Friday, 30 December 2011


 Kevin Keller is the first gay character in the 72-year history of Archie Comics (Photo courtesy Archie Comics)
(December 30, 2011) Here is my 16th annual column of the year’s heroes and zeros.

Heroes The team of University of Western Ontario scientists lead by Dr. Chil-Yong Kang who – on the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic – announced their Canadian-developed vaccine which will start human clinical trials in January 2012. 

Zero Canada’s anti-gay Harper government which quietly killed the vaccine research facility plan ostensibly because there weren't enough talented researchers in Canada.  Which means if Western’s AIDS vaccine is successful, it will be owned by a Korean venture capital company and manufactured in the United States. 

Zero GQ magazine which chose Adam Lambert’s mustache as one of the worst style statements of 2011, tweeting, “If you have testosterone problems, a mustache doesn’t always help.” 

Hero Elton John who – with his civil partner David Furnish became proud papas of their son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John born on Christmas Day 2010 – continued to put his money where his mouth is. At a January 2011 benefit performance that raised over $3 million for the American Foundation for Equal Rights’ legal fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8, Elton said onstage, “I don’t have everything because I don’t have the respect of people like the church or like politicians who tell me that I’m not worthy, that I’m lesser because I’m gay. Well, fuck you!” 

Zero Iran, for sentencing and stoning to death in January two young men named Ayub and Mosleh (aged 20 and 21 years old) for filming themselves having sex with one another. 

Zeros The anti-gay thugs who have murdered 31 LGBT Hondurans since the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras. At least three of the victims were set on fire and most cases have not been investigated or prosecuted. 

Zero Honduras president Porfirio Lobo who banned kids under age 15 from attending an “erotic” October 16 Ricky Martin benefit concert for a local children’s foundation. The interior ministry stated that the openly-gay Martin’s concert was “a highly reprehensible act of intolerance.”
Hege Dalen and Toril Hanse

Zero Alberta, which in 2011 still classified homosexuality as a “mental disorder” despite that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. Canadian reporters also revealed Alberta doctors used the diagnostic code to bill the province for treating gays and lesbians more than 1,750 times between 1995 and 2004. 

Zero British Columbia, which prohibited the marketing of gay tourism in China. In November BC tourism minister Pat Bell backtracked and apologized.

Hero Montreal, named best world gay destination by voters and travel writers over at TripOut Travel’s NewNowNext 2011 Travel Awards. Meanwhile, Montreal launches its new all-gay radio station Fierte 990 AM in 2012, following in the footsteps of Toronto’s Proud FM. 

Hero Thai airline P.C. Air which in 2011 began recruiting and training transsexual flight attendants.

Heroes The citizens of the Australian town of Hobson’s Bay who elected Tony Briffa, the world’s first intersex mayor. “I am not male or female, but both,” Briffa said proudly. 

Zero Organizers of Australia’s famed Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, for erasing “Gay and Lesbian” from the festival and parade’s 2012  name and logo. 

Zero President Richard Nixon who wasn’t just a crook but – according to the 2011 biography Nixon’s Darkest Secrets by former UPI  Washington bureau chief Don Fulsom – had a gay affair with Mafia banker Bebe Rebozo. As my friend, American cult director Toby Ross told me this week, “Why am I not surprised? He reeks of closet case-ness.” 

Zero Apple for approving a “gay cure” application crated by and named after Exodus International. The app was removed from Apple’s iTunes online shop after gay activists went ballistic. 

Zero The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, for banning the 1985 Dire Straits song Money for Nothing for using the word “fag” – despite the fact the song was lampooning anti-gay bigots. 

Hero NHL New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, for nobly ignoring booing fans after publicly supporting gay marriage in New York State. 

Hero Major League Baseball, for adopting a pro-gay non-discrimination policy in November 2011. 

Zero Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was supended without pay for two weeks in may after he hurled gay slurs at heckling Giants fans (“Are you a homo couple or a threesome?”), simulated a sex act with a bat, and used the same bat to threaten a man who asked him to tone down his language in front of kids: “How much are your teeth worth?” 

Zero Fashion designer John Galliano, for his drunken anti-semitic slurs in a Paris boite a nuit. “People like you would be dead today – your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed,” he told one woman. Evidently Galliano forgot the Nazis also gassed faggots like him. 

Hero The city of Barcelona and its Mayor Jordi Hereu who on March 20 dedicated a granite triangle framed in pink in the city’s central Ciutadella Park, a memorial to LGBT people persecuted and repressed “throughout history."

Hero President Barack Obama who – finally – rescinded the American military’s DADT policy. 

Zero The U.S. Defense Department for sending gay anti-DADT activist and discharged Army First Lieutenant Dan Choi a $2,500 bill to repay an “unearned portion of your enlistment or reenlistment bonus.” 

Heroes Archie Comics for introducing Kevin Keller, the first gay character in the comic’s 72-year history history. Now the upcoming January 2012 issue of Life of Archie will feature the marriage between Kevin and Clay Walker, a doctor he meets while recovering in a military hospital’s physical rehabilitation unit. 

Heroes The 85 nations – including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Fiji, Iceland, Israel, Mexico, Rwanda, Spain, USA and Venezuela – who signed a United Nations statement defending LGBT people. Countries that opposed the statement include Pakistan, Russia and Nigeria. 

Zeros The Nigerian senate, for approving 14-year jail terms for gay marriage; Ghana, whose crackdown on gay people orders landlords and tenants to report their gay neighbours; and the Ugandan parliament, which voted to continue pushing through a bill that prescribes the death penalty for LGBT people. 

Zero Former U.S. National Sheriff of the Year Patrick Sullivan, arrested for trying to trade methamphetamine for gay sex. 

Zero The western India state of Gujarat, for banning Pulitzer-prize-winning Joseph Lelyveld’s 2011 book Great Soul for exposing Mahatma Gandhi’s gay affair with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. 

Zero Publicly closeted Tory minister John Baird and other Conservative Party MPs for their shameful and hypocritical It Gets Better video. Like comedian Rick Mercer said in his online rant, it’s time our closeted leaders and politicians come out once and for all. 

