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Too Soon, Dear Robert

A great ACT UP veteran, and my boyfriend for most of 1988, died suddenly this weekend.  Robert Hilferty was a filmmaker, movie critic, and music critic, working in the last few years for Bloomberg News (you can read many of his music-related stories and interviews here).  The circumstances of his death have been posted by Michael Petrelis.  Other bloggers remember him here and here.  Robert is survived by his beautiful partner, Fabio Toblini.

As a filmmaker, he captured some of ACT UP's most memorable moments, including the action we worked on together putting a giant condom over Jesse Helms' house.  Robert's most famous work was Stop the Church, documenting ACT UP's December 1989 demo at St. Patrick's Cathedral.  In 1991, the film caused its own demonstrations and controversy when the head of PBS programming pulled it at the last moment from a national airing on the series P.O.V.  Various local PBS stations aired it in protest (see this NY Times story).

On a more personal level, he was the man that swept me off my feet at a moment in my life when I desperately needed someone strong and loving to hold me tight.  I had just quit my Wall Street trading job thinking I had only a year or two more to live, and came out publicly as HIV positive during an ACT UP demo.  Robert was HIV negative, and he helped me live and love without stigma.

In the picture below, he's meeting my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  He had a mischievous side I loved, and in this shot he's giving me the evil eye for dragging him way out of his comfort zone.  But the smile says "it's okay."

He always told me everything would be okay.

Robert Hilferty, Thanksgiving, 1988 

Peter on:


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Comments on Peter Staley's blog entry "Too Soon, Dear Robert"

Peter, Thanks for telling us all why Robert mattered. I remember Robert fondly for his warmth, his intelligence and his engagement & commitment. RIP.

I'm so sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a lovely man. May his memory be a blessing to you.

Thank you for sharing this. He sounds like an incredible person.

Robert was my son. I am devasted by his loss. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Robert had 4 sisters and 1 half sister, Alicia, who spent social time with Robert in NYC. Robert also had 2 brothers, one being a half brother.
I will miss my loving son forever.

.Thank you for your comments..I knew Bob in the 70's, and, however long that you know him, his wry wit,artful intelligence, and expansive smile are enduring for a lifetime. At times, you could almost see in his eyes a great idea evolving. I am sorry for this devastating loss to the Hilferty family.

Bob was my brother. I was the baby of six children and Bob was my older brother whom I adored. He was the hero of the family. Valedictorian of junior high and attended ivy league Princeton University and then on to NYU. His intelligence, charm and love for the arts was enormous. He was more than a brother to me. He raised me and my other brother Jim and taught us everything one should know about classical music, opera, composers and the list goes on. Bob was supportive of me and my vision to be a dancer. I am devastated by his loss even though I was closest with him my first 22 years on earth.

My loving brother is survived by his sisters Veronica, Lois, Joan and myself Susan as well as his brother Jim. He is also survived by his father and half sister and brother.

We love you Bob and will miss you. Our thoughts and prayers are with his partner Fabio.

I read this today from Paul Offit's newest publication..." when you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you discover that it's bottomless.".....Pema Chodron

I think to all of us,who commented, Bob was our heart..
To of the heart
To Susan and Family....heart of the family
To me..... heart of my childhood friend
To others...heart of activism
To friends and colleagues... heart of aesthetics
To the public...heart of reason and critical consciousness
....we all will miss our heart,Robert Hilferty, because it will be forever giving, be with us forever, and bottomless, forever giving!

I hope this reaches the relatives of Robert - who will always be remembered by me as Bobby Hilferty - one of my best friends from grade school in Weehawken. While I lost touch with him for almost 35 years, I thought about him quite often and truly wanted to meet up with him again. I will always regret waiting too long to do this. With tears in my eyes I feel I lost a dear friend and a piece of my childhood. Tony Ellenbogen

Les Horizons de Robert and The Magical Brothers of Methuselah’s Circus

All stories begin with an ending.

Recently, the most fabulous, intelligent, gay, masculine and influential person in my life came to a physical end. This person was my brother.

I believe that all things, which have passed and shall become, as moments in time (past, present and future), defy any chronological timeline. All things are working in an echo of perpetuity from the “original moment” from which we all are one. The echo is never a watered down copy but an interesting, horny, beautiful and violent unraveling of events from this original moment until we reach our home - “Infinity”.
Infinity is where I am right now, with Robert, but I am not cognizant of it yet. Freaky, right? The best way I have to explain this phenomena in cave man terms, is that when I am standing on a beach and I lookout across the ocean towards a limitless horizon – many things happen. I am all clumsy and hot standing on the sand in one place where time exists, yet, I am really timeless, infinite and free out there – out there on the margins, the perimeter – out there, on that immaculate horizon.

