Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sam Harris

Sam Harris (b. 1961) grew up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, a town of fewer than 8,000 people at the time. Possessed of a major, seemingly untamable talent for singing, acting and dancing, his overt “gayness” as a misfit youth led to bullying and a failed suicide attempt (small town Oklahoma was not exactly an embracing environment for a singing/dancing gay boy). However, he went on to gain national recognition in 1983 when he won the grand prize on the first season of Star Search, a television talent competition. His rendition of “Over the Rainbow” has to be seen/heard to be believed. Harris has since enjoyed a career as a recording artist, author, script writer and actor on television, stage and in films.

This week saw the release of “Ham: Slices of a Life” (Simon and Schuster) a collection of sixteen biographical essays and stories. I first learned of this last weekend when Harris was interviewed on NPR about his new book (available in e-reader formats; in the audio book format, Harris himself reads the book). The chapters are variously tragic, triumphant and hilarious, sometimes all at the same time. There are already ten YouTube videos of Harris reading from his book (click on link below).
The chapter on Liza Minelli’s surreal wedding to David Gest is destined to become a cult classic (Sam and Liza have been best friends for decades). Not to be missed is his recounting of a concert in Cleveland, at which he was the opening act for his idol, Aretha Franklin. The crowd cheered Sam and booed Aretha; the Queen of Soul was not amused.

Sam and his partner Danny Jacobsen, a director, presentation coach and film producer, have been together for twenty years. They adopted a son, Cooper, in April, 2008, and married seven months later. The chapters dedicated to Cooper’s birth and his son's alpha-male bonding with partner Danny are so honest and tender that they will bring a tear to your eye and a belly laugh, simultaneously.

I admit that, while I recognize Harris’s tremendous talent, I am not a fan of his over-the-top vocal performances in which he bleeds all over the floor and needs oxygen to recover, but when he reigns it in a bit, he’s in a class by himself (I can recommend the slow ballads on his album “Standard Time”). Here’s a television performance of the classic revenge ballad, “Cry Me a River”:

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