A week before he died, Kevyn Aucoin sat on the bed he shared with Jeremy Antunes, the man he called his husband, at their farm in Middletown, New York, and listened as Antunes delivered an ultimatum.
“I love you,” Antunes told him, “but I can’t watch you destroy yourself. You made a promise to me in Arizona that you wouldn’t do this anymore, and I’m not going to sit here and watch you kill yourself.”
This was a discussion that had been going on for some time. Aucoin, by far the most celebrated makeup artist of his time and the author of several best-selling books on beauty, suffered from a condition called acromegaly – a tumor on the pituitary gland that causes the brain to keep secreting growth hormone. In the last five years of his life, Aucoin, tall to begin with, grew two inches and went up two shoe and ring sizes. To relieve the constant headaches, joint pain, and insomnia associated with his long-undiagnosed disease, Aucoin had been taking fistfuls of prescription medications – Vicodin, Lorcet, Xanax, Soma. In the past year, this had spiraled into a dangerous addiction. At times, he seemed incoherent, “spacy and slow, like someone who was really, really drunk,” Antunes says. Sometimes, like during the shoot for Cher’s video “Song for the Lonely” in December, he would pass out completely. By the end of the shoot, Cher says, “I grabbed him and hugged him and I said, ‘You have got to do something.’ “
Antunes wouldn’t whitewash the issue. Three months before, at a treatment center outside Phoenix where the two had gone for a week of intensive couples therapy, Antunes told Aucoin that he would leave if Aucoin didn’t take steps to deal with his addiction. Aucoin took it seriously, and made progress – which didn’t last.
In fact, he got worse. A couple of days before the ultimatum, Aucoin had passed out for two hours in the middle of the day. Model Joanne Russell, whom Aucoin called his “best friend and muse” in his January column for Allure magazine, was one of several people who tried to wake him, and couldn’t.
“The last eight months of our relationship was us fighting about this issue,” says Russell. “One time, I tried to take the pills away from him, and he got angry and said, ’You’re not my mother!’ But I had no idea – it would never have occurred to me in a million years – that Kevyn would die.”
On the bed that morning, Antunes told Aucoin that he was going away for a week to get some perspective on the situation. He chose Paris because he knew it was a place Aucoin hated, so he wouldn’t want to go. “We were crying, and he was saying, ‘I don’t want you to go; promise me you’ll be faithful.’ But he also said he understood.”
Antunes says he had a conversation with Samantha, the 15-year-old daughter of Aucoin’s sister Carla, who had been living with the couple since last August. “I told her I didn’t know what was going to happen, but we’d figure it all out when I got back.”
The next time Antunes saw Aucoin was in a hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator. Four days later, he was dead.
Then, two weeks ago, Antunes learned that he’d been locked out of the Middletown farm and their duplex apartment on 23rd Street in Chelsea at the behest of Aucoin’s Lafayette, Louisiana, family. “I’m not saying I have the most pain,” says Antunes. “I just don’t understand why I’m homeless.”
Kevyn Aucoin was one of those charmed individuals whose talent arrives early and unmistakably – at age 11, he’d make up and pose 6-year-old Carla, with near-professional results – accompanied by a singular gift for making people feel special. “I could pontificate for hours on the vast talent, versatility, and genius of Kevyn, but instead, I shall simply say that the best thing about having him do your makeup is that it allows you to spend time with him,” Gwyneth Paltrow once said of her friend.
From the time he arrived in New York in 1983 to his death, he’d styled just about every model and actress of any significance, for magazines, fashion shows, videos, events like the Oscars, and for three best-selling books. But he was as likely to focus his high-wattage smile on the counter girl at Bergdorf Goodman or on his next-door neighbor as on his good friend Tina Turner. “My favorite Kevyn memory is of him giving makeup tips to these 16-year-old drag queens,” says Bari Mattes, the board chair at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which aids homeless gay youth, “telling them how beautiful they were.” He spoke the language of New Age optimism – “life energy” was a favorite phrase – that’s so popular in Hollywood and the fashion world. But Aucoin put the jargon into practice, using his powers, almost magically, to bring out the best in people. Mary Tyler Moore sums it up: “There were three men in my life I met who had the ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the world just by looking at you, just with their eyes: One was Sinatra, the other was the current pope, and the third was Kevyn.”