Zeros Dick and Lynne Cheney for finally publicly supporting gay marriage on The View in September. Memo to Dick(head): Too little, too late. 
Bugs visits the Stonewall Inn

Heroes The 68.8 percent of voters in Liechtenstein who on June 19 approved a new law legalizing gay partnerships. Also New York state which just five days later approved gay marriage. As the NY senate voted, activists chanted outside the Stonewall Inn, “We’re here. We’re fabulous. Don’t fuck with us!” 

Hero Kids in the Hall comedian Scott Thompson who told bullied teens what I’ve been screaming for years: “You have to fight back. So much of these bullying campaigns are part of the trend that we were just talking about—the recasting of gay men as eternal victims and it’s like, fight back! Fathers should start teaching the boys how to punch. He does that to you, here’s what you do: You fucking punch him in the face.” 

Hero Cyndi Lauper, who opened her True Colors homeless shelter for gay teens in NYC in September. Last year Lauper told me the tragic story of her lifetime friend Gregory, kicked out by his parents at age 13 when they discovered he was gay and who died of AIDS in 1985. The True Colors homeless shelter, Cyndi told me while trying not to cry, is dedicated to Gregory. “Gregory will finally get his wish,” Cyndi said. 
Cyndi Lauper's true colours
(Photo courtesy Maple Music)

Heroes Lesbian couple Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen for saving the lives of 40 children during the July 22 Norway massacre, piloting their boat to Utoya island on four trips as a heavily armed gunman mowed down dozens of children at a camping outing. 

Heroes For publicly coming out in 2011: Montreal Impact soccer player David Testo;’s transsexual editor Janet Mock; the rebooted Star Trek’s Mr Spock, actor Zachary Quinto; ABC News anchor Dan Kloeffler; and CNN anchor Don Lemon, who says, “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out and proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it – to walk in the truth.” 

Heroes Ugandan gay activist David Kato, American playwright Doric Wilson, veteran U.S lesbian activists Renee Hanover and Paula Ettelbrick, author and Hollywood producer Perry Moore, West Side Story and Gypsy screenwriter Arthur Laurents, Montreal fashion designer Georges Levesque, Stonewall Riots activist Arthur Evans, Laugh-In TV star Alan Sues, disco singers Andrea True and Loleatta Holloway, gay icon Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood and Broadway legend Farley Granger, key American gay-rights activist Frank Kameny, as well as Rudolf Brazda, the world’s last-known gay Holocaust survivor, all passed away in 2011. RIP. 

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Sunday, 11 December 2011


RuPaul says, "Montreal to Americans is sex city. It's such a sensual place." (All photos courtesy RuPaul/LOGO)

 (December 11) Rarely has a mother been more prescient than RuPaul’s mom, who, when Ru was born on November 17, 1960, told her nurses at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, "His name is RuPaul Andre Charles and he’s gonna be a star! ‘Cuz there ain’t another motherfucker alive with a name like that!"

The rest, as they say, is herstory.

Today drag lovers worldwide know the RuPaul story, and everybody else has seen it on A&E’s Biography. But the rise of RuPaul really began in 1987 with her arrival in NYC.

"My first Wigstock was 1989. I was there when Lady Bunny did drag for the first time," RuPaul told me. "Now it’s a drag queen festival. But it used to be a bohemian thing. Drag for me was a commentary on life. ‘You mean I’m not supposed to do this? Well, fuck you.’ Then I found out I could make a lot of money doing it."

RuPaul was voted "Queen of Manhattan 1990" by NYC club owners and did a scene-stealing cameo in the B-52′s Love Shack video. Envious of the Billboard success of her friends Dee-Lite, she recorded her own album, 1993′s Supermodel of the World. When the album topped the charts worldwide, Elton John came calling with his duet Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and RuPaul landed gigs hosting her own VH-1 TV series (The RuPaul Show on VH1) as well as top-rated morning-drive radio shows in both L.A. and NYC. Today, RuPaul  is a speaker for CAA, and host mentor and judge on the enormously popualr RuPaul's Drag Race on LOGO and VH-1 (watch the Season 4 promo clip below).

Along the way, RuPaul also became the "First Face of M.A.C.," raising $22-million to fight AIDS during her six years with the Canadian cosmetics company.

Still, RuPaul’s favourite moment was watching television with his mom when Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder introduced RuPaul the supermodel, her first time ever on MTV.

"Coming up next, she’s, er, ah… He’s 6’4" and supermodel of the world," Loder said.

"No one predicted I could make a living out of this except me and my [late] mother," RuPaul says. "My mother was a real rebel. She was Creole from New Orleans and our family was from Nova Scotia. I believe my life lessons [growing up] as a black man helped me deal with the adversity of life as a drag queen."

Grabbing life by the balls

RuPaul – called a sissy by neighbourhood kids – has come a long way from the basketball courts of his youth. "There was a minute I was sort of good with basketball, but I could never deal with nasty attitudes [on the court]. Those boys can be nastier than the meanest queen."

All these years later, RuPaul remains disappointed many people still haven’t learnt that we’re all in this together, even in the gay community. "We are more segregated today than we were years ago," RuPaul quips. "I remember there was such optimism at my first Gay Pride in 1982. That optimism has diminished and I have promised to help bring it back."

RuPaul adds, "Gay culture these days is very polarized. We don’t celebrate diversity enough.

"I took a hip-hop class in San Francisco and afterwards I told the story of Stonewall, a subject very dear to me because it was those queens who had the guts to throw that first brick [at the police]. It’s my goal to never let those brave drag queens be forgotten. That type of tenacity is what led this movement from the very beginning. That type of tenacity is lacking today. That’s why the [gay liberation] movement is so fucking lame right now."

Unseating the system

Many point the finger at RuPaul as a symbol of the mainstreaming of gay culture. But radical Ru – who notes the men he dates have "usually dated women because they are men who see outside the box" – is having none of that.

"Our culture still can’t creatively get beyond two men loving one another. The last taboo for humankind has to do with men playing with girls’ things and men loving men. We can’t move forward. We are at a standstill."

