Eric Sakas is sitting at the kitchen table in the duplex he lived in with Aucoin until Antunes came into the picture a few years ago. He is rubbing Thelma Aucoin's arm as she tells a story. "Miss Pool had a store in Lafayette," she says, "and when Kevyn was 18, before he went to New York, he had a little makeup counter he'd set up every day and he asked everyone to let him do their makeup. It was $30 for a makeup lesson, and these were women who paid $3,000 for a dress, but they'd never let him. He never gave up, and it would just break my heart and . . . " Her face withers with grief, and she puts her hands to block a sob. "I wanted to go up to these women and shake them and say, 'Let him do your makeup!' "
She cries for several minutes, until she thinks a happy thought and breaks into a grin. "One of these ladies recently called me and said, 'We're having a fund-raiser for such-and-such. Do you think Kevyn could help us?' And I said, 'Well, I'll sure ask him!' And he said, 'I think I could work that into my schedule, Mom, but tell 'em it's not $30 anymore -- it's $3,000!' " -- half his standard day rate -- "I said, 'Kevyn! You can't do that!' He said, 'Oh, Mama, I'm just kiddin'. ' "
Sakas nods knowingly. "Mmmm. Kevyn had this effect on people. When I met Kevyn, it was the first time in my life someone said 'I love you unconditionally.' That pure, raw love is such an indescribable thing. He was such a mentor to me: He taught me about beauty and film and actresses. I was willing to learn from him -- and do anything for him! How could you not adore this person who's so much bigger than life? Who actually on some level was a savior to me? I don't know that I'll ever be able to find that in life again."
Why, I ask Sakas, would two people who remained so close and who were -- once -- so obviously in love ever break up?
"Mmm. Sexual incompatibility," he says. "I was more like a woman in that respect -- I didn't need that component to complete my life -- but Kevyn really felt that was important."
I ask Sakas if he was angry at Aucoin and Antunes when he was asked to move out of the house he is now sitting in.
"I always knew, because Kevyn taught me this, that love is not something that is in short supply. When Kevyn met someone else, I always knew that my place with him didn't change."
"But you went through pain, sure you did," says Thelma.
"I went through a grieving process. But I was happy for Kevyn that he found someone else who could meet those needs for him. I knew my place. He included me in everything as if I were his brother; we all went on vacations together! Jeremy was like a brother to me, too. I always say it was like Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek -- you know, John Derek stayed close with all his ex-wives, and the four of them would all go shopping together."
Soon after Jeremy Antunes arrived in Paris, Aucoin made a call to his accountant, Richard Baccari. "Around April on the 26th or so, Kevyn had called our office, which he did a couple times a day," says Baccari. "He gets me on the phone, and he says, 'Rich, I want to stop paying Jeremy's therapy bills, and I want to stop payment of his salary.' He was giving Jeremy a salary in the neighborhood of $20,000 a year. But when he called me, he was very stern about it -- I was shocked. I never got the impression things were headed in this way. I said, 'Okay, you're the client,' and I asked, 'Is everything okay?' He said no. Real final. I thought maybe when Jeremy comes back from France, I'll bring this back up with Kevyn, maybe it would pass. But that never happened."
Casey Patterson says she spoke with Aucoin while Antunes was in Paris: "They were going through a place where people felt like Jeremy was moving out and it was over, but this could have changed the next day. But Kevyn didn't have a next day."
But Antunes says the two missed each other desperately and talked several times a day. "As soon as I got to Paris, I wanted to come home because I missed him so much, but I felt like this was something I had to do to show him I meant business. And then I got roses, with this note." Antunes produces a photocopy of a card that reads: "Jeremy my love, hope you're having a wonderful time. Every day here without you is very lonely. I miss you, look forward to seeing you and having you back in my life. All of my love, Kevyn."
The next day, he heard from Eric. Aucoin was in the hospital, in serious condition. He came home on the next plane.
Carla Aucoin is furious with Antunes for going away. "The whole family has a problem with Jeremy, because Jeremy wasn't there when Kevyn was sick. You're supposed to stand by your spouse when he's sick. Go to Paris when he's dead!"