When Aucoin died, in Westchester Medical Center on May 7, his death was reported to be the result of “complications” from his pituitary condition. The celebrities he worked with seemed genuinely undone. “Losing him is like losing a piece of nature,” says Sharon Stone. “It’s hard to breathe without him here.”
Of course, no one is more devastated than Aucoin’s family. But in the case of Kevyn Aucoin, both “family” and “complications” were complicated indeed.
“Right now, at night, is when I miss him the most,” says Aucoin’s father, Isidore, a 72-year-old phone-company retiree, from his home in Lafayette. “I have dreams about him, though. Good dreams. We never turned our backs on him – love is not like a light switch you turn on and off. At first we were in denial – I can’t speak for Mrs. Aucoin – but I said it couldn’t be that he was a homosexual. Around Louisiana, it was something never spoken about in the open. But I realized – when he was a little baby, I loved him at that time, so how could I turn my back on him now?”
Thelma and Isidore Aucoin started the Lafayette chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and have been working with the organization for fifteen years. “I never missed a meeting,” Isidore says proudly. “Marriage is between a man and a woman, according to Webster’s dictionary, but I feel that there should be a law so that same-sex people could make a commitment recognized by the government. I looked at Kevyn’s boyfriends exactly the way I look at my other children’s spouses, just like a married couple. My whole family looked at them that way – up through Eric.”
Eric Sakas was Aucoin’s boyfriend before Antunes and is now the president and creative director of Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, the company Aucoin set up to release his makeup line – for which he had completed the formulas and packaging just before his death.
I tell Mr. Aucoin I take it that he has some problems with Jeremy Antunes. His soft Cajun drawl swiftly hardens.
“You take it any way you want.”
It’s July 5, and Antunes drives his black GMC through Middletown past an old man on a tractor. He is an anomalous motorist in Middletown, where pots of petunias decorate every porch and signs for Jesus grow out of the earth. At three-quarter profile, Antunes can look so much like Tom Cruise that it’s hard not to ask him for his autograph. “That’s what Tina Turner said,” he says, smiling.
Antunes has two tattoos on his arms: One is an American flag he had emblazoned on his arm after September 11, which was the day before Aucoin was diagnosed with the tumor that had been growing in his brain for 30 years; the other is a red heart split by the word KEVYN.
“I wanted to get this tattoo because I love him so much and I knew it would make him happy, and I’m glad I did it,” says Antunes. “Except he was on the cell phone the whole time while I was getting it, and that made me kind of angry – he was always on the cell phone. I didn’t get it expecting him to get one, too. He couldn’t handle pain.” He turns onto a tree-lined dirt road past a nervous family of deer. “This is my house – this used to be my house.” Right now, he is staying in the guest cottage a little farther past the handsome stone home he shared with Aucoin and Samantha until May. He is locked out of both the farmhouse and Aucoin’s Chelsea apartment, where Aucoin’s mother has been staying while she settles the estate, cares for Samantha, looks through her son’s things, and cries.
In the state of New York, if one member of a legally married (heterosexual) couple dies and there is no will, the surviving spouse automatically inherits the entirety of the estate. Aucoin did not leave a will, but although Antunes wears both the platinum wedding bands he and Aucoin exchanged at an unofficiated, videotaped ceremony in Hawaii, the two were not, of course, legally wed.
