by Lauren Means
We saw the passing of many talented people in 2017 and many of them were a part of our LGBT+ community. Here are a few of the bright lights we lost this year:
Jim Nabors (June 12, 1930 – November 30, 2017)
Probably best known for his role as Gomer Pyle, Jim Neighbors died at home with his husband, Stan Cadwallader, by his side. He was 87. In addition to the small screen, Nabors also saw success on the big screen, with credits including The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and in Vegas showrooms. He and his partner of 38 years married shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington state. He was quoted by Hawaii News Now as stating, “It’s pretty obvious that we had no rights as a couple, yet when you’ve been together 38 years, I think something’s got to happen there, you’ve got to solidify something, and at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do.”
Edith Windsor (June 20, 1929 – September 12, 2017)
A gay rights pioneer whose landmark legal case paved the way for gay marriage, Edith Windsor passed away at the age of 88. As the plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court case that knocked down the Defense of Marriage Act, she helped enabled same-sex married couples to receive federal benefits. Windsor and her wife Thea Spyer were a couple for 44 years and married for 20 months before Spyer, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, passed away. The passing of her wife lead to her legal battle where she contested her estate tax liability because the U.S. government did not recognize their Canadian marriage. Her case also contributed the Obergefell vs. Hodges case which legalized gay marriage across the U.S.
Hugh Heffner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017)
While he was known for being a “heterosexual hedonist”, Hugh Heffner was an early gay-rights activist as seen with his decision to publish a “controversial” short story which depicted a world where heterosexuals were in the minority. When faced with backlash he was quoted as saying “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society, then the reverse was wrong, too.” Back in 2009, when being interviewed for the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, he was asked his opinion on the legalization of same-sex marriage. He told The Daily Beast, “The idea that the concept of marriage will be sullied by same-sex marriage is ridiculous. Heterosexuals haven’t been doing that well at it on their own.”
Robert Osborne (May 3, 1932 – March 6, 2017)
From struggling actor to journalist for The Hollywood Reporter to longtime host on Turner Classic Movies, Osborne was the epitome of a Hollywood insider. He was presented with numerous awards and accolades including a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is survived by his partner of 20 years, theater director – producer David Staller.
Holly Boswell (November 19, 1950 – August 12, 2017)
A trans-pioneer who created the transgender symbol, Holly Boswell passed away at the age of 66 in Asheville, NC. Boswell co-founded Asheville’s Phoenix Transgender Support Group and is credited with being one of the earliest adopters of the term “transgender.”
Jack Doroshow/Flawless Sabrina (September 10, 1939 – November 18, 2017)
Both a drag pioneer and queer activist, Jack Doroshow passed away at the age of 78. He was the organizer of the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant for drag contestants beginning in the late 1950s. He was featured in the X-rated documentary The Queen in 1968. Although she was a lauded performer, Flawless was less focused on the spotlight and felt being an advocate for “artists, queer people, and children” was most important.
Liz Smith (February 2, 1923 – November 12, 2017)
Gossip columnist and author who was a friend to much of Hollywood, Liz Smith, passed away at age 94. Said to be “New York’s Grande Dame of Dish”, she spent over 30 years feeding us gossip about the rich and famous. Smith came out as bisexual and acknowledged her relationship with archaeologist Iris Love in her memoir, Natural Blond.
Jana Novotná (October 2, 1968 – November 19, 2017)
A Wimbledon women’s singles title winner, Jana Novotná lost her battle with cancer at only 49 years of age. Novotná was the oldest first-time winner of a women’s singles title and later became a coach and a member of the BBC’s Wimbledon commentary team. She is survived by her partner Polish tennis player Iwona Kuczyńska.
Kate Millett (September 14, 1934 – September 6, 2017)
Author and activist, Kate Millett was a pioneer of feminist thought, her book Sexual Politics brought her to the forefront of the women’s movement. She has been awarded the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage award for the arts and inducted into The National Women’s Hall of Fame. Millett is survived by her wife and longtime collaborator, photojournalist Sophie Keir.
Michael Friedman (September 24, 1975 – September 9, 2017)
The young composer, who was described as “brilliant” by his peers and is best known for the 2010 Broadway hit “Bloody, Bloody Anderw Jackson,” died at 41 from complications from HIV/AIDS. Friedman was diagnosed positive only nine weeks before his death at a reported advanced stage of the disease. He had just started his new career as the artistic director of Encores! Off-Center this year.
William M. Hoffman (April 12, 1939 – April 29, 2017)
Tony nominated playwright William M. Hoffman, who brought AIDS center-stage with his work “As Is”, died at 78. When discussing the play with The New York Times in 1958, he stated, “In every death there are people. It’s not ‘they.’ It’s ‘we.’” In addition to being an award-winning playwright, Hoffman was also an editor, professor, and television writer. He is survived by his husband, William Russell Taylor II.
Alec McCowen (May 26, 1925 – February 6, 2017)
From Alfred Hitchcock to James Bond to a one-man performance in St Mark’s Gospel, Alec McCowen was a multifaceted entertainer. Actor, director, and writer McCowen died at 91. In 1986 he was awarded the honor of being appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). McCowen’s partner, actor Geoffrey Burridge, died in 1987.
For a list of LGBT+ Advocates we lost in 2017 please visit https://www.hrc.org/blog/hrc-mourns-lgbtq-advocates-lost-in-2017.