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In Memoriam

Rusty Magee

A Celebration of our Beloved Friend

Riverside Memorial Chapel
New York City

Sunday, March 2, 2003

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Eve Gordon

LIfelong Friend from College and Actress

I would give anything for this day not to have come. My heart aches for all of us, and especially for Nat. Nat, I am so grateful to you. You gave Rusty’s whole life a deeper meaning, just by being you. Rusty told me he was greatly comforted by you, that he prayed with all his soul, and believed, that you were going to be okay. At the end of his battle, he told you that his body had betrayed him. You said, “but not your spirit.” I hope you realize what a wonderful thing that was for you to say, not only because it’s true, but because your dad got to hear you say it. He saw what a fine person you are, and I know he was proud that you were his one child born in this world, to carry on. I love you Nat.

And Alison. Alison, I want to thank you, on behalf of all of the people who love Rusty, for taking such good care of him during his illness. No one will ever know how difficult it was, and what it must have taken out of you, nor will anyone know what a blessing it was for you to be the one by his side to the end of his life. You made his journey as gentle as it could possibly have been, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually. When you gave Rusty the Sweet Appreciation party in May, you gave him a piece of heaven on earth. I really don’t see how life could get any better than that party. The next day, he told me he was still floating on air, that he felt humbled and in awe of the love that had been showered on him. A few days later, when he received terrible news of his cancer having spread, he told me that he couldn’t even get very upset about it, because he was still cushioned by his joy about the party. God, he loved you for that. And when he came to see your “March of the Falsettos” reunion performance in January, he told me that he remembered being invited to see the original show 20 years ago, and that for some reason he missed it. “Just think,” he said, “if I had gone to that, I would have fallen in love with Alison two years earlier than I did, and we might have been together 20 years ago.” He had this look on his face that I remember so well from the first time he described you to me, after he’d fallen in love with you for the first time.
During his last days, you moved mountains to ensure that he would have dignity, comfort, and even joy. When he was frightened, you were his rock. When he could no longer speak, you read his mind. He left us with a smile on his face, because of you. Now that he is gone, you’ve been comforting me, far more than I’ve been able to comfort you. Thank you, Alison. You are a sister of my soul, and I love you dearly.

I am deeply honored to be speaking about Rusty today. And my heart is broken. I’ve loved Rusty Magee since the day I met him 27 years ago, in Jim Barnhill’s acting class, our junior year at Brown, and I will love him until the day I die. Most people forget their first loves, or remember them fondly and faintly. Not Rusty. If Rusty Magee once loved you, ever, at any age, he never stopped loving you. When our college romance ended, it was transformed into a lifelong friendship that we cherished forever. I could always count on him to be my true friend. It was impossible for me to ever stop loving him, which I know many of us here today can understand. He was just so lovable. He was so passionate about so many things in life. I found a letter he wrote when he was in college. “I want so many things!” He wrote, his pen almost breaking through the paper. “I want to be a great composer, I want to be an eminent musicologist, I want to be an entertainer… AAAAHHHH!”

All his life he fought the passing of time. He started cherishing the past when he was about 11. He wrote the song, “I’m Getting’ Too Old” when he turned 21. He wrote an elegy for the long-playing album when everyone had left it behind for the compact disc. And under his spell, we all fell in love with a brown-eyed girl, who maybe didn’t have brown eyes, who maybe wasn’t even a girl.
One of his songs he wrote as a teenager is called, “I Wonder if Joanne’s Back in Ann Arbor”. He would play that, and I would say… “You’re SURE she wasn’t ever your girlfriend?” I didn’t understand, yet, that with Rusty, no one is ever “just” a friend. A friend, to Rusty, was a sacred thing. Anyone else might idly wonder if an old pal was in town that week; Rusty made a song from that, a heart-tugging song of wistfulness about time’s inevitable march, and about the fragility of high school friendship. (And of course, Joanne English is still his friend, and she’s probably here today.) There was a little girl who sat next to Rusty in elementary school, whom he loved with all his heart. She was the little red-haired girl to Rusty’s Charlie Brown. They lost touch after 9th grade, but when Rusty became ill, Josh found her for him. He surprised Rusty one day, and there she was, waiting for Rusty in his apartment. And Carole Helms reentered his life to stay, after an absence of more than 30 years, and she’s speaking here tonight.

He kept all his childhood friends. He may have kept all his childhood acquaintances, I don’t know. I do know that all of us in his inner circle, (all 547 of us), we counted on Rusty’s constant love, we were warmed by the knowledge that he would never let us go from his life. We took for granted that he would always be there for us. We never dreamed that he would be the one to leave us.

For a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, there was nonetheless something mysterious about him, something that made him at times hard to know.

Since his death, I’ve been searching for him in my heart and my memories. There is one place where I feel I can always find him, that holds the key to all his mysteries. Rusty’s soul came out in his music. I have his music in my mind all the time now, and it’s a great soundtrack. I listen to songs he wrote long ago, and the sweet, simple lyrics break my heart. He wrote a song long ago that I can’t stop thinking about, it is timeless. He recited the lyrics to me, more than once, in the last months. I listen to the refrain, and there is a message there from Rusty, to all of us who grieve for him. It is a message for Alison, for Jamie and Kenny, for Bettie, for Josh, for all of his mourners, and especially, I think, for Nat. Here are some of the word :

Carry on the way you did before.
Show the whole wide world
Just what you have in store.
Do what you were going to do
Before the fall.
Even though I won’t be there,
You still can have it all.
And remember,
I will always love you
when the days turn to years.
When you’re lying there in bed
please remember all I’ve said.
I will always love you
our love always will be.
And I know already you will always love me.
And I know, forever, you will always love me.

Rusty’s music to that song is haunting and beautiful, but I’m afraid I can never sing it without crying. I had to sing it in a show of his music once, long ago, and I choked up toward the end, and he jumped in and sang the rest of it for me, from the piano. He was a little irritated with me about that. I’m sure he’s irritated right now.

The last time I spoke to Rusty was on the phone, a few weeks ago. He had crossed the bridge, and was beginning to say his goodbyes. He said to me, “Isn’t it great to know, I loved you to the end of my life.” I promised him that I would love him until the end of mine. That will be an easy promise to keep.

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