RuPaul adds, "I know the difference between American League and National League baseball. But I have to explain the difference between transsexual and transvestite all the time. Our culture has a vested interest in not understanding us. It would unseat their belief system so much they’d have to reformat the whole fucking computer."

Still, gay life isn’t always obvious, even to those closest to us. Once, on Oprah, RuPaul explains, "My sister Rozy said she didn’t know [when they were younger] that I was gay and Oprah was like, ‘Really? Come on!’ I also just assumed that everybody knew."

Today, if there’s anyone left who doesn’t know that RuPaul – now immortalized in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – remains the world’s number one supermodel, well, let’s get one thing straight:

"I love dick!" RuPaul tells me, and then lets out a big, hearty laugh.

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Thursday, 8 December 2011


Who can forget Joker donning Wonder Woman’s tiara on the delicious eye-popping cover of the August 2004 edition of Wonder Woman?

I adore a queer villain and Batman’s nemesis The Joker - introduced in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) and created by legendary American comic book artist Jerry Robinson who died on December 8 at the age of 89  - has to be the most fabulous villain of them all.

But make no mistake: The Joker is a cocksucker and the cock our lavender zoot-suited bitch most wants to suck is Batman’s.

The Joker creator Jerry Robinson at the 2008
Comic Con International in San Diego (Photo
By Dan Chusid via Wkipedia)
When I insist The Joker is a fabulous faggot, some straight folks mock me: "Yeah, according to you everybody is gay!"

To which I can only reply, "Why do you insist that everybody must be straight?"

I mostly blame Hollywood for this because Tinsel Town has helped make life a living hell for real and imagined gay people.

Never mind that the tightly wound closets of the world’s most famous matinée idols continue to reinforce the shame of being gay – a homophobic lie that directly affects the lives of every single homo on this planet.

No, when homosexuality itself isn’t used as the root of a villain’s psychosis, then gay life is otherwise erased.

We will likely never witness the true love lives of such gay people as Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln and Florence Nightingale on the big screen.

Don’t believe me?

Take the life story of famed Hungarian Count Laszlo Almasy in director Anthony Minghella’s 1997 blockbuster The English Patient. Like the Michael Ondaatje novel it’s based on, the Oscar-winning film is a lie: The real-life Count was a gay man passionately in love with a German officer whom he tried to help avoid going to the Russian front.

Jack Nicholson as Joker
Apparently homo plotlines are box office poison. Unless, of course, you’re the cross-dressing serial killer in Silence of the Lambs.

In other words, the dream factory is still all about heterosexual voyeurism.

So let’s cut the crap and call a spade a spade: It isn’t homosexuality that drives people to kill, it is the brutal homophobia of straight people that drives many gay killers nuts.

Except for America’s beloved, iconic Joker, who was heterosexualized in director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman flick by a memorably over-the-top Jack Nicholson, panting after Kim Basinger like a dog in heat.

Except comic book artist Jerry Robinson's Joker has always been queer (although my friend, famed playwright and comic-book buff Brad Fraser makes a good case for The Joker being asexual.)

Today, in Hollywood, if you want your audience to instantly recognize a bigoted southern sheriff, all you have to do is portray him as a tobacco-spitting, N-word-using caricature.

This same kind of shorthand was also used to portray The Joker. Batman creator Bob Kane and his early successors used Joker’s appearance, from his ruby-red lips to his lavender zoot suit, as code for "faggot," which in those days was a term interchangeable with "criminal."

This is offensive in and of itself. But at the end of the day I don’t have problems with celluloid villains being queer, especially when they’re as entertaining as our Joker, who by the time Frank Miller redefined Batman in 1986 in The Dark Knight Returns, had grown into a, well, fully fleshed character.

"You know, you look so pretty when you’re mad!" Joker cackles to a fellow inmate in the 1989 graphic novel Arkham Asylum. "Kiss me, Charlie! Ravish me! But no tongues, ya hear? Not on our first date."

Heath Ledger as Joker

Also in Arkham Asylum, Joker tries to stick his fingers up Batman’s ass through his cape. Then there is Joker’s unnamed boyfriend in Devil’s Advocate and Joker even goes into detail about the sexual nature of murder in Dark Detective.

There is the more recent introduction of Joker’s fag hag Harley Quinn in Joker’s Favor because the script called for a female stripper at a police party, a role The Joker was originally supposed to do in drag.

And while we are on the subject of drag, who can forget Joker donning Wonder Woman’s tiara on the delicious eye-popping cover of the August 2004 edition of Wonder Woman?

I am not offended by a queer villain. I am offended that straight people want to make Joker straight.

So I had little hope that Heath Ledger’s sociopathic Joker in director Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight would be sexually attracted to Batman.

But when I saw the film I discovered that – wonder of wonders – Joker is, kinda.

In a monumental role that rivals Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Ledger’s Joker turns to the camera and says of his beloved Dark Knight, "He completes me."

End note: Jerry Robinson, the famed comic-book pioneer best-known by fans for creating The Joker, Two-Face and Robin the Boy Wonder, and also praised for his work as a comics historian and creator rights advocate, died at age 89 on December 8, 2011. Robinson reportedly died in his sleep. RIP.

DC Comics remembers Jerry Robinson. Click here

Saturday, 3 December 2011


(December 3)  Judy Lewis, the "secret" daughter of Hollywood stars Loretta Young and Clark Gable, died on November 25 at the age 76. Lewis was only 31 before she discovered she was the daughter of Hollywood royalty, then confronted Young in 1966.

"Loretta Young’s deception was contrived to protect her budding movie career and the box-office power of the matinee idol Gable, who was married to someone else when they conceived their child in snowed-in Washington State," The New York Times reports. "They were on location, shooting the 1935 film The Call of the Wild, fictional lovers in front of the camera and actual lovers outside its range."
Judy Lewis, in a publicity photo, around 1977.

But Judy Lewis was not the only secret Clark Gable did everything to conceal.

