Friday, December 09, 2005

In Honor of a friend for World AIDS Day

Here is a Picture of Michael with some of his best friends. Michael is the one in the back with the solid Green shirt.

Director Ready for His Final Curtain

Miami Herald - Tuesday, December 9, 1997
Paul Brinkley-Rogers, Herald Staff Writer

The jalousie windows of Michael McCord's bedroom are open to the world where he was a player, a force in the theater. The late-afternoon shadows are moving in on the lush garden where his dogs are playing.

Lying in his sickbed, the veteran Fort Lauderdale theater director and longtime AIDS activist knows that death is waiting for him -- perhaps jealous of the sheer will he is exerting to stay alive until Christmas Day.

That's the way you keep going, one day at a time, says this man hooked up to an oxygen tank. McCord is bone thin, less than 90 pounds now, his energy sapped by his medical problems. His doctor has told him he could go at any time.

With death that palpable, he says, you get busy. You make your own funeral arrangements, telling everyone not to wear black. You pick the music, but you don't tell your friends what it is, because if you did, it would not be a surprise. With your parish priest, you walk that final mile together in prayer.

"You are living with a little thief," McCord, 42, says of the process of dying. He does not sound exasperated, just knowledgeable.

"Every week, it steals away another part of me. I am continually adjusting. I am continually saying things like, `OK, you can't stand up in the shower any more. What are you going to do? OK, you'll get a shower chair.' "

He's no longer able to walk a great distance. A cane will do. Going out to dinner or the theater is no longer an option. He stays home.

"So you think. You think, `How am I going to be at peace and know that everyone else in my life is at peace?' You make plans. You make arrangements. That's what's neat about dying slowly like this -- you have time to do that. It's not like being shot on the South Florida highways, where you are suddenly snatched away."

Being bedridden, terminal, is not easy for a man who was dance captain for West Side Story on Broadway in 1980, a demanding job that made him responsible for keeping the dancing first-rate. It's not easy for a man who directed critically acclaimed productions of Evita, Li'l Abner and Sweet Charity with the Fort Lauderdale Players. A man who enjoyed steak, vodka and an eight-year relationship with his companion, actor Jeff Marroll, who, last week of all weeks, was told that his mother had died.

The first hint of McCord's lethal illness came Sept. 17, 1987.

That was the day, in Fort Lauderdale, in the middle of rehearsals, when he thought he had the flu but instead was told by his doctor that he had a fungal lung infection.

He was having such a difficult time breathing that the hospital told family members that McCord might not make it through the night.

"They all came to the bed and sat with me," McCord said of this first of several near-death crises brought on by the HIV infection. "They touched me." Perhaps because of that contact, by the next day, he was sitting up and eating.

Told that he had AIDS, his first reaction was not fear. Instead, it was "to keep working, to go on with the show."

As late as July, with his weight dropping to 100 pounds, he was firing up The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for the Fort Lauderdale Players.

"Dying?" he said. "It's the thing we all have to do, whether it's AIDS, cancer, a heart attack. Hopefully, it's at the end of a long and fruitful life. You can't cheat death. But as my doctor said, it is amazing what the human spirit can do."

Those who counseled, doctored and worked with McCord know what he means.

"People tried to tell him to take it easy," said J.R. Davis, 45, who danced with McCord back in 1980 in New York City and worked with the director in several summer productions in Fort Lauderdale. "He would not. He was driven. He bounced back from near death several times, and in each case, it was the will to live."

McCord's physician, Dr. Frank Tomaka, said: "This man was working 80 hours a week even as late as September. It was a schedule I would have trouble keeping. We'd talk about that schedule, but it was clear it was that which kept him going mentally, emotionally, and when he couldn't keep going, then he was ready to die."

The Rev. John McLaughlin, pastor of Oakland Park's Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, says he has seen many parishioners succumb to AIDS. "What made Michael special," he said, talking about McCord's decision a year ago to reconnect with the church of his childhood, "was his focus. He's really an inspiration to deal with spiritually."


Below is a picture of Michael and I and the musical director for a show in Cumberland Md, called Somthing's Afoot. Michael Played Flint and he was really good. I knew he was a great director, but he had really terrific timing as an actor too. In addition he did the choreography and had a heck of a lot of fun reminding me how I had two left feet. M is in the blue turtle neck .

This is Michael and our Miss Twead sitting on the top of a Mountain. I am telling you, if you want to have a really wonderful time doing theater, audition for the Cumberland Theater. They hire equity and it is an absolutely beautiful place to live for a couple of weeks or months.


Marc Ostroff said...

I had the pleasure of working with Michael at the Ford Lauderdale Players and other theaters around Fort Lauderdale. Reading this brought back some of those wonderful memories... thanks.

TeresaInPa said...

Hi Marc,

I miss Michael very much, still do. Those were great years, a moment in time that can never be recaptured. But we were luck to be there.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have heard that JR passed away. He was a good friend to me, and then I moved to Canada in 2005. I have no other pictures, and no way to get in touch with his roomate. Can someone please help me?

TeresaInPa said...

hi annonymous, for some reason I can not comment directly to you, but later will send you and email.

I did not know about JR, one more gone dammit.

Talk to you soon.

Anonymous said...

My name is Thom Warren. I came upon this site by chance. I worked with Michael on the Intl Co of WSSin 1982, and when he left I became the Dance Capt, a position he handed over to me. After a bumpy start Michael and I enjoyed a good friendship, I even had a crush on him. I knes that Michael had passed away, but reading this blog brought back many memories and made me realize what a beautiful person he really was. Brave, and probably just as bossy and jaded as he could be to the end.
Anyway, thank you for bringing the memories of Michael back to me, I will always remember him. And I am sorry he is gone