Jerry Hadley died yesterday, at 55. He’d shot himself in the head.
If you haven’t heard of him, today’s Los Angeles Times describes him as “one the most versatile and important U.S. opera singers.” He sang at the Met and other major opera houses, made many CDs and won three Grammy Awards. He was gifted and acclaimed. Yet reports say he was filing for bankruptcy and was being treated for depression.
Why do I care? Because I’ve been a Jerry Hadley fan for years and have some of his CDs. His recording of Candide is one of my favorites.
Because in 2000, Jerry Hadley was Gatsby in the Lyric Opera’s production of The Great Gatsby. And I was the waitress at his two parties. For several weeks, as a non-singing actor, I had the privilege of standing on stage within feet of him. I got to watch and hear him rehearse and give 9 performances. This was as amazing to me as it would be for an avid sports fan to dribble with Michael Jordan or toss a few with a Superbowl veteran.
I have always been in awe of the musically gifted. For many years I wished I were talented enough to make singing my career. I couldn’t understand why incredibly gifted singers I’d met and heard had no interest in pursuing their gifts beyond a hobby.
So for me, just being permitted to stand with my tray of fake hors d’ ouevres amidst so much talent was incredible. To get paid to be surrounded by and intermingle with such a high caliber of singers was icing on the cake.
Jerry was as nice and friendly as he could be. No star attitude. I remember these moments in particular:
1. Once during rehearsal, the director yelled at me. In front of the entire cast. Jerry made a point of coming over to me and soothing my nerves.
2. Jerry held a champagne glass that a waiter was supposed to take from him at a certain point. During one rehearsal, the waiter didn’t remember. I happened to be standing nearby so I just went and got it. He thanked me, and asked the director if I could take the glass from now on. (No, the director wanted Gatsby to have a personal waiter.)
3.We were talking about his career and all he’d accomplished. Yet he said he was just grateful for the work. Even a talented, successful performer such as he didn’t always know where his next gig or paycheck was coming from.
Of course I don’t know the circumstances that led him down this sad path at such a young age. Maybe the burden of fading talent after reaching such heights is harder to bear than not having enough in the first place.