In the wake of Cory Monteith’s tragic death last week, I found myself devastated and heartbroken. Since 2009 when GLEE first aired, I have followed the show religiously–every note, every mash-up, every borderline-cheesy but always amazing Broadway show tune sung by the talented and effervescent cast, a cast that collectively and individually strikes a chord with each and every fan. Something about the show’s joyful tone and message of acceptance makes its fans feel like they are part of the GLEE family, so though none of us GLEEks knew Cory in person, we are all deeply saddened by his death.
Also, in the wake of Cory Monteith’s tragic death, I have been thinking nonstop about a friend of mine from years ago, a friend I met while working at a TV show production company. Hunter and I were part of a TV production family, a family that worked hard together and played hard together. We experienced our twenties together, living, laughing, singing karaoke at the Lamplighter, and loving every minute of it. Many of my closest friends are from that time period of my life (I even married one of them).
Hunter’s personality was similar to the vibe of GLEE. Not only did he love music, but he was also joyful, accepting, and so full of heart that everyone who met him loved him. He could have benefitted from a show like GLEE if it had only come out, so to speak, in the 90’s, since he spent many years of his life hiding who he was. It was about two to three years into our friendship that he had the courage to tell me and the rest of our friends that he was gay, to which we all said, “of course you are” and hugged him ferociously. He also admitted to me, a few years later, that he had a drug problem. I never knew how bad his addiction really was because he hid it well from all of us, and by the time I found out, it was too late too help.
Hunter and I lost touch about six years ago when he moved to LA and I started down my suburban mommy path. I thought about tracking him down many times, but part of me was fearful about what I would find. I figured that if he had been okay, he would have reached out to me.
Two days after Cory’s death, Hunter came to me in a dream. I guess, subconsciously, something about Cory’s path was reminiscent of Hunter to me. My dream was vivid and clear and as vibrant as Hunter’s spunky personality.
Upon seeing him in the haze of dreamland I said,
“Oh my God, Hunter, you’re here, you’re okay. I’ve been so worried about you. ”
He looked back at me with his bright smile and manicured eyebrows and said reassuringly,
“Mary, I’m okay. I’m okay.”
I woke up feeling as though I had my friend back, and in that split second I started planning our next wine night where we’d listen to music and laugh ourselves silly about anything and everything. When I realized it was just a dream, I decided I needed to track him down. Something in me told me that he was not okay.
I found an old phone number I had from his family home in Colorado. His step mom answered and after I fumbled for the right words, trying to explain how I knew him and why I was calling, she said quietly, “Oh, Hunter died, three years ago.”
Oh my dear Hunter.
My darkest fears were realized and my heart broken into a million pieces.
I was told that he had been “trying to get his life back together,” living with his partner Dominic and doing really well. His cause of death was cardiac arrest as a result of prescription medication he had been taking for migraines. Though he did not die from a drug overdose, as did Cory Monteith, I suspect his cardiac arrest at the young age of thirty-eight can likely be connected to his drug usage.
I immediately began calling my closest friends who knew and loved Hunter from back in those days. We laughed together through tears as we remembered some of our favorite Hunter stories, like when he called me “Buuuurt” and it sounded like a burp, or when he made a surprise visit to Mariana’s birthday party, with his partner Dominic, both of them donning tuxedos.
Though Hunter has not been an active presence in my life for many years, the news of his death is just as shocking and heartbreaking as if it had been ten years ago in the prime of our friendship. All of these years he has resided in a special place in my heart. I hope that he always knew that.
As I tucked my daughters into bed last night, the three of us said a prayer for Hunter. As I turned to walk out, I said one of my typical farewells,
“Sleep with Angels, girls.”
Ironically, it was Hunter who taught me that phrase eighteen years ago.
Now I know he came to me in my dream to let me know he’s okay where he is now, free from prejudice, shame, demons, and drugs. Cory is there too and most likely they are starting a band, Cory on the drums and Hunter on the piano.
Sleep with angels, Hunter and Cory, and rest in peace.
For those of you who knew Hunter, here is his obituary and also a beautiful video montage that his sister put together.