Sakas says, "When someone is seriously physically ill, if you truly love them, you do not leave their side, no matter what."
In November 2001, Aucoin had surgery on his tumor. He seemed to recover quickly, but his drug use understandably intensified. When Cher called for the video shoot early in December, says Antunes, "I'm like, 'Why are you going to do this,' and he's like, 'I have to do it, it's Cher.' "
Cher had always been aware of the difficulties of his illness. "He was always going through these strange growing pains," says Cher, "and his face would change, his hands would change. He would say, 'Look at these mitts!' I would say, 'How the fuck can you put false eyelashes on with those fucking hands?' But he could do anything."
"He had called me to the apartment the night before he was going to do the Cher shoot," says Joanne Russell. "I told him, 'I can't stand by and watch you destroy yourself.' I went to the apartment, and Kevyn took pills after I went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night, and Kevyn was slumped at the dining-room table, and I tried to get him to bed, but he was so huge I couldn't. Jeremy was in the country. I called Eric, and he came across the street. It was like he didn't know how to react. He wanted Kevyn to go to work, but he didn't know how to handle the situation. Eric said, 'Will you stay till he wakes up?' I said, 'Okay, but this is it. I can't be a part of this. He's going to kill himself.' "
The next day, Aucoin left for the disastrous shoot, at which he collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital twice. A couple of days later, Cher called Eric. "Unless he gets himself straight," she told him, "I will never work with him again; I will never speak to him again."
Throughout the remainder of the winter and spring, Antunes and Aucoin wrestled with the problem. Aucoin went to rehab in Laguna Beach in January, then left after two days. (Around that time, Aucoin's mother had a stroke while staying with them -- Jeremy nursed both of them.) In February, they went to couples therapy in Arizona.
Word of the Cher shoot had leaked, so the calls had stopped coming so quickly -- no work at all for the Academy Awards. "He freaked," says Antunes. "He thought we were going to be in the poor house." In April, his doctors determined he would need more surgery to remove a residual tumor. Aucoin was terrified.
On the last day Aucoin spent outside a hospital, he phoned Carla from his house in Middletown. "I said, 'You need to pull it together -- you're not just an uncle, you're a parent.' And he said, 'I know, I know,' and then he collapsed," she says.
"We hold a grudge against Horton Medical Center also. He was taken there on a Thursday, and they let him go home. They should have done blood work to see how bad the liver was damaged. Even if we say, 'Jeremy left and Kevyn took a whole bottle of medicine,' that's not gonna destroy your liver just like that. This was building up."
"You could tell him, 'Stop taking pain killers,' but if your whole body hurts, what are you supposed to do?" says hairstylist Orlando Pita. "This tumor was growing since he was 9 years old, and he found out when he was 40. Even after the operation, he would tell me, 'My body hurts all over.' "
"No one knew how much pain he was in," Eric Sakas says, wincing.
Finally, in the hospital, after his liver and kidneys failed, Aucoin was taken off the ventilator. Sakas says, "It was me on one side and Jeremy on the other when Kevyn took his last breath."
Tomorrow, Thelma Aucoin will go back to Louisiana with Samantha, but tonight she is still floating in Kevyn-world, making occasional forays into his bedroom to run her hands over his shirts and smell him in the air. "I came to New York to try and resolve this. Jeremy could take Samantha to the bus, but he could not be her parent, he could not be her mother and her father. When Kevyn died, everything changed."
"We were all concerned for Jeremy when Kevyn passed," she says. "I said to all my children: 'We have to be aware that Jeremy is hurting now; he doesn't have a support system.' I understand Jeremy's loss, but my child died," she says, and again her voice and her face shatter with fresh pain. "I didn't do anything to Jeremy, right? My child died. But I cannot give him whatever it is he's looking for. If it's material things he's wanting, I have given him beaucoup things. This is like giving a kid suckers, and he says, 'Oh, I want the bigger sucker!' "
She straightens up in her chair, pats her eyes with a tissue, runs her fingers through her flamboyant red hair, and talks about the split with Jeremy. "One morning, I did say, 'You moving out?' Because he had gotten an attorney and the legal process had started."