Noted pianist Van Cliburn died this morning in Fort Worth, Texas, and my friend Jim has already performed an autopsy on his NYT obit:
The New York Times doesn't seem to know what to do with pianist Van Cliburn's live-in friend, Thomas Smith. Van Cliburn died today at 78, and the NYT's obituary says in the second paragraph: "His publicist, Mary Lou Falcone, confirmed the death, saying that Mr. Cliburn had been treated for bone cancer and that he died at his home, which he shared with Thomas L. Smith, who survives him."
Smith is never mentioned again in the entire obit. A Google search finds other obituaries describing Smith as Van Cliburn's long-time "companion" or "friend." Was the pianist gay? In Wikipedia, his personal life section says only: "In 1998, Cliburn was named in a lawsuit by his alleged domestic partner of seventeen years, mortician Thomas Zaremba."The obit does later mention the palimony suit and references his homosexuality -- from discreet to less so. But it NEVER mentions Smith again. I'd have thought after the whole Susan Sontag incident -- and in the midst of the marriage equality revolution -- the New York Times would have gotten this right. Were we expecting too much? I'm pretty sure the Gray Lady generally doesn't list "friends" as survivors.
UPDATE: Not sure why I have gotten flak about why I -- or Jim, really -- questioned this at all. (It was always about the paper, not about Cliburn.) Equality is equality, so we just thought it was odd how the Times seemed to be struggling with how to identify Cliburn's partner. Perhaps Smith DID want to be called a "home sharer"(!), but somehow I doubt it. Whatever the case, the Times HAS rewritten the obituary to make it more in line with how other survivors of the deceased are noted -- moving Smith to the end of the obituary instead of at the top -- which leads me to believe we were on to something. The third-to-last graf now reads:
He is survived by Thomas L. Smith, with whom he shared his home for many years.The part about "sharing his home" still strikes me as odd -- don't all couples tend to "share homes"? -- and Smith is still only mentioned the once. But I do think it's an improvement.