Karla Burns, Olivier/Drama Desk Award Winner, Passes Away At 66

Karla Burns (image via Facebook)
Karla Burns (image via Facebook)
Karla Burns (image via Facebook)

Forty years ago this week I was performing in my first professional theater gig in Show Boat at Lyric Theater in Oklahoma City. At 17, I’m pretty sure i was the youngest in the resident ensemble.

For new readers, before I became a journalist I spent nearly 40 years working in the theater on Broadway and across the country in shows like Hello, Dolly!, Chicago, A Chorus Line and more.

While most of those first weeks are a blur in my now-formerly blond head, I’ve never forgotten the joyful, effervescent Karla Burns who brought the role of Queenie to life as a musical force of nature.

She tucked that experience under her arm, went to NYC and booked the role of Queenie in a national touring company of Show Boat in 1982. In 1983, the show landed on Broadway and Karla was honored with a Tony Award nomination for her richly layered performance.

And in 1991, she became the first (!!!) Black woman to win an Olivier Award for her Queenie in the West End production of Show Boat.

Over the years, I would run into Karla and she always remembered me, always laughed with me, always had that big, gorgeous smile.

This morning I saw in the New York Times she passed away at the age of 66 on June 4. The memory of her joyful, larger-than-life talent makes me smile as I can hear her voice and her laugh in my head even now.

I think it says something that an artist I worked with 40 years ago continues to live in a warm, wonderful, and happy corner of my mind.

It’s important to add that Karla appeared in many, many fantastic roles over the years. She was not a ‘one-hit wonder.’ But the NY Times tells it much better than I.

Rest in glory Karla Burns. ❤

A Prince Called Bear

Our youngest dachshund Bear
Our youngest dachshund Bear
Our little prince Bear when he was a pup

It was one year ago today that 16-year-old baby Bear, the youngest of our dachshund dynasty passed away.

As he was born last of the three puppies (in Michael’s hands), we always thought of him as our little prince. But in his last seven months, being the lone dog of the house, he flourished and grew confident as the alpha of the house.

Even on his last day, when the vets came into the house to assist with his crossing the rainbow bridge, he stood up and barked ferociously defending us from what he perceived as a threat.

Our prince had become a knight.

I couldn’t let the day go by without acknowledging how much we miss him, his dad and mom – Bruno and Sabrina, and siblings Tyler and Bandit.

Since their passing, we have blessed with the amazing wonder beagle Snoopy. And now, mom and pup chihuahuas Scarlett and Brody.

Please know I’m not sad – but happy that Bear and his brood happened to us. Boundless joy that stretched over two decades.

Here’s one of my favorite videos of the Bear. #DogsRule

I took this photo of Bear looking out the front door just days before his passing
Michael with Bear
Me with baby Bear getting some water during the puppy days
The dogs help Michael take a break from work
Me with all five doxies

Bruno being daddy with the puppies as Sabrina looks on

Adult Performer Alex Riley Dead At 22

Alex Riley dead at 22
Alex Riley dead at 22
Alex Riley (image via Instagram)

Award-winning adult entertainment performer Alex Riley has reportedly died at the age of 22.

Riley was honored with the Best Newcomer trophy at the 2020 GayVN Awards as well as a Best Newcomer nomination at the 2020 Str8UpGayPorn Awards.

He worked exclusively for Helix Studios since 2019, but prior to that had appeared in scenes for NextDoor, FraternityX, Men and more.

No cause of death has been shared publicly.

His longtime boyfriend, Jacob Hansen, shared the news on Twitter this morning writing, “To all of Alex’s friends and fans…on Monday I got a phone call from Alex’s best friend that Alex passed away early Sunday Morning. Rest in peace babe you will always be part of me no matter where my life takes me.”

A statement released by Helix Studios read, “We are heartbroken over the loss of Alex Riley, one of the most vibrant and talented young performers we’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Please respect his family’s privacy during this devastatingly difficult time. We love you, rest in peace Alex.”

Riley’s last social media post was a tweet on May 7 where he extolled his love for his brother and mom.

“I just talked to my brother on the phone, I’ll do anything in the WORLD for him,” wrote the 22-year-old. “Whether I can or not, I’m doing it. Damn…y’all have brothers? I love mine more than I could literally love anyone besides my mom. Hell.”

Rest in peace Alex Riley.

Olympia Dukakis, Oscar Winner For ‘Moonstruck,’ Dies At 89

Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis dies at the age of 89

Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis dies at the age of 89
Olympia Dukakis (image via Twitter)

Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis, known for playing world-weary and wise characters, has passed away at the age of 89.

