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Broadway legend Barbara Cook died early Tuesday morning of respiratory failure at the age of 89.
The Tony Award-winning actress and singer was an ingénue during the 1950s and ’60s during Broadway’s Golden Age. Years later, after overcoming substance abuse and depression, she transformed herself into a concert and cabaret star.
Cook is best known for her 1956 role in Leonard Bernstein’s short-lived Candide, with its popular cast recording, that ensured her immortality. She also originated the role of Marian, a librarian who falls for con artist Harold Hill, in The Music Man.
In the late ’60s Cook’s drinking and depression stalled her career. She made a comeback in 1975 when she performed an “extraordinary” concert at Carnegie Hall and was lauded as “the greatest female theatrical cabaret artist of our time.”
In June, 2016, she chatted with NPR’s Terry Gross. During their chat, they chatted about the gay community, specifically the emotional coming out of her son, Adam LeGrant.
Terry Gross begins, “Many of the people you’ve known from cabaret on Broadway are or were gay. Your son came out to you when he was an adult. And you write that you wept for days after that. And…”
Cook agrees, “Yeah, I did for five days.”
“Why?” Gross asks. “Since you knew so many gay people, it’s not like you were homophobic.”
Next, Cook retells the story of her son’s emotional coming out in great detail, a story many LGBT people and their mothers may be able to painfully relate to.
“Not at all, but it was – well, this is a huge thing about somebody, you know? It’s a big thing. And I thought I knew my son thoroughly, and then I realized that I didn’t – you know, that he had this whole way of life that he wanted to join if he hadn’t already. And I didn’t realize that. And I thought there’s something wrong. I have a son I don’t know.
And I cried for about five days. And I also thought, am I going to have grandchildren? All of that. And then it occurred to me to ask myself – what the hell’s going on with you? And I realized that all my life, I had felt outside of the – well, I call it the mainstream of life. And by having a son, that plugged me in somehow in my mind. And then when he told me he was gay, that unplugged me, and that disturbed me.
And then I cried about five days. And then I thought, wait a minute, what’s going on? And I said to myself, look, Adam LeGrant is not here to plug me into anything. And I am here to try to help him to be the fullest person that I know how to help him be. And then I was OK.
Gross responds: “You know how you were saying that you realized that, you know, the job of your son wasn’t to keep you plugged in, your job was to help him?”
Cook simply answers, “Yes.”