My brother was a beautiful horizon who drank life like a fucking river! A river which fed, nurtured and irrigated the lives of so many others, making their lives better through the affirmation and love of sometimes the inexplicable – the arts. Growing up with my brother, mon frere, was like growing up in a palace of music. Though the household was dysfunctional, warped, cursed and crazy like a circus – he was a young Master, a prodigy, destined to follow the Pied Piper’s seductive flute of music down to the river. Before seventeen years of age he could play, without any lessons, most musical instruments with ease. At the age of twelve, when most people were asking about Elton John’s latest single, he began an intimate relationship with Mozart while making my mother drive him to the New York City Opera’s Children Chorus. Robert did not like Velveeta cheese or Wonder bread - he had a genetic throw-up device against it. Robert, like a St. Augustine of another time, could divine the existence of God through music while making us all appreciate it on our own lay terms because of his passionate examination , drinkable and insightful explanations of all music. To this day, like a young angel educated by the God-like Leonard Bernstein, I can explain like the great linguist, Noam Chomsky, all the syncopated beats and accents of Stravinsky’s, “Le Sacre du Printemps”. I can also offer you Robert’s exciting choreography of Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges” , and I will never forget when he played Cat Stevens and the White Album by the Beatles. These are just a few of the million brilliant and warm things he taught me and made him the most amazing person in the world to me.

Robert was a renaissance man in the best sense of the word, and he did this acutely trying to understand a cold world which closed in and around him during his insurmountable and impressionable youth. Robert’s horizon was still growing tremendously, despite having to deal completely alone with his homosexuality, a loving but verbally abusive mother, the supreme rejection of our father, and siblings who, because of forgivable ignorance, spurned his love and intellect.

Still, the sweet sounds of the Pied Piper entranced and played for him – and through that fog he danced like a dervish Turk commanding the vocabulary of the Gods…I would join him sometimes like an Igor to a Dr., Frankenstein until I lost my breath. When I looked up, he was no longer following the Pied Piper but became the Flutist. Their was a potential and unfulfilled dream too in this dance. In this dance I envisioned us as, “ The Great Brothers Kalamazoo of Methusala’s Magic Circus”. My brother, where are you? Robert and I would, in this dream, simply be the rock and roll street performers of all sensuous places bohemian and otherwise. And while catching my breath, I looked up and around me, and I saw he had many brothers, a legion of lovers for his tune and true self. We all danced and sang again with him, all night – right up to the edge of that river.

Although we were frequently in touch, the last time I saw my brother was about five years ago during Christmas. It was a magnificent holiday that I will always cherish. Robert came with his lifelong partner, Fabio, and my lifelong partner, Aga, was making some phenomenal holiday treats while I was pouring us festive Grey Goose martini’s – extra dry. We all laughed, hugged, cried and laughed again that evening – and for the life of me, I swear we all ate enough food to satisfy fifty hungry soldiers. I remembered how warm I felt later when he said it was the closest feeling he ever came to feeling “at home”. That Christmas was important to us because we became “reconciled” as brothers and friends.

All stories begin with an ending.

As I am writing this, I am watching a lavender sunrise over the ocean. There is the contagious smile of my brother hidden in this infinite horizon. The soft thunder of the surf sounds like some symphony I should know – but do not. Robert would have forgiven me this, forgiveness was a rare virtue he learned and possessed better than any other man. I could imagine how horrible my life would have turned out if I had not grown up with Robert. I could not imagine living the rest of my life without Robert – and… I won’t!

All things are working in an echo of perpetuity from the original moment, until we reach infinity. Although, I am here, writing on a beach, I am there with you. I am already hugging you my dearest brother, but I don’t know it. Enjoy, meet all of your glorious friends and interview them and write music with them and dance that damned dance to the river. Je t’aime…I love you bro. P.S. feed my sweet daughter Kukielka and kiss that crazy beautiful woman for us - mom.

My name is Maryann DeStefano and Susan, Jimmy and Bob Hilferty were frequent guests at my parents' home the summers of 1977 and 1978. Bob and my brother went to high school together. My deepest sympathies go to all his friends and family. He really was everything that you all have written here. I just learned of his passing today-thanksgiving 2009.
My only child died eleven years ago at the age of ten. I strongly believe we do live and love after our bodies pass from this world.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Staley published on July 28, 2009 9:36 AM.

Unprocessed Rage was the previous entry in this blog.

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