The (Not So) Secret Gay Life of Luther Vandross

Nine months have now passed since the death of the extraordinarily talented R&B singer Luther Vandross, and with this passage of time has come renewed interest in his private life. Out Magazine has published an article with interviews with those who knew the fiercely private balladeer. They confirm what most of us (who werent wearing blinders) already knew; Vandross was gay, but also never had much of a sex life and was uncomfortable talking about his sexuality with anyone other than very close friends.

No doubt this report will rekindle the hot discussion about whether a celebrity risks losing their stardom by coming out and whether its anyones business. Frankly, I think living life in the closet is an awful price to pay for stardom and that those performers who are out get to maintain their sanity and self-esteem, which is far more valuable than fame in the long run. I am also bothered by the notion that secrecy must be expected of gays and lesbians when straight folks get to be so constantly obvious about theirs. This interesting piece on Rashids blog addresses that point better than I can.

Nobody could or should live Luthers life for him, but one must ask the question, what if he had chosen to be honest when asked the direct question, Are you gay (and he was on several occasions, but always denied it or attempted to deflect)? Since he and so many other of our performers are infinitely more talented and interesting than their straight counterparts, what might that have added to the entire debate over gay rights, if we could have pointed out that the best and brightest singers, actors, writers, producers, managers, publicists, etc., etc., etc. are some of us? What might that have done to encourage and inspire that gay youth, also talented but wondering if s/he can succeed and be open and honest about his/her life, if s/he could have pointed to Luther and said, He did it. So can I.

7 comments ↓

#1 Troy on 03.23.06 at 11:22 am

Great article.
However I must ask was he just like ‘us’ and what exactly is that us??
I think more than mere record sales held down Luther’s voice and ultimately was his demise. I truly hate to talk or write about someone who is passed and can’t defend himself or set the record straight, I just feel uncomfortable talking about a life who was worlds away from mine except maybe he was, like me, gay.
Today’s being gay is nothing like yesterdays’ was and many a book on many a celebrity attest to it. But today’s gay isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be either. Think about if you were an Ellen and every person you meet assumes they already know you because your gay and uh, we all that means…but do we?
I miss Luther in every sense of the word and I am still shocked he’s gone. I am not looking forward to someone’s tell all book on him and what that was like, all I know is that he was a class act in every sense of the word, that only asked for love in return in a world that’s only concerned about dollars and gossip and not much else. Rest In Peace Mr. Vandross, Rest In Peace.

#2 MS. World on 03.23.06 at 12:06 pm

Hey Sir Bernie! I always thought he was gay which was fine with me. However, I know that some of my family who were fans would be a little upset with their favorite balladeer being gay but I think they could have gotten over it. I read Craig Seymour book. It sounds like Vandross never had a long term relationship which sounded very sad. It is sad that we still live in a world where people can’t be who they are. By the way, basketball player Sheryl Swopes came out in Essence magazine.

#3 nOva on 03.23.06 at 1:38 pm

I think any celebrity is well within his/her rights to be in the closet. But we also need to be careful how we define ‘closet’. If a celebrity isn’t out to the public, but is out to close family and friends, is he still closeted? Is it something that needs to be made public for the sake of trailblazing? I agree that it would be very brave and admirable for someone as well-known as Luthor to come out to the public, but it should be on that person’s terms, not ours.

#4 b brown on 03.24.06 at 9:15 am

Open and honest are different things. You’re dead on, Luther was not open about much of his private life. And to the extent that he was a public figure he was entitled to certain amount of privacy. While he wasn’t open, he was very honest.

When asked in an interview if he was gay. He said that’s none of your damn business. And honestly its not.

#5 Bernie on 03.24.06 at 9:49 am

Yes, but straight folks never dodge that question. If you ask a straight man, “Are you straight?” they will always answer yes. Thus anybody who dodges such a question is obviously gay.

#6 Joyce E. Smith on 04.01.06 at 1:00 pm

When I read this article in the Daily News, my first thoughts were “Here is somebody trying to cash in on Luther”; however, I realized that most of us knew that Luther was gay. My question is what difference it made, for Luther was a professional onstage and sanggggg like nobody’s business! Luther may have not reached that point in his life as to own up to his sexuality, but no one has the right to do it in death. Lesbians and gays in the black community as often ostracized for their sexual orientation, regardless of who they are. I am going to surmise that Luther wanted to make it as a SINGER as opposed of a GAY
singer and to come out may have jeopardized his chances for such.

#7 Bernie on 04.01.06 at 5:06 pm

We will continue to be ostracized as long as we act as though being gay or lesbian is something to be ashamed of.

If all the gay folks came out today, all the straight folks would realize how many of us there are and how integral to their lives we are.