If you read my other blog, you'll see I posted about Adam Lambert and American Idol. It finally occured to me why I fell so hard for Adam. Adam reminds me of a very dear friend who died a few years ago from AIDs. Michael Benbrook was without doubt one of the most talented people I've EVER known. He had a four octave vocal range and a larger than life personality to go with it. Here's an obituary for Michael I found on the web. I can so see him defying a SWAT team with a water gun...totally Michael. He was outrageous and fearless in every way imaginable.
We met in the theatre scene in Sacramento back in the early 80s. I was a wide eyed ingenue and Michael was a force of nature. We did Camelot together, I was Guenevere and he played Lancelot. I quickly became his muse and he became my punk rock mentor. We'd hit the clubs decked out in the most absurdly fabulous outfits that Michael would create for us. He'd sew pencil skirts so tight that I could barely walk in them, put me in sky high stilettos and transform me into an exotic and beautiful creature. It was like being a living Barbie Doll! For a while there the folks at the gay clubs were quite convinced I was the most fabulous drag queen in San Jose.
Michael was a complicated person...as all of the best people are. He had an intense personality and a burning need to be noticed, as did I. We lived together with my uncle Shawn in a small apartment above a TV Repair shop in San Jose. I'm quite sure we drove my poor uncle mad with our antics and for that I am truly sorry. Michael worked as a waiter at a chi chi hotel down the road and would walk home from work late nights singing at the top of his lungs. You could hear him singing from blocks away. That voice...was unearthly. He absolutely should have been a super star. He could sing anything. He died far too young.
AIDs took away a lot of incredible people whom I loved dearly, including my uncle Shawn. I can remember talking about it with Michael when it first started emerging in the Bay Area. We really didn't understand it back then. I couldn't believe it years later when I got the call from an old friend that Michael had died...at only 41. He just seemed so invincible, so full of life. What a waste.
Michael was 6'3" tall and he loved exaggerating his stature with the outfits he'd concoct. He adored Jean Paul Gaultier and Theirry Mugler. He'd carve huge shoulder pads out of foam rubber and slide them in his shirts. He'd super glue Barbie dolls to his ears. He rocked a skirt like no other man I've ever seen. He had a shocking red pompador, a charmingly freckled strewn visage and was a master with make-up and styling. We often hit San Francisco club scene, burning up the dance floor, hitting the after hour parties back before they were called raves, crawling home the next morning on the BART scaring the bejesus out of the morning passengers. I think my favorite moment with Michael was marching in the Halloween parade on Castro Street in full drag together. I was Marilyn Monroe to his alter ego Ruby Begonia in all of her red satin fitted ball gown glory. What an amazing night. What an amazing human being.
Michael and I lost track of each other after he moved to San Francisco to join the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon. I left California behind to start a new life and wondered often how he was and what he was doing. I thought for sure he'd make it to Broadway one day. His death was a tragic, tragic loss.
So Adam Lambert, let that freak flag fly high and never apologize for who you are. The world needs people who are unafraid like you and Michael. We need your spirit, your talent and your tenacity. The more outrageous you are, the more you inspire others to be the same.
Life is too short to apologize for being fabulous.
In the words of the indomitable Bette Midler, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
And Michael, I'm very much looking forward to playing dress up again with you when I shake this mortal coil. I hope they have well stocked Thrift Stores in the afterlife!