This is for my buddy John in Manasquan, New Jersey. He wanted to know this story.
As you saw on ABC, the supremely gifted Daniel Day-Lewis made Hollywood history last month as the first man to have won three Oscars for Best Actor in his career.
He won Oscar Number 3 for his extraordinary performance as President Lincoln.
I had a brief encounter with Daniel Day-Lewis one night in Central Park. It was thrilling and memorable. News from it got the attention of Tom Cruise. This goes back to 1993 when I was in the first year of being a regular on WNBC's Weekend Today in New York. The show premiered in the fall of 1992. Also in the fall of 1992, I started a relationship. I received an invitation to an AIDS benefit party being thrown by amfAR at the Central Park Boathouse. There would be entertainment, free food and free drinks at the weeknight event. I asked Richard, my late partner, if he felt like a night out. He did. Fabulous! It was a swell event. Richard was a smalltown white Southern Baptist. I'm from Southern California. That amfAR function was the kind of event you dream of attending when you move to New York to start a new life for yourself. It was for a great cause, one important to us. And, let's be honest, we were not too proud or too hightone to turn down free food and beverages.
We expected drinks. We expected pieces of chicken on little pointed sticks. We did not expect to meet an Oscar winner while we were stuffing out faces with free appetizers. Daniel Day-Lewis was present. This was when he had "only" one Oscar. He got it for My Left Foot. This was a casual event and he was very casually dressed. White jeans, shirt, no tie. No entourage. There were no TV cameras present and this was years before the birth of cameras in cellphones and internet alerts via Twitter and such. An amfAR rep introduced him to Richard and me. It was tough for me not to have a Ralph Kramden "Hummina, hummina, hummina" moment. Yes, I had my own celebrity talk show on VH1 and I've interviewed many stars on national television -- but that was in a work situation. This was after hours. He's an Oscar winner. I was a guy on a local weekend news program.
I knew my mother would be jealous. My Left Foot is one of her all-time favorite movies. We had a great mother-son bonding day seeing that film when she came to visit me once in New York. I share her affection for the film and congratulated the actor on his Oscar win. He graciously thanked me. Well, Richard and I expected that he'd then move on to waft through the party crowd. He didn't! Daniel Day-Lewis stayed a few moments longer and engaged us in conversation. That made us feel so...significant. And special. We told him that we were a couple and that Richard had recently been diagnosed. At first glance, people wouldn't have assumed he was sick. The steroids in his medication bulked him up like a linebacker and helped his appetite. But he was sick. And unemployed. The way the socio-political climate in 1992/93 was, I was warned by co-workers not to tell executives that my partner had AIDS. The bosses present at that time didn't seem to embrace diversity. I couldn't be open about my life for fear of losing my job. And that job helped me take care of Richard through his terminal illness. I couldn't tell my bosses about my off-screen life. But, there I was by Richard, sharing our story honestly and openly with Daniel Day-Lewis -- because he was interested and he cared. He was a regular, down-to-earth artist who truly connected to people.
He'd knocked out three solid performances in major dramas: 1992's period adventure The Last of the Mohicans, 1993's The Age of Innocence for Martin Scorcese and the political thriller In the Name of the Father, also released in 1993. As we wished Daniel a good night and good-bye, I also wished him good luck with his upcoming assignment. He was announced for Interview with the Vampire. He'd play Lestat. He thanked me but revealed that he was wiped out from those three heavy-duty, back-to-back big pictures. He needed some time off and decided to pull out of the vampire project. I told him I was on a local weekend news program and asked if I could mention that item that coming Saturday morning. He said "Yes" because, by then, all the parties that needed to know he was withdrawing would have been notified.
My WNBC boss wouldn't let me do the entertainment news exclusive. Why? Because she didn't think I had "the skills" to cover entertainment. (Don't get me started. That's why I was assigned live shots at shopping malls and petting zoos. And that's why I ultimately quit.) I gave the item to a buddy who'd done a favor for me -- Michael Lewittes, then a columnist at the New York Daily News. He didn't know about the casting for the film version of Anne Rice's supernatural best-seller. I told him I'd heard Tom Cruise was really eager to play vampire. Mike, now known on Twitter as @GossipCop, printed my item. Later Mike told me that he did, indeed, get a call from a Cruise representative to confirm the show biz news item. My Left Foot was out. Top Gun was in.
Tom Cruise replaced Daniel Day-Lewis in 1994's Interview with the Vampire and Tom sank his fangs into Brad Pitt. He got the part he wanted. Daniel got a vacation.
As for Daniel Day-Lewis -- I hope to interview him one day. Because of his kindness and charm that one night in Central Park, I will always feel this: As wonderful as he is on-screen, he's even more wonderful off-screen. He, himself, is Hollywood gold.
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