Antunes met Aucoin on January 7, 1999, when he was 24 years old, and his “journey set itself on a new course,” as Antunes would later profess to Aucoin in front of the matrimonial video camera. “We met at a bar,” Antunes says, smiling apologetically. “We met at G,” a slick gay lounge in Chelsea. “It was like fireworks. He was looking at me and I was looking at him and I just walked over to him because he looked familiar. We started talking, and it was like there was no one else in the room. It was like a ‘we-knew-each-other-before’ kind of thing.”
This is a common experience of falling in love, but it was also a common experience of meeting Aucoin. “You know when you meet somebody and it’s like you’d known each other for a long time?” says Cher. “It was like that for me and Kevie.” “I met him at an event years ago with Gwyneth Paltrow, and that’s when I had my Kevyn moment,” says TV producer Casey Patterson, who was with him at Westchester Medical Center when he died after his liver and then his kidneys failed because of Tylenol toxicity. (Tylenol is an ingredient in both Vicodin and Lorcet.) “If he loved you, he loved you, and there was no one else in the world.”
But there was someone else the night Antunes met Aucoin. “Kevyn was at the bar with his ex-boyfriend Alex,” says Antunes, “and I could tell Alex was kind of pissed that I was there. But we just started talking about Tori Amos and how I was a playwright, and Kevyn thought that was cool and he asked for my number.” Antunes gives a shy laugh. “I waited for him to call me.”
Aucoin phoned the following week from a shoot in Los Angeles, and the two arranged to meet for dinner. The morning before their date, Aucoin called again. “He said, ‘Do you mind? I forgot I made plans with a friend of mine, Gina Gershon.’ Later, he told me that he was really nervous, so he called Gina to go out with us.”
“Halfway through the date, they were making out,” says Gershon. “I think we were at Moomba. I felt like I was witnessing something great. Every time Jeremy would get up, we’d be like, ‘What do you think?’ ‘I think he’s great! Do you think he’s great?’ It was one of those times when you just didn’t want the night to end.”
“He was very touchy-feely, and I let him make all the moves,” says Antunes. “I walked him back to his place, but, you know, Eric was still living there, so, you know, nothing happened.”
Eric Sakas and Aucoin still lived together in Chelsea, though they had not been romantically involved for two years, and Aucoin had been dating other people.
The week of Aucoin’s birthday – Valentine’s Day – about a month after he met Antunes, the two went on a vacation with Aucoin’s family in Florida, where they all stayed at the home of Tori Amos. “They were very warm to me,” says Antunes.
If you were going to get to know Aucoin, you were going to get to know his “moma.” “My mom is my hero,” he wrote in Making Faces. In every book Aucoin made, she would be photographed, made up as Coco Chanel, as Marlene Dietrich.
The day Aucoin was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, February 14, 1962, “was my best Valentine ever,” says Thelma Aucoin, who adopted him one month later. He was the first of four children whom the Aucoins adopted because they could not have biological children. “Kim and Keith were rougher,” says Mrs. Aucoin. “Kevyn and Carla were more sensitive, so they sort of paired off. I didn’t think Kevyn was a sissy; I just thought he was a gentle child.” Aucoin often said he knew he was gay from age 6. In The Art of Makeup, Aucoin wrote that his mother “even let me buy a pair of lime-green, patent-leather penny loafers with gold buckles.” He wore them to school every day – until his father found them and threw them away.
Aucoin’s career began with Carla, whom he had started transforming with a tube of tangerine-colored lipstick when she was 6, moving on to haircuts, perms, homemade clothing, all meticulously documented with Aucoin’s ubiquitous camera. The Polaroids he took then – the beginning of a lifelong habit – are evidence of his Mozart-like precociousness with style. “Kevyn always felt guilty about leaving Carla behind,” says Antunes. “There was a lot of jealousy, because Kevyn was so successful and his sisters Kim and Carla are still in Louisiana, living across the street from each other in a trailer park.”