While many Hollywood historians continue to ignore the real truth about Clark Gable's sexuality, it is now indisputable that Gable was a deeply-closeted homo.

I blabbed about Gable's secret gay life with famed British biographer David Bret, who has written bios of Elvis Presley (Elvis: The Hollywood Years claims Elvis had an affair with actor Nick Adams and Col. Tom Parker blackmailed Presley by threatening to reveal "secret information" that Elvis was a homo), Joan Crawford, Errol Flynn, Maria Callas, and his good friend, the late Marlene Dietrich ("I was the last person she talked to - she called me two days before she died").

Bret also wrote the 2011 bio Elizabeth Taylor: The Lady, The Lover, The Legend 1932 -2011. Taylor once called Bret "a shit, but a lovable shit." But I digress.

Bret's 2008 bestselling biography Clark Gable: Tormented Star exposes Gable's secret gay life. And, let me tell you, it was extensive. Or at least it was "until 1942, when he 'became' straight," quips Bret.

So just how repressed was Clark Gable about his bisexuality?

"Gable was brought up in a gung-ho atmosphere working with his father in the oil fields," Bret explains. "On Friday night [the oil hands] would fetch the local prostitutes and had 10 minutes each. That's also the reason why Gable was so paranoid about cleanliness - from having sex with whores. And he did this because his father told him to. His father brought him up to believe he was a sissy. In the macho world of oilrigs, Gable was regarded as a bit of a pansy and his father called him that until the day he died. So Gable spent his entire life trying to prove he was a man."

David Brett
(Courtesy Random House)

There is a famous story Bret recalls in Tormented Star about why famed gay director George Cukor was fired from Gone With the Wind by David O. Selznick and replaced by The Wizard of Oz director Victor Fleming. Back at a 1937 party Cukor hosted, Gable spotted Cukor chatting with gay actor William Haines - whom Gable had serviced many times in his early years to further his career - and he assumed they were talking about him.

So, unable to look a "woman's director" in the eye, Gable had Cukor fired.

"Gable thought anyone who knew Haines had to be a raving queen," Bret says. "He didn't want others to think that of him."

Gable also outed other actors such as Johnny Mack Brown and Rod La Rocque to prevent himself from being outed.

"In those days there were two gangs in Hollywood - Joan Crawford's and Carole Lombard's," Bret explains. "Lombard is the one who termed 'fag hag.' These gangs went to all the gay bars in Hollywood and no one thought anything of it because [actors like Gable] all had beards. But Gable was more discreet with his relationships, like Rod La Rocque.

"But when Johnny Mack Brown was making the [1931] movie Laughing Sinners with Joan Crawford, Gable had him fired because he thought he could do the role better," Bret continues. "Then he threatened to out him if he revealed their affair."

If Clark Gable was once a debonair hero, he no longer is in my eyes.

"Yes, he was very hypocritical. [Outing men he slept with] did make me think of him lesser as a man," Bret agrees.

Here I must mention that Bret is long married to a woman but is also openly bisexual ("I get the best of both worlds!").

Says Bret, "Had I been in the same situation [as Gable], I would have done the same thing [stayed in the closet]. It was very difficult being gay in those days, much more than it is today. And today it's impossible. But today I'd also stick to my principles. Back then I would have made allowances because you would not have had a career."

The same might be said of Hollywood's current crop of closeted matinee idols.

"Others will be writing the same thing about them in 50 years," Bret says, noting of Gable, "It was okay [for him] to deny he's gay. But to ruin his boyfriend's career? That wasn't cool. But Hollywood is a cutthroat business."

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Monday, 28 November 2011


 Harvey Fierstein (Photo by David Shankbone)

Bugs' column originally ran in the November 27, 2011, edition of his Abominable Showman column in The Charlebois Post.

Lord knows how many times I’ve (unsuccessfully) requested an interview with Harvey Fierstein, but I know many folks who’ve met and worked with the theatre legend over the years. And I’ve heard mostly good stuff. For which I’m happy because the gravel-voiced actor is something of an icon not just in theatre circles but in the gay community where his work – from Torch Song Trilogy to his adaptation of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway – have helped advance the cause of gay civil rights across North America.

So this week as The Vancouver Playhouse premieres its month-long run of La Cage, I dug up some of Fierstein’s most famous quotes – and blabbed about Fierstein with entertainers like John Waters and Scott Capurro, as well as literary legend Felice Picano.  

You'll also find below a recent 20-minute interview with Fierstein in which he discusses his upcoming Broadway musical Kinky Boots currently in rehearsals (Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics) based on the 2005 Golden Globe Award-nominated British-American comedy film about a traditional British shoemaker who turns to producing fetishism footwear in order to save the failing family business and the jobs of his workers.

Cast of La Cage at The Vancouver Playhous, until Dec 24
Fierstein’s first role in theatre was as an “asthmatic lesbian cleaning woman” in the Andy Warhol play Pork, which opened on May 5, 1971 at LaMama theater in New York for a two-week run and then was brought to the Roundhouse in London for a longer run in August, 1971. “So, did I work with Warhol?” Fierstein once asked rhetorically. “I worked with him less on that play then I did on other things. He actually did a portrait of my rabbit and some other stuff. Warhol was definitely... Warhol.”

If you can imagine Fierstein rolling his eyeballs, that’s because most folks who knew Warhol thought of him as a vampire who sucked the talent out of other artists for his own personal gain.

As John Waters told me a couple years ago when I asked him his thoughts on Warhol, “I didn’t meet Andy until I made Pink Flamingos [in 1972]. I’d met a lot of the people in the movie business but I hadn’t met him because he’d been shot [by Valerie Solanas in a 1968 attempted murder] and I didn’t want to meet another bunch of lunatics! Andy invited us to screen the movie at the Factory. When it was over he told me, ‘Wow, you’re going to make the exact movie again’ and asked what I was doing next. He said, ‘I’ll pay for it.’ It was Female Trouble. And I know why [I refused] – it would have been Andy Warhol’s Female Trouble.”

