Love In The Shadows

It’s a sad time when a loved one or a friend dies.  And, although we may not know them personally, it’s always strange and sad to hear that a celebrity that we have followed throughout their career and their lives since we were children, or in college, or maybe even just for a few years, passes on.  It’s like a piece of our lives and a piece of our hearts have been ripped from us.

We experienced that three years ago when Michael Jackson died.

We felt the sadness and pain that Amy Winehouse likely felt in the months and years leading up to her death last summer.

And, earlier this year, we cried and sobbed when the amazing Whitney Houston left us.

Back in May, I was shocked to learn that the incredible Donna Summer died at the age of 63.  While saddened by her death, I was more surprised that I didn’t even know she had been sick.  She didn’t want her fans to know that she was battling lung cancer.

Being a celebrity means that you live your life in a fishbowl for all the world to see.  For most, entertainment stars in movies, television, and music, along with politicians, they make the choice to be seen and heard.  If you don’t know what they’re up to, someone is not doing their job.

I’ve always laughed when I hear a celebrity complain about their lack of privacy.  My response is usually that they craved the camera and it is there in good times and bad times.  However, I do draw the line when the paparazzi stalks celebrities to the point that they can’t even go to the bathroom or they fear for the lives or the lives of their children.

I fully understand public figures wanting to have a private life once they’ve achieved what they wanted in their careers or when their popularity starts to wane.  If they want to live out of the spotlight with their husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, or children, they should have that right.

But, I really want that decision to be theirs and not something that was forced upon them by America’s discomfort or phobias.

Two recent deaths prompted me to think about this and blog about it today.

Last month, we learned that American astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space as a crew member on Space Shuttle “Challenger” in 1983, had died of cancer at the age of 61.  What was even more shocking is that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, a professor at San Diego State University.

And, just yesterday, fans of the hit 1970s comedy, “Welcome Back, Kotter” (the show that propelled John Travolta to superstardom), were saddened to learn that Ron Palillo, who played nerd Arnold Horshack died in Florida of apparent heart attack at the age of 63.

He is survived by his partner of 41 years, Joseph Gramm.

Personally, I did not know Sally Ride or Ron Palillo.

I can’t say how they lived their personal life with their partners.  Maybe they chose to live their lives away from the public spotlight and focus only on their careers in public (Ride as a professor, author, and scientist, and Palillo as an author, playwright, and stage performer).  At the end of the day, maybe they went home and had dinner with their partners, a glass of wine, watched television or movies, read a book, or took a long walk along the beach.  I don’t know anything about their private lives.  Maybe that’s why they call them private.

However, what if and I’m just speculating here, what if Palillo wanted to move on to other roles after “Welcome Back, Kotter”, but he feared that if people knew he was openly gay that the homophobia in Hollywood (and America) would have prevented him from reaching the superstar status that his co-star John Travolta was enjoying?

People close to him must have known that he was gay.  He had been with his partner since 1971 and “Welcome Back, Kotter” ran from 1975-1979.

As for Sally Ride, she was married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley in the early-1980s and when she began seeing her partner, Tam, the marriage to Hawley ended in 1987.

Palillo and Gramm were together 41 years and Ride and O’Shaughnessy were together 27 years.  How many people do you know have been together for that long?

Isn’t it about time in America, the number one nation in the world, that we move past the fears of the unknown and stop using whatever you feel comfortable calling it (homophobia, bigotry, hate, religion, and so on) to let every man and woman live their professional and personal lives honestly and openly.  Let’s all embrace love and happiness.

Sally Ride and Ron Palillo may have chosen to live their private lives privately or they may have lived in fear that if their true lives were public, they would have been ridiculed or discriminated against.  Neither lived in a state where they could marry their “partner” and federally, with the Defense of Marriage Act, their marriages, if they went that route, would not have recognized.

41 years and 27 years — those relationships deserve more from America.  The surviving loved ones should not be relegated to “partners”.  They were the surviving husband and the surviving wife.



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