“Trying to conceal the fact that I was a gay, effeminate, hyperactive, adopted child with a serious lisp in southern Louisiana would have been like trying to hide Dolly Parton in a string bikini!” he wrote in the introduction to Making Faces. He would shoplift film and makeup, but gave it up because “I realized it was wrong, and I realized I couldn’t keep doing this because, God knows, in Louisiana you don’t want to be a boy caught stealing lipstick … they’ll kill you.”
At 15, he left home and moved in with his first boyfriend, Glen Neely. “I’d always sleep over at his and Glen’s house in downtown Lafayette,” remembers Carla. In 1982, Aucoin met Jed Root, with whom he moved first to Baton Rouge and then on to New York City. “I was upset when he left,” says Carla. “He always said, ‘I’m gonna take you to New York, and you’re gonna be my model.’ I think that’s why him and Samantha had such a close relationship, because he was trying to make it up to me.”
Aucoin started out by doing pro bono makeup on models for test shoots (one of his early canvasses was Paulina Porizkova), hoping to get noticed. Eight months after his arrival in Manhattan, Aucoin dressed up Jed as an agent in a suit from the Salvation Army, and the two of them brought his book in to Vogue. “I was an editorial assistant in the beauty department at Vogue, and he would just plant himself in front of me,” remembers Linda Wells, now the editor of Allure. “He was more passionate and more obsessed than any other person I’ve met in my life.”
In the spring of 1999, Antunes delivered his first ultimatum to Aucoin. “I was like, ‘I can’t date you if you live with Eric.’ ” So Sakas moved out, to an apartment on the opposite side of 23rd Street.
Eric and Kevyn continued their business partnership. “You can’t work with Kevyn without working with Eric,” says Casey Patterson. “I think ultimately they were like an old married couple: They fought passionately, they loved passionately. Kevyn trusted no one with the things he trusted Eric with. Eric is the person who managed Kevyn’s relationships with Janet or Cher or Gwyneth or Madonna.”
By this time, Aucoin had made a habit of installing ex-boyfriends in business capacities in his life. Jed Root eventually became his real agent; his ex Donald Reuter was his creative director on all three books. “Eric was like, ‘Which one do I do?’ ” says Carla. ” ‘Do I take care of the business, or do I take care of you?’ If Jeremy had gone and gotten a job, it would have been over.”
“Kevyn has a lot of abandonment issues because he was adopted,” says Antunes, using the present tense, as he tends to when he speaks of Aucoin. “He has a lot of fear of being left alone.”
“Eric was there for Kevyn no matter what,” he goes on. “Eric would put up with anything – not too many people would accept their partner who they live with sleeping around and dating other people. I think Eric thought Kevyn would go back to him. Kevyn would always say, ‘Don’t confide in him – he’s just waiting for us to break up.’ And after Kevyn died, Eric started telling everyone that we’d broken up, that I left Kevyn when I went to Paris. But you couldn’t leave Kevyn! He wouldn’t have allowed it.”
“I didn’t feel that Eric was content with his role,” says Joanne Russell. “Kevyn had said a bunch of times that he felt that Eric was waiting for something to go wrong between him and Jeremy, and he didn’t like that. But Kevyn always wanted to keep people in his life, even if they weren’t good for him.”
People weren’t the problem for Aucoin, however. Pain was the problem. And drugs were the solution – for a while. Then they became an even bigger problem. “Kevyn could get a lot of prescriptions because he was Kevyn,” says Antunes. “He was getting them from more than one doctor, he made friends with the pharmacist. In 2000, while he was working on Face Forward, he was out of his mind on drugs: Every time he had to do something stressful, he had pain and he would take medicine, and then he would take other medicine to keep him awake, and then he’d take medicine to go to bed.”
At that point, however, the drug use was a sporadic problem rather than a chronic crisis. They decided to get married that summer in Hawaii. “Our wedding was on July 7 – our two-year anniversary would have been this Sunday.”