Like most folks, beginning with fabled NYC poet John Giorno (“I was the Factory's first superstar and he was getting rid of me,” John told me over lunch once. “It was the beginning of a pattern for Warhol”), Fierstein moved on. “Pork was in 1971, and I stopped hanging out at The Factory by like 1973,” Fierstein says. 

His Tony-winning play Torch Song Trilogy – about an effeminate Jewish drag queen who adopts a gay teen – is really a collection of three plays rendered in three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! Before it opened at the Richard Allen Center in October 1981, the book was published by my mentor Felice Picano, The New York Times bestselling author of Like People in History whom I call The Godfather of Gay Lit.

(Picano is the founder of two pioneering gay presses, SeaHorse Press and The Gay Presses of New York, which in addition to Harvey Fierstein, also launched the literary careers of Dennis Cooper and Brad Gooch. Moreover, with Andrew Holleran, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Edmund White, Christopher Cox and George Whitmore, Felice founded The Violet Quill, considered to be, to quote Wikipedia, “the pathbreaking gay male literary nucleus of the 20th century.”

(Incidentally, Felice isn’t just a literary legend – he is a world-class name-dropper like me. And I’m still determined to get Montreal’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival to host a historic panel with the three remaining living members of the Violet Quill – Edmund White, Andrew Holleran and Felice – which my buddy, playwright Brad Fraser has told me he’d love to host!)

Like his Tony-winning musical La Cage aux Folles (the music and lyrics were written by Jerry Herman and the book was written by Fierstein based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 French play of the same name), Fierstein says, “I’m not adverse to the idea of Torch Song as a musical. It would just be different. Because the play will always be there exactly as it was, and in a musical you could tell a lot of the story through songs.”

Besides his leading role in the film version of Torch Song Trilogy co-starring Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft, Fierstein also appeared in the 1996 Robin Williams vehicle Mrs. Doubtfire, playing Williams’ makeup-artist brother opposite his on-screen partner and real-life stand-up comic Scott Capurro. When I first interviewed the acid-tongued Capurro in 1997, he had nothing but nice things to say about Williams and Fierstein – but nothing nice to say Hollywood’s “Black Pack” (which consisted of Magic Johnson, Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy) just weeks before Murphy dropped his $5 million (U.S.) libel lawsuit against the National Enquirer for that tabloid’s eye-popping cover story headlined “Eddie Murphy’s Secret Sex Life—His Transvestite Hooker Tells All.”

Openly-gay Capurro – like Fierstein – is ferociously out and last time we blabbed, Capurro told me, “I was a closeted comic in Los Angeles for three years and I hated it. I don’t know how [comics like] George Wallace do it without talking about being gay. [Comic actor] Anthony [Clark of the old CBS sitcom Yes, Dear]—he’s queer. I don’t know how he does it.”

Cast of La Cage at The Vancouver Playhous, until Dec 24
Fierstein would go on to make headlines dressing in drag in the Broadway musical adaption of the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray, playing the role of Edna Turnblad, first made famous by the late, great Divine in the original film. Discussing Divine’s talent as an actor, Waters told me, “Divine once passed a lie detector test, when he passed bad cheques! He passed a lie detector test and I think that was brilliant acting!”

When it comes to drag, Waters added, “After Divine’s death I don’t think anybody did it better than him.”

But Fierstein is pretty damn good. And funny. “I think the average voice is like 70 percent tone and 30 percent noise,” Fierstein once noted. “My voice is 95 percent noise.”

About working on the stage, Fierstein says, “You really, really, really have to love what you are going to do in theatre because it is an unmerciful life. It’s six days a week. It’s eight performances a week. And that’s doing the exact same thing over and over and over again.”

Fierstein, now 59, also admits to being picky about the roles he plays. “To me, if a heterosexual has a right to do it, then I have a right to do it,” he says. “And if it's important to the gay youth – who are now setting the agenda – then it’s important to me.”

The Broadway hit musical La Cage aux Folles – starring accomplished Canadian actors Greg Armstrong-Morris as Albin and David Marr as Georges, and directed and choreographed by Max Reimer, also artistic managing director of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company – plays at The Vancouver Playhouse (at 601 Hamilton, part of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Complex) from November 26 to December 24. Click here for more info and tickets.

Bugs is Senior Editor-at-Large of The Charlebois Post - Canada (CPC) where he also writes the weekly "Abominable Showman" theatre/arts/pop culture column.  Click here for CPC archives of Bugs' interviews and columns.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia  on November 24, 1991

When Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia on November 24, 1991, he decided in his last hours to publicly disclose his condition, no longer caring what the world thought – and keen to shape his own obituary, unlike Rock Hudson six years earlier. That gesture undoubtedly helped educate many rock fans about HIV and AIDS in an era when gay men were still dropping dead like flies all over the damn place.

No doubt it made one of my old friends – a well-known Canadian rock journalist from the era who prefers to remain nameless for this story – think about his own mortality. In fact, my colleague was befriended by Mercury when Queen taped two live concerts at the old Montreal Forum on November 24 and 25, 1981, for the famous 35MM live film Queen Rock Montreal.

“He wanted to sleep with me,” Mr. Rock Critic told me, pointing out the band had rented out the entire floor of a Montreal hotel. “He chased me down the hallways! Lets just say I ran the 100-metre dash in record time!”

There is another fun Montreal connection with Queen, featuring yet another old friend of mine, legendary CHOM deejay Tootall whom I like to say has the sexiest voice on Montreal radio. Anyway, Toots broke Queen’s #1 worldwide hit Crazy Little Thing Called Love right here in Montreal on CHOM back in 1980. 

TooTall of Montreal's CHOM FM

“What happened was CHOM deejay and man about town Doug Pringle was in London and sent me a tape of Crazy Little Thing Called Love which was apparently on the British forthcoming release of The Game but he said they weren’t sure if they would release it in North America since it sounded so un-Queen like,” Toots told me. “So he sent me the song and I kept on playing it. The station’s music director – who shall remain nameless – didn’t like it and gave me grief. Of course when the album did come the song was on it and it became a big hit – the Number One song of 1980.”

