THE DAVID BRUDNOY ERA. David Brudnoy, the best radio talk-show host in the history of the city, if not the country, is seriously ill and is not expected to recover. He's been at Massachusetts General Hospital since last week for tests. Today the hospital announced that the sixtysomething Brudnoy has suffered a recurrence of Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer that knocked him off the air for several months last year. The cancer has now spread to his liver.
In addition to being a terrific talk-show host and a friend to an astounding array of media, political, and literary figures and regular folks, Brudnoy is a medical marvel. In 1994 Brudnoy nearly died of AIDS after having secretly lived with the disease since the 1980s. Against all odds, Brudnoy recovered and returned to the airwaves on WBZ Radio (AM 1030). And with the advent of new AIDS drugs, Brudnoy remained in remarkable health until last year.
Despite living with illness for nearly 20 years, Brudnoy kept up a schedule that people half his age found inspiring - even intimidating. In addition to his three-hours-per-night (five before '94) radio show, he taught journalism at Boston University and wrote movie reviews for the Tab newspapers. He also wrote occasionally for the Phoenix, including, most recently, "Where's Our Gay Sidney Poitier?", on why gays and lesbians need non-stereotypical media role models.
A self-described libertarian conservative, Brudnoy is the sort who can get along with almost everyone and who treats everyone he meets with respect. A Japanese scholar who graduated from Yale University, Brudnoy pursued a career in a medium not exactly known for its intellectualism. But rather than letting talk radio drag him down, Brudnoy elevated it. Like the late Jerry Williams, Brudnoy is a founder, a giant in his field of the sort who may not be seen again.
Brudnoy is said to be spending today doing interviews with Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, and his own station. His interview with WBZ will be broadcast tonight at 7 on a special program that will reportedly be hosted by his old 'BZ sidekick, Peter Meade.
The last time I interviewed Brudnoy was in September 2003, just after he'd been diagnosed with Merkel's. Among other things, I asked him how he had changed as a result of living with illness for all those years.
"I've learned one thing: I can't do it alone," he responded. "I've always had friends, I've always loved people. But I always thought, 'I can take care of my own things.' And I realize now, you can't. I've learned to need people and not to feel embarrassed. I've also learned to open up far more. I never wanted people to stay here at the house. It isn't that I didn't like people, it's that I felt I couldn't function with house guests. I've lived so long alone. I finally got a hide-a-bed. And I've learned I kind of like people around.
"I've also found that my priorities are more devoted to helping others. I realize how many people helped me get through 1994. And so I tend to be a little bit more comfortable reaching out."
David Brudnoy is a great man, and his passing will create an enormous void in the fabric of the city and of New England.
Mass General issued a statement on Brudnoy's condition moments ago. Here it is in full:
December 8, 2004
Statement from the Massachusetts General Hospital regarding David Brudnoy
From Greg Robbins, MD, MGH Infectious Disease Division, and John Clark, MD, MGH Cancer Center
WBZ Radio talk show host David Brudnoy was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital Dec. 3 because of a recurrence of Merkel cell carcinoma, the disease that kept him off of the air last fall and winter while he underwent treatment. The cancer, which had been in remission until several weeks ago, has spread to his liver, affecting the functioning of that organ. As a consequence of the disease, his kidneys also are failing.
Because of the recurrence of cancer and the multi-organ failure, his condition is terminal. Mr. Brudnoy has asked that he receive only comfort care. He continues to be alert and is resting comfortably.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a very rare and highly aggressive form of skin cancer characterized by malignant cells that begin to form just beneath the skin and in hair follicles. This type of cancer grows rapidly and often spreads to other parts of the body.
Mr. Brudnoy has been treated at the MGH for HIV infection for more than a decade, and his immune system has steadily improved with the ongoing use of HIV medications. Merkel cell carcinoma is not related to HIV disease.
Mr. Brudnoy has asked the MGH on his behalf to express his deepest appreciation for the thoughts, words and gestures of kindness as well as the many cards and flowers he has received. He also has asked the hospital to remind his friends and listeners about the David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research, which he established a decade ago to help in the ongoing fight against HIV disease locally as well as internationally. For more information about the fund contact the MGH at (617) 726-2200.