Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"It Happened to Barbara Stanwyck"

After mentioning his brilliant performance as Johnny in Airplane a little earlier today, I've been thinking a lot about Stephen Stucker.

Probably because I can't stop playing this video, which combines most, if not all, of Mr. Stucker's outrageous, rapid-fire, random-as-Hell, high camp, hilarious lines from the first movie...

But that's not all. I've also been thinking about him because I learned that Stephen Stucker "was one of the first actors to announce he was suffering from HIV. He died from AIDS-related complications on April 13, 1986 at the age of 38."

Here I am kvetching as I count down to my 40th birthday and this brilliantly gifted comic actor didn't even make it to 39. It puts things - - everything - - into perspective.

And speaking of perspective, check out the clip below. It's Stephen Stucker on the Phil Donahue Show in 1985. Telling the audience that he has AIDS. That he's been living with AIDS for 6 years.

And as he tries to dispel the audiences' growing AIDS hysteria with his brilliantly bizarre sense of humor, he announces to them, in addition to having AIDS, that he also looks fabulous.

In today's context, Stephen's behavior might seem odd to some people. And yes, his brand of humor might be off-putting to someone in the Donahue audience, someone just beginning to grasp the plague that had already devastated their gay brothers and sisters.

But Stephen's been living with AIDS for 6 years at this point. And it's 1985. Two years before President Reagan can even bring himself to say the word "AIDS" in public.

By the time Reagan finally says the word on April 2nd, 1987, 71,176 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the United States and 41,027 U.S. citizens are dead from complications brought about by the AIDS virus.

On April 2nd, 1987, Stephen Stucker has been dead for almost a full year.

So, if you're living with AIDS in the middle of all of that - - when people are afraid to use the same makeup brush as you, much less the same drinking cup - - a sense of humor is necessary to survive. And the way I see it, the more aggressive that sense of humor is, the better.

And in spite of what Mr. Donahue says in the clip about Stephen's giggles and his pratfall playing into gay stereotypes, if your aggressive sense of humor is fueled by your honest and true sissy-centric outlook on life, don't dilute it. Flaunt it.


Aaron said...

He was such a loss...easily the funniest and brightest person in the "Airplane!" cast, too (Julie Hagerty was second, and Barbara Billingsley was third).

I always think of jets as looking "like a big Tylenol" now. :-)

Stan said...

He was truly a funny guy. In the spring of '86 is when my lover Stephen was diagnosed. I worked at a hospital back then when nurses and other hospital workers would refuse to even go into AIDS patients rooms.