The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Glenn Shadix; Rest in Peace, my friend

Glenn arrived at my house in costume earlier this year for a screen test being filmed in Tuscaloosa that I was accompanying him to, and asked me to take a photo.

Glenn Shadix, like all of us, was a product of his environment. Because my novels are about characters from the 1960's, and because Glenn grew up in the 50's and 60's, we had opportunity to talk about his past at length.

It's no secret that Glenn had a disturbing youth. In his first "Bio-Tale he told the story of growing up gay in a Southern Baptist family, and begins with:

"I spent the 1950's at Westside Baptist Church in Bessemer, Alabama and I was
one of the obvious sissies in the congregation. I remember skipping through the
hallways of the church at age six wearing an available choir robe and headscarf
pretending I was Loretta Young."

But his real troubles began at the age of seventeen:

"I knew I was attracted to boys rather than girls from my earliest memory. I
thought I was alone in this predicament and it was my deepest and most well
guarded secret until the fall of 1969 when at seventeen I told my parents the
truth and opened a Pandora's' box of drama and exiled myself from my childhood
religion forever."

You can read the entire story, but in summary, he was forced to undergo "concentrated psychotherapy" which included "electrodes attached to a large car-size battery," and, well, you can imagine the rest.

When I asked Glenn in May of 2008 to ride in the Alabama Stonewall Democrats truck in the Central Alabama Pride parade the following month, he immediately said yes, but then developed some reservations. He had never "come out", had never felt the need to. In Hollywood and in New York, it wasn't necessary and there were no reservations about being who you are, at least among those in the profession (whether one could be "out" to the public and still have a successful career in those days is a different story).

But this was Alabama, his home state. His mother and his siblings live here.

Riding to Birmingham from our homes in Bessemer the day of the parade, he told me that he had never taken part in an event or protest for gay equality, and it meant a lot to him to be doing this. In his tropical shirt and straw hat he met Libertee Belle and Patricia Todd and other high profile gays before adding a rainbow colored lei to his attire and taking his position as bubble machine operator in the truck with friends Jo and Cindy, and off we went.

You can see in that picture that Glenn, always the entertainer, was having a good time. But you can also see what troubled him till the end. On his right foot is a boot. He was recovering from one of many surgeries to repair, or to provide relief from, an old injury from a stunt gone awry during a movie filming. Two years later problems with the foot had him confined to a wheelchair and his mobility problems led to the fall that took his life.

The following year I approached Glenn about joining our effort to protest the Ex-Gay conference that was coming up near Birmingham. We had Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out coming to the city to give a lecture prior to our protest, and I asked Glenn to tell his story at the event. This was another first for Glenn, the telling of his story in front of a live audience, and he became emotional during his presentation.

This did not bother anyone in the audience, however, because we all understood the emotional lows that he had been through and the rejection that he had experienced. In fact, most in the audience gained a new respect for the actor for opening up like he did.

Those of us who had become recent friends of Glenn knew him to be a highly intelligent and informed person who would give you the shirt (or the robe) off his back if you needed it. Stephen, Michael, Dean and I, and others, would spend spend hours on the phone or in person talking to Glenn about anything from Sarah Palin and politics to gender non-conformity and religion. One of my last phone calls with Glenn was after I posted this piece on the mosque in New York. He praised me for taking a stand, for "saying what needed to be said," as he often said about my writings ("and from Bessemer, Alabama," he would say, in mock disbelief).

Stephen, shown here posing in Glenn's robe from Beetlejuice, had planned a dinner for this weekend and Glenn and friends were going to help Stephen celebrate his birthday. Glenn had just had a visit from Rufus Wainwright but was looking forward with as much enthusiasm to palling with his B'ham gay circle as he did to entertaining celebrities from New York. That's just the way he was.

Glenn had plans. His latest film, Finding Gauguin, which I documented here, is set to premiere in September at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on September 23. He was scheduled to go on a tour next year with the USO to entertain troops in Afghanistan. We had laughed about comparisons to Bob Hope and Ann Margaret for his USO trips. And recently he had been offered at part in a stage production playing Ernest Hemingway during the last year of the writer's life.

Glenn exposed many of us Alabama simple folk to a world that we know little about. But he approached his celebrity status with such a matter of factness that we felt like we knew Michelle (Phillips, of the Mamas and Papas) or Tim (Burton) or others who he would speak of in everyday conversation.

One of his most recent trips that he went on and on about was a road trip with his friends Diane and James to Baton Rouge to see Joan Baez, one of his (and mine) long time favorite singers. He got to spend some personal time with her and talk, and it meant so much to him, an Alabama boy who had to hide his Joan Baez records as a child from family members who considered her subversive. But he loved Joan and what she stands for and was so happy to have made the trip.

His memorial will be Sunday at 2:00, at Covenant Community Church in Centerpoint, AL.

His family is requesting that memorials be made to the theater department of the Alabama School of fine Arts .


Clif Davenport said...


Thank you for writing such a beautiful memorial for your friend and sharing it with us. It makes me wish that I had known him.

lipscomb bohemian said...

thanks joe for writing that..........quite a guy..glenn.....

Kathy said...

This is lovely, Joe. Thank you for writing it. I didn't know Glenn well, but I remember hearing his story at UAB and talking with him at the peaceful protest at Metro Church of God. He was a delightful person, and I will miss knowing he's in the world.