Rick Shur, better known by his voice-only video persona Rick X, creator and host of cable TV’s “The Closet Case Show” and one of the AIDS activism era’s most incisive chroniclers, has died at the age of 62.
Launched in 1984 on Manhattan Cable Television, “The Closet Case Show” quickly expanded from chronicling general interest gay public affairs issues in New York — focused particularly on AIDS activism — to creative edu-rotic safer sex fantasy and advocacy. A former professional child actor, Rick mixed witty, sardonic (seductive to many) voice-over with erotic fantasy, exploring the homoerotic in everyday life, using ordinary found images of masculine bodies and beauty. Gender and sexual subcontexts hidden in mainstream culture inspired sociopolitical/ erotic satires on “The Closet Case Show.”
Rick’s seduction of his audience went further when he accepted a fan’s offer to appear on the show. Rick improvised a droll, sexy-satirical voiceover persona to seduce the fan, dubbed Cowboy Bob, into exhibitionistic on-screen role-play. Forever after, Rick had a waiting list of fans eager to appear (wearing a bandana, to preserve anonymity) on the show to be verbally inveigled into erotic scenarios by Rick’s off-screen persona. The New York Native described him as a kind of late night, Cable TV gay Svengali, calling him Rick X.
New York gay chronicler, safe sex activist, and gadfly in the age of AIDS was an early cable TV phenom
Growing fame won Rick invitations to gay clubs and events, where to his genre mix, he now added video interviews with publicity-hungry LGBT personages of all types, from strippers and entertainers to leading cultural and political figures. “The Closet Case Show” became a coveted media venue for gay entertainers of the day, including porn stars Dane Ford, Joey Stefano, Jeff Stryker, Chris Burns, and Joe Simmons and club celebrities including Michael Alig, Keoki, RuPaul, the Lady Bunny, and Larry Tee. A sharp and astute interviewer, Rick developed a reputation for charming subjects into revealing more than they’d planned while wittily crystallizing issues.
Seeing himself as a contemporary Socrates, gadfly to the powerful, Rick revealed homophobia, lies, self-interest, and hypocrisy. Rick’s most notorious revelation was the outing of David Geffen, one of Hollywood's most powerful moguls. At a 1990 dinner promoting Chip Duckett’s latest club, leading go-go boy/ escort Joey Stefano, asked by Rick who was his most famous client, revealed to a rapt table of journalists, including Michael Musto of the Village Voice and Jess Cagle of US and People magazines, how he and Geffen had played with butt plugs. Realizing the corporate lawyers of those major media outlets would stifle this outing, Rick aired the interview, creating the media brouhaha, a story that those outlets, followed by the rest of the national media, could cover. Geffen officially came out shortly thereafter. Four years later, Stefano was dead of an overdose under what some considered suspicious circumstances, leaving Rick with permanent misgivings about the episode. (The Stefano interview and other Closet Case Show segments are, as of this writing, still available on the Closet Case Show site, RickX.com).
At a time when safer sex education was a matter of life and death, via constant, sardonic on-screen shaming, Rick forced Time Warner Cable to end its homophobic, puritanical censorship of frank sexual discussion and imagery, including erections, masturbation, and fellatio with a condom. Time Warner retaliated in 1994 when it relegated Rick from midnight to 2 a.m., losing him so much of his audience that Rick finally ended the show.
WBAI’s “Gay Show” became Rick’s next media forum. As a prominent, independent public voice on gay rights and culture, Rick was invited to be a panelist on the show from 1991 through the show’s merger into OUT.fm in 1997. It was at this time that Rick X of “The Closet Case Show” officially came out by publicly signing a full page ad in the New York Times in support of an employment nondiscrimination law, pointing out that the signers could lose their jobs simply for publicly identifying themselves as gay.
Born in 1953 to an insurance industry executive and raised in posh Port Washington, Long Island, by age six Rick composed short stories and poetry, wrote and directed his second grade Christmas play, in which he starred as Santa, and worked as a professional child actor while excelling in school politics. In high school, Rick developed a passion for Spanish, spending his senior year as an exchange student in Coatepec, Mexico. Forever after, Rick longed to return to a Mexican Gulf Coast idyll.
It was during the tumultuous student uprisings at Columbia in the 1970s that Rick became a campus gay political leader, both as a student and alumnus. As 1972 Freshman Class president, Rick’s political awareness was catalyzed by campus anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Simultaneously, amid passionate musical theater friendships, he came out and became a leader of Columbia’s Student Homophile League, the first gay university organization. After a period of organizational disarray and lassitude, in 1982, as an alumnus mentor, Rick educated and inspired a new generation of gay student leadership, dramatically revitalizing and expanding LGBT activities, programming, and services at Columbia.
After graduation, the vicissitudes of the acting business inspired Rick to earn a master’s degree in education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He became an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at LaGuardia Community College in 1979, where he continued to teach throughout his career, with stints at Queens and C.W. Post Colleges.
In recent years, after a debilitating fall and in declining health, Rick focused on teaching his students, on his beloved cats Dave and Michelle, as well as on the wildlife residing at Columbia’s campus. Frequently found sunning himself along with the birds and squirrels, Rick found simple joy and companionship with animals free from many human hang-ups, vices, and foibles, feeding them, observing them, and loving them, a kind of St. Francis Birdman of Columbia.
Rick was last seen out for a Christmas Eve of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Chinese food, where his wit and charm still glimmered, fadingly, imagining a musical fan fiction exploring the gay desires among Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren. Rick was found in his apartment by the NYPD on January 6, dead of natural causes, primarily advanced heart disease.
Rick is survived by his father, Walter, of North Carolina, his Uncle Gerald and Aunt Miriam Shur of Pennsylvania, and brothers Jim of Spain and Bob of California. His cats Dave and Michelle have a new, loving home with a neighbor.
A memorial gathering celebrating Rick’s life will be held at LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave. at Van Dam St., E Building, Room E-242, on January 25 from 4 -6 p.m. (33rd Street/ Queens Boulevard stop on the 7 train). An outpouring of grief and remembrances of Rick’s life has begun on Rick’s Facebook page. Efforts are underway to preserve the Rick X “Closet Case Show” video collection. Further announcements will be made via Rick’s Facebook page at facebook.com/rick.shur.9.