This post was written by Byron Nease, longtime close friend and former co-star of Bonnie's.
As a performer, I’ve learned that both words and music have vast power, but they also remind me about being mute in the face of some moments. Death of a loved one - especially a Bonnie - woven like a long golden thread in the fabric of my history, teaches me how inarticulate I can be. I wish I knew language to convey comfort to those she loved most.
Many of you knew her – some not. And so I wanted to take a moment for those who didn’t, to paint a personal portrait of her that goes beyond ‘Applause’, her success in television and on stage these past few years in so many plays, club acts, her tap-dancing videos – her work to bring the classics to high school students – as an advocate for the Stroke Association and a devoted family member – I don’t know that I have ever seen anyone (and actually all of the Franklins) so beautifully enmeshed in and supportive of each other’s worlds.
What makes a sister? - Forgive my presumption at applying that to the woman who across the past 25 years became my best friend – yet has been more family to me than my own. Her family and especially her amazing sisters have generously embraced me - and I count myself lucky to be an ‘adopted’ member of the Franklin clan. So, beyond genetics or common parenting – family, I think - is a meeting of minds and spirits. All of these. The Franklin’s family theme song ‘The Family is the Rock’ was a new concept in my world, but clearly a constant in theirs.
I met Bonnie playing opposite her in a Summer-Stock tour of ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ And I fell in love with her eight times a week the summer of 1988.
On stage, Bonnie was a great and shameless conspirator, pulling pranks and antics from the sides of the stage that I can in no way describe to you with any sense of dignity. The word shameless comes to mind, but that was a quality we both shared. When my Dad came to visit me that summer, Bonnie (who knew he had been an Evangelical minister) ran up to him and said: “You know, your son is my ‘stage husband!’ – and, as was his style, he swept her up in his arms and without skipping a beat said “Thank God - at last he has a wife!” We all knew that’s the only way that would ever happen …
I’ve never known a friend or colleague without some wonderful story or great antidote about her - usually funny, generally filled with admiration - and - as I said before, often pranks that – well, left you laughing even if I cannot put them in print. And in many ways, Bonnie taught me how to play – she taught me compassion and optimism in the midst of circumstances, not because of them. I also learned from her, that we can laugh at that which we hold sacred, and still hold it sacred.
A consummate professional, she forged her way on her own terms - not defined or rather confined by conventional standards as she attacked issues on ‘One Day At A Time’- long before anyone else.
Funny, smart, effervescent, rebellious, irreverent, political, devilishly charming and able to incite times together where I would find myself weak with laughter, totally disarmed by her outrageous honest and assessment of that which most people would avoid.
Bonnie never judged me. She just loved me for all of who I am. She demonstrated that in being a good friend, she left me with all my freedom in tact; but - obliged me to be fully who I am.
As the Wizard said to Dorothy (75 years ago this month) “A heart is not measured by how much you love, but my how much you are loved by others.” And in that sense, she may have had the biggest heart I’ve ever known.
We both made many trips to see each other - to remain a part of each other’s worlds, from coast to coast – night club acts to book launches – nothing was too big or too small an event. Bonnie knew on a primal level that we all belong to each other and claimed the kinship of her family and friends.
In the haze of dealing with some of life’s most challenging issues, her no nonsense wisdom and heart of loving optimism - punctuated my world.
That, was Bonnies’ gift. She was a lifter of lives!
Somewhere in the Scriptures, comes the council to rejoice with those who laugh and weep with those who mourn. It occurs to me that this is not so much an injunction, but something we must do and what we all do naturally … when we love.
When I laughed with Bonnie - when we that knew and loved her laugh through our tears - we honor the best in us all. Our kinship.
Kahlil Gibran said: “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see the truth - you are weeping for that which has been your delight ...”
I weep for that delight of my friend. I am grateful to have lived in the shadow of her heart.
Byron is dedicating the following upcoming performance to Bonnie.