On Friday, the actor/comedian/raconteur Charles Nelson Reilly passed away. As noted in a NY Times obituary, Reilly was one of the first "out" performers on television, even if he was increasingly seen on game shows and late night television appearances:
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Reilly, with his ascots, oversize spectacles and over-the-top penchant for double-entendres, was a regular on television. He appeared more than 95 times on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson and was a panelist on game shows like “Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares.”
In a 2001 interview with The Advocate, the national gay magazine, Mr. Reilly reflected on the effect those shows had on his professional prospects. “You can’t do anything else once you do game shows,” he said. “You have no career.”
Mr. Reilly’s openly gay persona was many years ahead of its time on television, and it had its risks. He recalled being dismissed early in his career by a network executive, who told him that “they don’t let queers on television.”
Reilly was also the focus of a recent documentary on his life called THE LIFE OF REILLY, which screens next week at the Seattle International Film Festival. One of that film's directors, Barry Poltermann, reflected today on the film's MySpace page about his subject:
Charles Nelson Reilly passed away on Friday of complications from pneumonia. He had been in ill health when we filmed THE LIFE OF REILLY in late 2004, but was a relentless trouper. His health really began to decline beginning with trips in and out of the hospital over Christmas of 2005, and finally being confined to a bed for over a year now. A few weeks ago Charles got up from his bed and, with some help, got around a bit with a walker. This was a good sign, and we were hoping that it was the beginning of a recovery. But he started slipping again, and was recently hospitalized for one last time.
We began this myspace page last year as a way to connect CNR with the cyberworld -- especially his younger fans, who he really got a kick out of hearing from. At first, we would go to his house and read the posts and messages to him. He really enjoyed the communications about his theater career, and was very proud when he heard from former students or people whom he inspired over the years. And he received a lot of these. He would dictate his response to us from his bed and we would dutifully post his replies on Myspace.
As he got more ill he became unable (and sometimes just too tired) to answer the posts and messages. We apologize to the many many fans who have asked CNR questions or requested autographs and the like. Trust that the love, respect and admiration was felt by Charles, even if he was unable to respond to all the inquiries.
For those of you who are asking to see the film, or for copies of the DVD for the film, we are releasing "Life of Reilly" in the fall. We had been waiting, hoping that Charles would recover so he could be part of the process of the release. This isn't going to happen, now. So we will put the film out later this year.
The last time I saw Charles we just sat in his bedroom and watched some TV (someone had sent him a DVD compilation of him and Marty Feldman doing skits on the Dean Martin Golddigger show... fucking hilarious!!!) and talked about the movie ... he had all kinds of ideas on how we should get the film out there. I read him some reviews of the film (he always loved that) and left. I am going to miss him. All of us who worked on "The Life of Reilly" had a special experience, as did everyone who came across Charles in life. He was brilliant, he was inspirational, he was funny as hell. If I have ever met a genius, it was Charles Nelson Reilly.
We give our deepest condolensces to Patrick. (who, by the way, is a Saint).
For those of you who want to pay your last respects, I suggest renting a copy of the "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" episode of the X-Files spinoff show, "Millenium" and fixing yourself a Manhattan (Charles preferred Jim Beam, with no cherry). You won't regret it.
"Love and kisses, sweetheart!"