Antunes gives a rueful smile. “Eric was pissed. Kevyn would say, ‘This is my husband, Jeremy,’ and Eric would be like, ‘You can’t say husband! He’s not your husband!’ “
Perhaps the more appropriate word would have been wife. The more involved Antunes became with Aucoin, the more domestic his role became.
“Kevyn was more than happy for me not to take another job,” says Antunes. “He said we’d only lose money. What Kevyn was telling me was that when he had his makeup line, then I could do my thing; it would be my turn.”
“Kevyn wanted someone to take care of him, and Jeremy took care of him,” says Russell. “He said he wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with Jeremy if Jeremy worked, because Kevyn’s life was just so much bigger. Jeremy did the cleaning, the shopping, took care of Samantha – there’s no way Kevyn could have taken her to school every day.”
Antunes’s memories of his domestic life focus his anger. “I cleaned the house. I painted the house. I took care of it, I took care of everyone in it,” he says. “They lock me out of my house, the house that I put together. They offer me $40,000 and a plant stand,” he says, looking out the window of the cottage at the sun spilling on all 80 acres of Aucoin’s land. “But I don’t blame Kevyn’s parents. I blame Eric.” Antunes thinks Sakas has been telling them he’d broken up permanently with Aucoin. “They’ve known Eric a lot longer. It’s like the ex-wife everyone’s known forever, and they hate the new wife because she’s younger and … you know.” And more beautiful? “I wasn’t going to say that, but … “
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.”
“We were all suggesting he get a lawyer,” says Eric, “because we wanted him to be taken care of.”
“I don’t have anything to give Jeremy. I’m living off my own money, my Social Security,” says Thelma. “I have no control over anything. The only control I have is because my son died, what was my son’s is now mine. I’m not angry at him for anything; I’m very sorry for him. Why would I be angry at Jeremy? Now he has his attorney, and he started making his wish list.”
Up at the cottage, Antunes produced the “wish list,” photocopies of Polaroids of items he wanted to take from the house. Most have the word NO written next to them by John Firestone, the Aucoins’ attorney, and many have the words ASK ERIC circled. One of the items Antunes was denied was the bed he shared with Aucoin.
“I’ve turned it over to the attorneys,” says Thelma. “I said, ‘This can’t just go on the rest of our lives; he can’t just live here another 50 years!’ “
I point out that if Antunes were a woman – an actual wife – he would indeed stay put for 50 years, maybe more.
“I’ve been working with gay people all my life!” says Thelma, hurt. “I’m all for gay rights – I’ve fought for that for years. But I need to preserve what my son left here.”
She has to liquidate the estate, she says, to pay for the makeup line that her son had considered his crowning achievement, the thing that would support him and everyone he loved in the future. “This is my pie here, and I’m trying to share it. But I can’t say, ‘Well, here, Jeremy, you take this half and I’m going to divide the other half in twenty pieces. I think he has more than compensated Jeremy. I think Kevyn kept up his end of the bargain.”
Kevyn Aucoin’s ashes are in a mausoleum in Lafayette, where his father likes to visit them. Thelma Aucoin says that eventually, they may grant Antunes his wish and turn over their son’s ashes to him so that he can scatter them in Hawaii – where he’d always said he’d wanted them scattered. “Kevyn would be so proud of me,” says Antunes. “If the situation were reversed, he would fight tooth and nail to get my ashes – it’s what he believed in.”
Antunes knows that he doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. As he packs up the last of his things at the cottage, he takes a minute off to watch – yet again – the video of his wedding. In it, he looks impossibly young, shirtless in a lei. Aucoin is enviably muscular, the one happy result of his acromegaly. “He never worked out,” says Antunes, his eyes already wet. “Wasn’t he cute?” The video is equal parts kissing and vowing, and both Aucoin and Antunes are so palpably elated, so consumed by each other, you can’t help thinking they’ll have a happy ending. “He was smart, he was beautiful, he was a great lover,” Antunes says, crying now. “Our good times were really good, and our bad times were really bad. It was like ten years packed into just a couple. It was worth it.”