After decades of stage work on the East Coast, Dukakis shot to stardom playing Cher’s mother in the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Moonstruck in 1987. The following year she took home the Oscar and Golden Globe honors for Best Supporting Actress in a Film.

More from the New York Times:

She played a catty Southern widow in the mostly female ensemble cast of “Steel Magnolias” (1989); the mother of Kirstie Alley’s character in the three “Look Who’s Talking” movies (1989-93); the pot-growing transgender San Francisco landlord Anna Madrigal, from 1993 to 2019, in the four television mini-series made from Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” stories; and Frank Sinatra’s mother, Dolly, in the 1992 television movie “Sinatra.”

Despite the awards and her other screen successes, Ms. Dukakis never gave up theater work. In 2011 she starred in an Off Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.”

Charles Isherwood, reviewing her performance in The Times, called her “macabre, hilarious and weirdly touching,” with a “bullying bravado that commands attention.” The next year she played Prospero (Prospera, actually) in “The Tempest” for Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts.

Rest in peace Olympia Dukakis.

GLAAD Media Awards: GLEE Stars To Reunite In Tribute To Naya Rivera

Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez in GLEE
Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez in GLEE
Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez in GLEE (image via Fox)

The cast of iconic series GLEE will reunite for a special tribute to the legacy of the late Naya Rivera’s character Santana Lopez.

Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin, and Jenna Ushkowitz will come together during the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards to honor the 10th anniversary of Santana’s coming out on the show.

And that’s not all – the cast will be joined by global superstar Demi Lovato, who played Santana’s girlfriend on GLEE, to introduce the special tribute.

Tune in for the premiere on April 8th at 8:00 P.M. on YouTube, or stream on Hulu starting at 10:00 P.M.

Remembering just a little bit of the fabulous Ms. Rivera as Santana in GLEE.

(via press release)

Happy Birthday Thommie Walsh

Two-time Tony Award winner Thommie Walsh
Two-time Tony Award winner Thommie Walsh

I originally posted this on March 15, 2011.

I think of my funny, talented, and dear friend Thommie Walsh so often I can’t tell you.

Today would have been Thommie’s 71st birthday.

This is a very personal post for me, and so I share this each year to celebrate his beautiful spirit.

Dear Thommie, love and miss you madly.

**********************************************************

Thommie Walsh was a 2-time Tony Award winner, an original cast member of the ground-breaking A Chorus Line, and my dear wonderful friend.

Thommie came into my life in so many ways.

As a young actor and dancer, I was forever changed by his performance in A Chorus Line. The boy who grew up near Buffalo but “couldn’t remember the name of the town” – he’d blocked it out.

His work on Broadway was the stuff wide-eyed young actors or dancers like me only dreamed about. He danced in several Broadway shows – including A Chorus Line – and then graduated to director/choreographer.

As Tommy Tune’s partner, he won two Tony Awards (A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine; My One And Only).

Thommie’s accomplishments and honors were many, too numerous to mention them all.

But my favorite memory of Thommie was as my friend.

In 2002, Donna McKechnie was asked to perform her then-developing one-woman show “Inside The Music” in Los Angeles. Thommie was her director and choreographer. The theater was a small theater on a budget, so Donna asked if Thommie could stay with me.

Every day was a holiday with Thommie in the house. Having consulted on some of Donna’s earlier shows, I accompanied Thommie to rehearsals and assisted when I could. But just being around Thommie made life better and funnier and more wonderful. We became very fast friends.

Thommie was immensely supportive of my work as a director and/or choreographer. Some years later, when I was choreographing a show off-Broadway, he insisted he come to see the show. Then he made a point of taking me to dinner at Joe Allens (famous Broadway restaurant) to talk about it. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he sat down, smiled, and simply said to me “you did good – I loved it.”

His sense of humor, his directness in any situation, everything about Thommie worked for me. My wonderful, funny, talented friend.

In late 2006, however, he stopped returning phone calls. I worried something was wrong.

I reached out to everyone I could. At one point, on Christmas eve, I stood outside a holiday dinner in the freezing cold on the phone with a close friend of Thommie’s. The news was not good. I was distraught. I frantically asked the friend to keep me informed as his health deteriorated.

News was very slow to come over the next several months. I did all I could to stay in the loop from across the country.

Then, on a hot summer night – June 16, 2007 – this boy-wonder of Broadway was gone.

