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National Obituary Review

Dead Person of the Day – May 25 – Charles Nelson Reilly

No Comments 25 May 2012

Obit Enthusiasts,

Today we have one of the high holidays here at the NOR. Its also T.W.’s favorite day of the year. Mr. Snicket has literally made a career of playing a gender neutral and overly enthusiastic (if there is even such a thing) version of Charles Nelson Reilly at various haunts around the country.

If you haven’t guessed yet our DPD is Mr. Charles Nelson Reilly – gay rights pioneer, tony award winning actor and director, game show guest dynamo.

Prior to moving to la la land where he became – literally – the best person to have on any type of show Mr. Reilly paid the bills on Broadway.

In 1962, he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Bud Frump in the original Broadway production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”. He also directed Julie Harris in a one woman show “The Belle of Amherst” based on the life of Emily Dickinson which he often said was his greatest achievement.

Mr. Reilly’s openly gay persona was many years ahead of its time on television and the public in general. Initially Reilly paid the price. He recalled being dismissed early in his career by a network executive, who told him that “they don’t let queers on television.”. Wow, if that exec could only watch an hour of primetime now he’d probably drop dead of a heart attack.

But lets talk about the obit for a second. The mere fact that Patrick McGeehan mentions Reilly’s sexual orientation is important and topical. Our partner Obit Magazine wrote a piece recently about Maj. Alan G. Rogers, killed Jan. 27 in Baghdad while protecting two fellow soldiers from an explosion. Maj. Rogers was openly gay. His friends, family and co-workers all knew it. He was even the treasurer of a gay-soldier group, American Veterans for Equal Rights. Yet, his obit in the Washington Post refuses to mention it anywhere. Is it right? Wrong? Should a central part of a person’s life be mentioned in a national obit?

After an ‘agonizing decision’ executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. scrubbed the obit of all mention of all things gay. His justification is as follows:

“A person’s sexual orientation should not be mentioned unless relevant to the story…. When identifying an individual as gay or homosexual, be cautious about invading the privacy of someone who may not wish his or her sexual orientation known.”

Granted, you may not want to ‘out’ somebody for the sake of a story. But I think an obit is a little different. It’s a celebration of a person’s life. Clearly Maj. Rogers was open about his sexuality. So, I hardly think HE would have minded the mention of it in an obit. In fact, and this is just speculation (obviously), I would imagine he would have welcomed the opportunity to have his distinguished career as a US soldier be mentioned in the same paragraph as his sexuality. It might help people get a better mindset.

Just sayin’

Have a weekend boys and girls.

Charles Nelson Reilly, Tony-Winning Comic Actor, Dies at 76

By PATRICK McGEEHAN

Published: May 28, 2007

Charles Nelson Reilly, who acted and directed on Broadway but came to be best known for his campy television appearances on talk shows and “Match Game,” died on Friday in Los Angeles. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said his partner, Patrick Hughes, who is his only immediate survivor. Mr. Reilly had been ill for more than a year, he said. Continue


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