Christopher Boatwright, a classical ballet dancer, died of AIDS March 1 in San Francisco. He was 42. The Brooklyn-born Boatwright, an African American who achieved international recognition as a dancer, was trained at the Merce Cunningham School, the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He subsequently performed for nine years with Stuttgart ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and, in spite of illness, as recently as June 1996 with the Lines Company of San Francisco in New York City.
Wayne David Fischer, 39, an educator, died of AIDS March 2 in New York City. A longtime ACT UP member and cofounder of its Youth Education Life Line (YELL), Fischer also devised an HIV prevention and led a gay and lesbian counseling group at Martin Luther King Junior High School, where he taught math for 12 years. In 1990 he became the first New York City teacher to disclose that he had HIV. He later developed AIDS: A Journal of Hope, a weekly NY1 series about living with HIV. The final segment showed him on his deathbed.
Bernard Johnson, a dancer, choreographer, fashion and costume designer died of AIDS January 22 in New York City. He was 60 years old and professor of dance and design at the University of California at Irvine. Over a long, versatile career, he both performed with and designed costumes for the New York Negro Ballet and for the Broadway productions of A Raisin in the Sun, Eubie! and Guys and Dolls.
Carld Jonaissant, dancer, choreographer, designer and poet, died of AIDS February 28 in New York City. A native of Haiti, he enrolled in the Dance Theater of Harlem in New York City in 1980 and became a company member in 1983, performing principal roles in Balanchine’s Square Dance and John Taras’ production of The Firebird. He also performed with the American Ballet. Upon leaving the company in 1988, he concentrated on choreography, costume design and his poetry.
Morris Freed, 41, a dancer profiled in the Feburary POZ, died of AIDS February 12 with the issue still on newsstands. It always seemed to me that from birth Morris was destined for the stage. As boys, he and his identical twin, Oliver, learned tap dancing and the piano. While the redheaded brothers were in high school, they got dancing gigs at Opryland, which had opened in Nashville near their Hendersonville, Tennessee hometown. After training at college, Morris quickly scored an understudy spot and, over the next 10 years, his share of fame and fortune in the national company of A Chorus Line.
Morris was not only any artist, but a spiritual seeker. Although raised in the strict Church of Christ, his pursuit of meaning led him to Buddhism, Taoism, 12-step programs and other New Age paths. His greatest AIDS-related physical challenges were gastrointestinal, and in his last year he rarely ate, relying on IV nourishment. But what kept him alive was his spirituality, and many free theater tickets from GMHC.
It’s said that identical twins have a symbiosis that can transcend time and space. As gay teens who hadn’t come out, Morris and Oliver used to spot each other in Nashville gay bars; after too many sightings to ignore, they agreed that it was time to talk. From then on, even across a continent, each remained the other’s main support. On the day when Morris’ strength finally began to fail, 3,000 miles away in California, Oliver, who is HIV negative, suddenly was hospitalized with a 104-degree fever. Just hours before Morris died, I held the phone to his ear, and he said a last goodbye to his twin.