeakably ghastly road.
I want to end with my favorite picture of John Fugiel. This is John as I knew him. I took this picture in John's backyard. When Orson Welles died, they published his home address in the newspaper, which was when we learned that he had been living one block north of John. Now there's a neighbor! "Can I borrow a cup of genius?" But you never saw him out mowing his lawn in a sweaty wife-beater.
20 years. 7305 days. John, I've missed you everyone of those days, except possibly for the two or three days I was completely out of it after my open heart surgery. I see your face, framed on my wall, every day. I think of all the hilarious things you would have said to make me bellow with laughter over those 20 years, and I am filled with anger at that loss. You will never be completely dead while I live, because you will always live in my heart.