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On World AIDS Day: Remembering Brian Campbell

I met Brian Cambpell on Labor Day weekend in Provincetown in 1992. From hello, he was (and remains) the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Though I knew he had AIDS when I met him, he exhibited no ostensible signs of illness. A tall figure with a strong and lean frame, Brian looked like a missing Fonda, combining the best physical features of Henry, Peter and Jane.

He did some modeling as a younger man in New York, though he built his life as an artist and a jewelry designer. At the time I met him, he was exploring Cubism in his painting.

During the last six months of his life, I spent nearly every weekend with him in Provincetown as I completed my last semester at Boston College. To me, he was worldly and wise, introducing me to films, music and art I had never known. And we shared a lot of laughter. I cherished my weekends with him more than anything. Among many things, he introduced me to Auntie Mame, All About Eve and the uncanny voice of Jimmy Scott. We both cried watching Cinema Paradiso, with that exquisite score by Ennio Morricone that I will always associate with Brian.

Brian was divorced, and had two sons from his marriage – one his natural son, the other adopted. The boys were ages five and three at the time, and it broke his heart to be away from them at such a precarious stage on his timeline.

As the Kaposi’s sarcoma in his lungs worsened, and the hole in his brain grew, Brian started to lose dexterity on one side of his body, affecting his speech and his ability to paint. Brian was rushing to complete four paintings on wood panels for his sons. For a man approaching Death, there is also a need to travel lighter and lighter. When I got the phone call telling me that I needed to step away, I had no choice but to accept it, but it destroyed me. I never saw him or spoke to him again.

A photo of Brian Campbell taken around 1991, a year before I met him.
A photo of Brian Campbell taken around 1991, a year before I met him.

Brian died a month later on June 20th, 1993. He was 43.

Though I only knew him for a short time, he left a permanent imprint on my life. My time with him was one of the most worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had. But like all things worth having, my time with him was temporary. It was a gift.

I still think about him all the time, and I miss him every day.