I also recently asked Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford what it was like to rise to showbiz fame in the 1970s at the height of the homophobic “disco sucks” movement.

Samantha Fox and Freddie Mercury atop Barkers
Photo: Courtesy Samantha Fox
“I saw Freddie, it must have been in the early 1980s, and I was going to Mykonos with friends from London via Athens,” Halford recalled. “We got to the hotel [in Athens] and did what we all did then – the clubs, the parties. At one club Freddie was holding court at the other end of the bar. We were two ships passing in the night. He waved, I waved. The place was packed and we never got the chance to connect. The next day we all went to Mykonos and I was on a beach when his yacht sailed by.”

A few years ago I also had a heart-to-heart with openly-lesbian 1980s pop siren and British pin-up Samantha Fox about the showbiz closet. When we discussed Freddie Mercury, she recalled rubbing elbows with British pop royalty in a nightclub above London’s iconic Barkers department store on Kensington High Street 25 years ago this past summer.

“It was an outrageous party! The place was filled with naked women painted green,” Fox said. “And everybody was there: Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, even Gary Glitter. And Queen was playing. I had just one [hit] song [at the time], but Freddie Mercury pulled me up on stage and said, ‘Do you know Johnny B. Goode?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ So we sang it together!”

May 2012 update: To mark the band’s 40th anniversary, the Queen officially-approved Queen Extravaganza contest begat a concert tour by official Queen tribute band the Queen Extravaganza, which headlined Montreal's Bell Centre on May 27, 2012, which I attended. It was a truly excellent tribute, and Montreal native Marc Martel of the Juno Award-winning band Downhere was the (no pun intended) Freddie Mercury deadringer who won the Queen Extravaganza contest. Check out Martel’s winning audition here:

June 2015 update: British pop star Mika has long reminded of Freddie, and he channeled Freddie on his new 2015 album No Place in Heaven. One recent weekend in Montreal, Mika and I talked about his beautiful ballad Last Party, the emotional centerpiece of his new album and an ode to Mercury.

"The last time I saw you," I told Mika, "you imitated Freddie backstage from Queen's We Will Rock You: Live in Montreal 1981 DVD . . ."

"Yes! I remember — that interview is something straight out of Absolutely Fabulous," Mika replied, laughing. "The song Last Party started with this idea that I had, when Freddie Mercury found out that he had AIDS, he closed himself up in a nightclub and had a crazy party for three days, with drugs and everything. It was the worst possible thing to do after discovering that kind of news, but that’s what he did. That’s why that song is called Last Party, and it’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


 Lady Gaga in GAGA'S WORKSHOP at Barneys New York (PRNewsFoto/Barneys New York - Photo by David Swanson, Terry Richardson Photography)
New York retailer Barneys this week opened GAGA'S WORKSHOP, a take on Santa's iconic workshop which has taken over the entire 5500-square foot fifth-floor of the Madison Avenue Men's store. The Workshop is divided into elaborate structural shops, such as a jewelry shop created out of an oversized Lady Gaga-turned-spider and a boudoir in the shape of a giant wig. And Barney’s Barneys New York will donate 25% of sales from all items featured in Gaga’s Workshop to the Born This Way Foundation, recently founded by Lady Gaga and her mother. 

Logo for Gaga's Workshop
 The Born This Way Foundation was launched on November 2 and focuses on youth empowerment and equality – especially for gay youth – by addressing issues like self-confidence, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development to create positive change.

“My mother and I have initiated a passion project,” Lady Gaga said in a statement. “Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment.”

Gaga’s Workshop includes holiday windows, a dedicated Gaga interactive website, and limited-edition, exclusive products created in collaboration with Lady Gaga under the creative direction of Nicola Formichetti with artists Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide Pierson of assume vivid astro focus (avaf). The workshop has eight stations, including the Candy Shop, Toy Shop, Closet (for apparel and accessories), Library (for books, CDs, media, and paper goods), Gallery (for collectibles and specialty items), Jewelry, Boudoir (for candles and cosmetics), and Holiday.

Also, Eli Sudbrack and avaf have designed a giant facade that has taken over the 60th Street entrance to the store, creating the illusion of walking into the mouth of a giant monster-like Lady Gaga.

Gaga’s Workshop will operate during normal Barneys' store hours through January 2, 2012.

Click here for the official Born This Way Foundation website.

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Monday, 21 November 2011


 Sir Ian McKellen publicly came out in 1988: "Coming out a blessing, you know, it’s one that straight people don't enjoy."

This column originally ran November 20, 2011, in my weekly Abominable Showman column for The Charlebois Post - Canada ("All Canadian theatre, all the time") which you can also read by clicking here

The reason why rumours Richard Gere enjoys gerbils up his ass keep dogging the actor after all these years is because Gere not only worked at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1971, but posed for Playgirl (made for girls but "read" by boys) in 1983. Mostly, though, it’s because Gere starred as a gay man interned by the Nazis during World War II in playwright Martin Sherman’s internationally-acclaimed play Bent

Is it any surprise, then, that real, honest-to-God gay Hollywood matinée idols still refuse to publicly come out?

Since Bent debuted on Broadway with Richard Gere and in London’s West End with Sir Ian McKellen, folks having been trying to out Gere as a gay man (he’s straight, by the way) while McKellen publicly came out in 1988 at the height of the AIDS media hysteria.

Backstage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in February 1999, where he was portraying Prospero in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, McKellen – who began acting on the stage as a Cambridge undergrad in 1958 – opened a bottle of red wine and told me, “Of course you want people to come out, but the way to do it satisfactorily isn’t to do it on their behalf. No gay man would rob another gay person of that joy of finally taking control of themselves. And it’s a blessing, you know, it’s one that straight people don't enjoy. They never have to come out! They don’t know what it's all about and misunderstand it and get much more exercised about being outed than we do. They miss the point that coming out is the most wonderful thing you will ever do in your life whatever age you do it.”

