Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Our Man Brad

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Our Man Brad

Article excerpt

Amid persistent gay rumors, Brad Davis rode drugs and sex to an early death from AIDS complications. Since his excesses killed him, why are we still hooked on his tragic glamour?

Brad Davis was not gay. Just ask anyone. His best friend, a gay man, insists that "just because Brad had sex with men doesn't mean he was a homosexual." His former colleagues refuse to go on record saying that Davis wasn't straight. And his widow--who in her March 1997 memoir of the late actor, After Midnight: The Life and Death of Brad Davis, admits that he worked in a gay hustler bar and lived with a drag queen before making it big--says, "I don't know why everyone wants to believe Brad was gay."

Perhaps we want to believe Davis was one of us because of the many gay roles he played during his nearly 20-year career. Or maybe it was the sexed-up vulnerability he expressed in so many of his performances. Or maybe it's the stories that have surfaced since his death about his six-year battle with AIDS, an ordeal he kept secret and with which many gay men can identify. Whatever the reason, Davis was haunted by rumors about his sexuality during his life, and since his death he has become a gay icon whose assisted suicide in 1991 only adds to his tragic memory.

Whatever Davis's declared sexual orientation, his hard-partying, promiscuous image has been well-documented since his death, and this profile, so much like that of a stereotypical gay man, has further fueled our connection with Davis. "Brad was a bad boy for a very long time," admits his widow, Susan Bluestein Davis, speaking to The Advocate in an exclusive interview. "He was always partying, always very promiscuous. For a lot of people, that meant he was gay."

While most of us reject such negative stereotypes of gay men as promiscuous party animals, it's hard to overlook the growing popularity of gay circuit parties, which seem to promote drug use and multipartner sex. "If these parties had been around when Brad Davis was a young man, he'd have been dancing his ass off at every one of them," says a former colleague of Davis's who prefers not to be identified. "Barring that, he'd be playing these party boys on the screen."

In the words of writer and friend Rodger McFarlane, Davis was "the perfect '70s clone. He was scrumptious. Anyone who ever had a budding gay libido--including me--saw him on the screen and projected all their postadolescent fantasies onto him. Long before we became best friends, I had a huge crush on him."

So did most of the rest of us. In gay role after gay role, Davis teased us with possibilities: There was his homoerotic shower scene in a Turkish prison in Midnight Express (1978). And his gay sailor in Querelle (1982), in a scoop-neck tank top and white jeans so tight that the film's legendary gay director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, declared that the trousers "revealed what religion Davis wasn't." Even Davis's stage roles were queer: He appeared in Larry Kramer's Sissies' Scrapbook early on and later starred in Kramer's AIDS-themed The Normal Heart in New York.

"On the stage and screen, Brad said everything gay there was to say at the time," says McFarlane. "Plus, he was the last example of that decadent free-love era. …

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