Comedian, actor and queer icon Lily Tomlin just turned 80. To mark her birthday, a Facebook posting has highlighted her support of a friend who died of AIDS.
Vito Russo was an LGBT activist, journalist and film historian. He wrote the seminal book, The Celluloid Closet, in 1981. It explored Hollywood and its attitudes towards homosexuality.
Tomlin was one of the first major figures in the US entertainment industry to be open about being a lesbian. She and wife Jane Wagner have been a together since the early 1970s. She was also a good friend of Russo’s and was interviewed for The Celluloid Closet.
Russo died of AIDS on 7 November 1990. To mark Tomlin’s 80th birthday, Russo’s brother, Charlie, posted a recollection to his Facebook.
“Today is Lily Tomlin’s 80th Birthday and this story needs to be told.
“Two months before we lost my brother Vito, he asked me to go with him to Fire Island with his best friend Arnie He wanted to visit a special place in his heart one last time.
“We spent a few days visiting ‘old spots’ and listening to two friends reminisce about the good old days on the island. Vito walked the entire island and was given a superstar welcome when recognized. (Although in a very weakened state).
“Upon our return home he wanted to stop at Balducci’s for some food for home. When we arrived at his apartment I asked him if he needed any money. He reached down into his jeans and took out a crumbled up check. It was $3,000 from Lily Tomlin.
“He said, ‘she has been sending me money since I got sick’. She did it quietly never saying a word about her kindness to her friend. I just thought that people should know this about her as she celebrates her 80th.”
The posting also appeared on Instagram account @TheAIDSMemorial, where it has prompted thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. Some recall their own experiences with Tomlin.
“She’s the best,” said @buzzcuts. “In 1981 I had an accident and damaged my right eye , leaving me temporarily blind. A good friend knew of my great admiration of Lily. The phone rang and it was Lily Tomlin, who I had never met, giving me a pep talk, wishing me the best and sending my spirits sky high. Who does that? Such a dear person. Happy birthday Lily.”
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— “Today, is Lily Tomlin's 80th birthday and this story needs to be told. . Two months before we lost my brother Vito, he asked me to go with him to Fire Island with his best friend Arnie. He wanted to visit a special place in his heart one last time. We spent a few days visiting "old spots" and listening to two friends reminisce about the good old days on the island. Vito walked the entire island and was given a superstar welcome when recognized — although in a very weakened state. . Upon our return home, Vito wanted to stop at Balducci's for some food for home. When we arrived at his apartment, I asked him if he needed any money. He reached down into his jeans and took out a crumbled up check. It was $3,000 from Lily Tomlin. He said, "She has been sending me money since I got sick.” . Lily did it quietly, never saying a word about her kindness to her friend.” — by Charlie Russo . #whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids
Tomlin began her career with stand-up in the 1960s. She found fame in 1969 with regular appearances on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which launched a TV and movie career that continues to this day.
She earned recent Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her appearances alongside Jane Fonda in Neftlix’s Grace & Frankie.
She’s been making us laugh for 50 years and we didn’t think we could love her anymore.
We were wrong.