The theatre world, of course, has long been quite accepting of gay actors. Broadway has rarely been as closeted as Hollywood where to this very day even the whiff of gayness can still ruin a young actor’s shot at career longevity and greatness. That is why John Travolta evidently so assiduously keeps up appearances, even after being outed by his Hollywood colleague Carrie Fisher, who told The Advocate last December, “My feeling about John has always been that we know [he’s gay] and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.”

Farley Granger
When it comes to Tinsel Town, the closet remains pretty much business-as-usual. Before Farley Granger died in March 2011 at the age of 85, the 1950s screen idol told me about the time he co-starred in Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 cult classic film Rope which was loosely based on real-life, early-20th-century gay killers Leopold and Loeb who committed a “thrill kill” to impress their mentor. In Rope the mentor is played by James Stewart while Granger and his co-star, the late John Dall, played the gay killers. Coincidentally, in real life, Granger was bisexual and Dall was gay.

“John and I did discuss the [gay] relationship between our characters,” Granger told me in New York City. “But we never discussed our own private lives. We discussed [sexuality] in terms of our characters, not our personal lives. You got to realize this was 1947. No one discussed those things openly then. People forget that. The word ‘gay’ wasn’t even appropriated yet.”

As for Dall, Granger adds, “I wasn’t attracted to him in that way – it just never would have happened.” 

Granger and Dall in Rope
But off the Hollywood studio soundstages, Granger says he never hid his gay affairs. “That never happened in Hollywood. I never hid. I never considered myself in the closet. When I had my relationship with Arthur Laurents during the filming of Rope, all of my friends knew about it. We went out to dinner together and went to parties together. It was the crowd we hung out with – it was a New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”

There it is:  “The New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”

Louis Negin
Like the time acting legend John Gielgud was arrested in England for cottaging in 1953. “John and I worked together in Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford and during that time I got to know him,” openly-gay theatre legend Louis Negin – the first actor to ever appear fully nude on a West End stage – explained to me. “At the time of his arrest he was starring in a play in London. He was petrified to go on the next night. How was the audience going to react? It could mean the end of his career. So when he went on it was an act of bravery. And the audience cheered him.”

That moment was a seismic change from just 25 years earlier when the first Broadway play to deal openly with gay life and drag culture was Mae West’s 1927 play The Drag. That play never even opened on the Great White Way because after West’s first Broadway play Sex (which she also wrote, produced and directed) was closed down by the NYPD in April 1927 (West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for obscenity), the Society for the Prevention of Vice vowed to ban The Drag if West attempted to stage it. 

But today, over 80 years later, La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical have become huge Walt Disney-esque successes on Broadway.

So when it comes to embracing gay matinee idols, change in Hollywood is as inevitable as the talkies were in 1927.

As my friend and colleague Michael Musto, gossip columnist for The Village Voice in NYC (and whom I like to call North America’s OTHER fabulous loudmouth columnist) told me a few weeks ago while promoting his new anthology of essays Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back, “I think everyone on Earth should come out, even if they’re not gay! The reality is, ‘Be proud, be happy and be honest about who you are.’ The cowering, the lies and the evasions create so much unhappiness. And the actors who have come out have never expressed any regrets about it, except for Rupert Everett. In general, they’re so much happier living free, open lives. And we now have the example of Neil Patrick Harris, who has made it huge on TV and now has a hit movie franchise. People used to say this could never happen to an out gay actor. Well, it happened.”

Bugs and Musto
Which brings me back to Sir Ian McKellen whose coming out in 1988 did not slow down his celluloid career – though admittedly McKellen never really was a matinee idol.

But the theatre legend does crave what only Hollywood can give him: About starring about in director Bill Condon’s 1998 masterpiece Gods and Monsters (the Oscar-winning biopic about unapologetically out Hollywood film director James Whale whose own film Frankenstein reinvented the Frankestein “monster” as an outsider and pop culture icon), McKellen told me as he sipped his glass of red wine backstage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, “I think it might be just what I sometimes dream about – and that’s to be in a classic, to be in a movie that lasts and lasts and lasts.”

Bugs is Senior Editor-at-Large of The Charlebois Post - Canada (CPC) where he also writes the weekly "Abominable Showman" theatre/arts/pop culture column.  Click here for CPC archives of Bugs' interviews and columns.

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Lucas Silveira was named Sexiest Man of the Year by Canada’s Chart Attack magazine (Photo courtesy Lucas Silveira)
I once had sex with a pre-op tranny, a she-male, a chick with a dick, if you will, and it was a complete and utter mindfuck.

But it took that night for me to understand things I never did before. Like the pre-op transwoman who fucked me that night never identified as a gay male before beginning her transition because she always identified as a straight woman.

Another transwoman I know still sleeps with women, not because she "became" a lesbian but because she always was a lesbian.

So it’s been strange watching how trans politics have transfixed America over the last few years, from transgendered male Thomas Beatie – who has given birth to three children since 2008 and was recognized in 2010 by Guinness World Records as the world’s ‘First Married Man to Give Birth’ – to Chaz Bono making international headlines on the reality TV show Dancing With The Stars.

Right-wing pundits are still having a transphobic meltdown. During his 15 minutes, Beatie was called an "androgynous freak show" on a David Letterman Top 10, and Beatie duly visited with a slack-jawed Oprah. This year, ABC officials became so worried about Chaz Bono’ssafety both on and off the Dancing With The Stars studio lot, TMZ reports, that Bono was put on 24-hour protection leading up to the show.

Personally, I was horrified when my friend Dr. Margaret Somerville, founder of McGill’s world-renowned Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, was quoted by the London Daily Telegraph chastising Beatie: “You’re a woman and you’re having a baby. Just because you put on a clown suit doesn’t mean that you don’t still exist underneath.”

Then a couple years ago I was blabbing with Lucas Silveira, transman and frontman of one of the finest rock bands to ever come out of Canada, The Cliks. Silveira has just released his debut solo album Mockingbird and headlines my buddy Maggie Cassella’s Flying Beaver Pubaret in Toronto on November 26.

“Growing up sucked,” Lucas says. “It was extremely confusing. I didn’t have the language for it. I was 3 or 4 when I realized it – when I saw my brother’s wiener and I asked my mother when I was going to get one too. ‘When are you going to buy me one?’ Now I’ve bought a few!”

