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Loud and Proud 

Remembering an American icon

Wednesday, Jan 23 2002
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Photo by Ann Summa

LANCE LOUD WAS NO ANGEL. He wasn't above telling the occasional fib, anything you loaned him disappeared into a black hole, and he really loved getting high. Those of us who knew and loved him forgave him all this, simply because he was so much fun to be with.

Like many Americans, I was first introduced to Lance in 1973, when he and his family were the subject of an experimental television series called An American Family. A seemingly average nuclear family living the good life in Santa Barbara, the Louds permitted a camera crew to move in and film them for seven months, then the results were aired on national television. During those months Lance came out as gay and his parents' marriage unraveled on-camera; the series was a succès de scandale, and the Louds were pilloried by the press as a case study in all that was wrong with American families. In fact, the Louds are a remarkable family -- one of the closest I've ever known -- and there was a great deal more to Lance than most television viewers knew.

Lance was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, and he had good years and bad years ever since. 2001 was a tough year, so I think he may have been ready to go when he died in the early-morning hours of December 22 at the age of 50. To the great surprise of his family, Lance invited the American Family crew to film him during the last two months of his life; it remains to be seen what will be made of that footage. Herewith, a few of his many friends share stories of the Lance Loud they knew when the cameras weren't rolling.

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Bobby Mayhem (artist): The L.A. Times obituary for Lance that ran last month bothered me because it went on about An American Family, and mentioned that he'd had little success with his band [the Mumps], and some minor success as a writer, but none of that was the point of Lance. When Lance and I were growing up in the '50s, people were loath to even use the word homosexual, and it's hard for young gay kids now to realize what it was like then. Coming out gay when and how Lance did would've crushed most people, but he flew with it and laughed in people's faces. He was incredibly brave.

 

Pat Loud (mother): Lance was a joyous child, but he was dyslexic until the fifth grade, and his coordination was zero. If you threw a beach ball to him, it would bounce off of him, and he couldn't play boy games. Consequently he developed a rapier wit to protect himself, and he became very strong. Shortly after An American Family aired, Dick Cavett wanted Lance to be on his show alone. We didn't want him to do it. We wanted to protect him, but Lance wanted to duke it out with anybody. Cavett asked him, "How did it feel when you found out you were homosexual," and Lance replied, "I took a few aspirin and it went away."

 

Kristian Hoffman (musician): We met in our high school art class. He was this loud character who wore extreme clothes. People couldn't decide if he was a genius or an asshole, and some people made fun of him and called him "faggot." Lance always wanted to be at The Event, and he wasn't afraid to do things that seemed dangerous. A few days before the Stones concert at Altamont he said, "Let's just take your car and go!" We drove up there and pushed our way to the front of the stage. Until I met Lance I'd been a careful person who stayed home and got good grades, and he freed me. We once drove to L.A. wearing outfits we'd stolen from the Santa Barbara High production of Romeo and Juliet, to go to the opening night of Satyricon. We saw the Kinks, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground when they played the Whisky. We saw the New York Dolls every night they played the Mercer Arts Center. I was naive about sex, and Lance helped me realize I was gay, and he arranged for me to have my first sexual experience. He opened up my world, and I think he did that for everyone he knew.

 

Michele Loud (sister): You could never predict how Lance was going to behave. Once there was a huge rainstorm and the hillside behind our house was collapsing. My horse Charlie was out there, and I had to get him off the hill, but he was frightened and I couldn't control him. Nobody was home but Lance, who was always a big scaredy-cat -- you'd walk into the living room and he'd be standing on the couch screaming because there was a bug on the floor -- so I ran into the house to call a friend. Before I knew it Lance had gone out there and gotten Charlie and was walking him up the hill. Charlie was rearing up and resisting him, but Lance just did it.

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