I was riding in a car in Las Vegas when a friend called: “Did you hear about Thommie?”

I held my breath in silence. I didn’t want to know.

Several heartbeats went by.

I’m dramatic – surely I’m wrong. Please let me be wrong.

I wasn’t. My friend on the other end of the call was sad and silent. But, the news had come.

Gone.

But never forgotten. I remember Thommie’s birthday every year. March 15th – the Ides of March. From Julius Caesar – “Beware the Ides of March.” Beware indeed. He used his own birthday onstage in A Chorus Line as “Bobby” or “Robert Charles Joseph Henry Mills, III” as his introduction went. Just so dang funny.

I would play his role in A Chorus Line several times, and I always thought of Thommie when I did.

Near the end of his character’s monologue, he had a line that read, “I just wanted to see if anyone would notice me.”

Boy, did the world notice Thommie.

I miss Thommie often. His laugh, his humor, his talent, his friendship… all of it boundless.

I’d love to regale you with some stories I lived with him, but they may not be suitable for this post. If you knew him, you know what I mean. If you don’t, then please know I hope someday you know someone like him so you will.

Except there will never be another Thommie Walsh. Ever. And my eyes tear up with joy and sadness every time I know that.

Thommie – how very lucky am I to have known you. I miss you. I always will.

Thommie once advised me if you were going to steal, steal from the best.

So, as Thommie would close his letters, from me to the fabulous Thommie Walsh: “Love you madly – always.”

Ryan Shea: More Than A Name

Ryan Shea (all photos via Facebook)

This took……time……to process.

On Friday, my friend and Instinct Magazine colleague Ryan Shea, 34, lost his battle with COVID-19.

It’s been a very emotional two weeks since Ryan told us all he’d been diagnosed. After a difficult three days at home, he was hospitalized and in two days he was intubated. Just nine days later, it was over. Thankfully, Ryan was sedated for most of the harrowing journey.

While Ryan’s passing is very raw and painful to acknowledge, I do want to share a few things.

Over the past year, I’ve covered a lot of the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve reported on the naysayers, the ‘it’s just another flu’ crew, and the ‘Karens’ who refuse to believe the danger of this horrible virus.

I’ve had close friends contract COVID-19 and tell me how it ‘kicked their ass’ as they were laid up at home in bed for 2-3 weeks. I’ve seen several versions of the disease’s many iterations.

At this writing, the U.S. has seen 497,577 deaths from the coronavirus. Ryan is now among those. And his battle with coronavirus was ugly.

In addition to being on a ventilator for the majority of his time in the hospital, there was kidney failure, lung damage, brain damage, low low blood pressure and more.

This is how nearly 500,000 Americans died from COVID. It wasn’t ‘like the flu.’ Fuck that nonsense.

Ryan on the red carpet before the 2019 GLSEN Awards

I will miss Ryan more than I can express here. For almost three years, I’ve worked with Ryan on a nearly-daily basis. He was brash, sassy, and passionate about his work.

My last exchange with him was after he shared with the Instinct staff he’d tested positive. I immediately began texting him about multi-vitamins and any supplements that might help him. I’d read a study that a majority of COVID patients had a Vitamin D deficiency, so I told him to run get some.

He stopped me texting back, “Can we pick this up later? I’m transcribing my interview with Bianca Del Rio (heart emoji).”

Ryan loved Chipotle burritos

My first week working for Instinct I quickly learned Ryan loved Chipotle burritos, loved all kinds of gay men, and worked hard to love himself in a world that doesn’t encourage us to do that very often.

Ryan was also curious, tempestuous, opinionated, and often usually unfiltered. He was filled with the drive of someone who enjoyed what he did.

And along the way, his work, his byline, his name was read by literally millions of people.

He had an unerring eye for what popped in pop culture.  He thrived as an entertainment journalist, and he LOVED interviewing folks on the red carpet.

Ryan Shea interviewing Meryl Streep on the red carpet
Ryan Shea interviews Vanessa Williams on the red carpet

There’s a lot more to Ryan, and a lot more Ryan the world won’t get to experience. He was a loving son, brother, uncle and friend.

In a testament to his journey here, a GoFundMe campaign organized to help his family with end of life expenses exceeded its goal in less than 10 hours.

But in his short time on the planet, his impact was felt. And seen. And heard. And read.

Ryan didn’t hold back. He stepped up, stepped out, and contributed more than a name.

Fly high Ryan Shea.