That doesn’t mean life, or sex, is no longer a mindfuck.

“[My transition] is as complete as it’s going to get,” explains Lucas, who is currently writing his memoirs which will be published by Random House. “At this point [physically I’m] going to stay [this] way because I don’t want to risk it. But transitioning mentally, I don’t like being called ‘she’ and having to pull myself out of my body every time.”

If Lucas’s identity is a problem for some, it most certainly isn’t for fans of The Cliks, including comic Margaret Cho, who says, “No one else can inspire such crushed-out admiration and full-on rock star screaming. I thought those embarrassing fangirl days were long gone for me, but The Cliks have brought them back with a vengeance!”

“She wants to kiss every time she sees me!” laughs Lucas.

Cyndi Lauper is also such a big fan she invited The Cliks to co-headline her 2007 True Colors Tour (a Vans Warped-style tour to raise money to fight for gay civil rights).

And Ian Astbury of The Cult loved Lucas and the band so much he invited them to open The Cult’s cross-Canada tour, which I saw them wind down with a truly massive concert at Montreal’s Olympia Theatre in April 2008.

Gives new meaning to riding the Trans Canada Highway, no?

“[My] audiences are a mixed bag of queer and straight,” Lucas says. “It started off more on the queer side since that originally was our major source of media coverage. Now we’ve got people of colour, moms, dads, trannies, queers and straight college kids.”

That’s because the alternative and mainstream press have finally come on board. After The Cliks conquered SXSW in Austin in 2007, The Boston Globe raved they “rock with primal, stylish ferocity reminiscent of the early Pretenders.”

Lucas adds, “The Austin Chronicle also got us a lot of attention and helped us stand out from the 1,300 bands that were there.”

The Cliks were invited back to SXSW in 2008 where they rocked The Dirty Dog.  “The place is a dive but we kicked it!” Lucas says. “I love Austin. It’s rock’n'roll heaven. It’s like a rock’n'roll Pride. Music is blaring out from everywhere.”

Signed to Warner Records in Canada, The Cliks made history as the first band with an (overtly) transgender male leader to be signed by a major record label, Tommy Boy Entertainment’s gay-friendly imprint Silver Label, where their CD Snakehouse got raves. The band also transformed Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River into a rock anthem.

But the heart of the band remains unmistakably Lucas – which explains his new solo album Mockingbird, which includes covers of Leonard Cohen’s I'm Your Man and Kanye West’s Runaway.
So what’s it like being a posterboy for transmen?

“I think other people consider me that,” says Lucas, who was named Sexiest Man of the Year by Canada’s Chart Attack magazine in 2009. “I got little kids coming up to me all the time. One 15-year-old in Albany said if it wasn’t for The Cliks he wouldn’t feel normal. If I can help them, then I’ve made a difference and it’s all been worth it.”

Lucas continues, “I am a very political person, I just don’t tend to bring it in my songwriting. Just being transgendered is political enough. God bless whoever gave me this body.”

Lucas Silveira headlines Toronto’s Flying Beaver Pubaret on November 26. Purchase tickets by clicking here.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011


 Chaz Bono, 42, with his Dancing With The Stars partner, DWTS pro Lacey Schwimmer (Photo courtesy ABC)

Chaz Bono was voted off Dancing With The Stars last night – but not before bravely educating millions of TV viewers that transgender folks are people too.

Before the series even began, conservative pundits and right-wingnuts went crazy over the inclusion of transgender contestant Chaz Bono in this season’s DWTS. Things got so bad, TMZ reports, that ABC officials became worried about his safety both on and off the studio lot and was put on 24-hour protection leading up to the show. 

Cher at the premiere of Burlesque

at the Empire Leicester Square in
London (Photo by Ian Smith)

Mind you, it hasn’t all been roses for Chaz on the home front over the years either. As FTM (female-to-male) sex radical and legendary queer icon Patrick Califia told me a couple of years ago, “Poor Chaz! He already had to go through Cher throwing a homophobic fit about him being a lesbian. Now I get the distinct impression Cher is equally unhappy about the gender change. And I frankly think that most of the negative publicity has been about the fact that Chaz is fat and not a pretty girl.”

But gay icon Cher dispelled any notion that she wasn’t 100%  supportive of her son when she appeared on DWTS cheering him on, even defending Chaz via Twitter. “This is Still America right? It took guts 2 do it,” Cher wrote in one tweet, adding that she supports Chaz no matter what he chooses to do. In another she wrote, “Mothers don’t stop Getting angry with stupid bigots who (mess) with their children!”

When Chaz appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Cher surprised him when she called in and said, “If [anti-LGBT bigots] got that excess time and that amount of hostility, I'm not so sure that I can say anything to you that would make you change your feelings. Because those are such feelings of hostility and fear that I don't know that I would have any magic words to could make you feel more comfortable and to soothe you into not being terrified of my child dancing on Dancing With the F--cking Stars.”

When Chaz originally came out as a lesbian in the 1990s, Cher herself told me frankly, “It's a really complicated thing. If you take a lot of the drama out of it, it's such a nothing thing. At the start, it was a big thing for me, and now, when you ask me, it just seems like such a nothing thing. I think it has more to do with the outside influence, that people don't want to be associated with things that the community at large feels negatively towards. That's the biggest thing. If everybody thought being gay was fabulous, it wouldn't be an issue. If everyone said, ‘Oh my god, your son is gay, lucky you!’ it would be different.”

See – even gay icons are human and worry about their children being gay.

Chaz Bono’s six-week run on DWTS took a lot of courage and opened a lot of eyes. As Gene Simmons of KISS told me the last time he performed in Montreal, “I love Chaz. I was living with Cher when Chaz and [his brother] Elijah were kids and I was a substitute dad for a while. Life is short and we should all make up and be happy. And everybody else be damned if Chaz isn’t happy today, God bless. If Chaz is happy, then he will have found the secret of life.”

Click here to read about Cher’s new comic book
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