My friend Neil Rogers is still alive. But I cannot lie to you. He is dying. Sadly, at only the age of 68, Neil is losing his battle for life to a combination of irreversible heart attacks and strokes. The matter is complicated by multiple arterial blockages making his situation inoperable, worsened by the diabetes that has plagued him for years.
It hurts. I have been Neil’s attorney and friend for years, negotiating his contracts and representing him in numerous legal battles that have been on the front pages of the news. Together, we have challenged homophobes and the FCC, employers and interlopers, all of whom had a hard time dealing with a gay man that dominated the local airwaves.
No one and nothing was sacred when Neil Rogers had a microphone in his hands, not me, ‘Norma Cant’ – the lawyer with the “fag” newspaper who negotiated a million dollar contract which made him rich, or the Pope, whose heralded visit to South Florida ‘worthlessly blocked traffic.’ Whether it was a pompous mayor in Hallandale or a cop on the road, Neil simply had no mercy for those who infringed on individual rights or free expression.
Neil was equally brutal on dumb callers and smart CEO’s, treating them all as imposters, one and the same. He outed closeted leaders who tiptoed around homosexuality, relentlessly humiliating them on the air, whether they were Matt Drudge or Bryan Norcross.
Neil hated gay activism, could not stand gay activists, and did not hang out with gay people. Actually, he did not hang out with many people. He pushed most people away from him. He had few intimate relationships. But he is the most well known, open, out, heroic gay man in South Florida, and he inspired thousands of listeners for over 30 years, gay or straight.
Dare to berate him on the air for being gay, and he would eat you up and spit you out. Hecklers were hopeless against Neil’s stunning retorts. He did more than control the dump button. He controlled the dialogue with lightning quips, measured rants, and biting sarcasm.
Ultimately, Neil is the consummate individualist. In 1976, when gay homophobia in South Florida was running rampant with the Orange Juice Queen, Anita Bryant, Neil came out on the air. His career still flourished, and he proved you could be out and proud while being out and loud. Two years after his retirement, I see that Talkers Magazine just listed him in their top 50 talk show hosts ever.
Two weeks ago, when I owned up to the
fact that Neil’s time is limited, the story still made page 1 of the Sun-Sentinel. Neil has thousands of fans that he influenced over decades. Hundreds of fans and colleagues are still posting tributes to Neil online at Tom Jicha’s TV Plus page. Being gay, so what?
Neil is, after all, every workingman’s hero, whose voice spoke volumes for the average person railing against mediocrity, apathy, or stupidity. No one cared about whether he was gay or straight. Everyone was just glad to have their voice heard on the airwaves.
Yes, it was just a radio show, but what a show it was, making fun of ‘Julio’s,’ old Jews, ‘Schvartzes,’ Ebonics, and everyone from Janet Reno to Nelson Mandela. You see, Neil taught us all we had a lot more in common than we do apart. “Guess what,” he would say, “Even the Pope gets hemorrhoids.”
Stated one AM host, “Oh, I hated when he mentioned my name, but I hated it more
when he did not.” Everyone sought to be noticed even if it meant being the target of a notorious attack. Everyone respected Neil’s astounding incisiveness, his remarkable recall, and marvelous wit. He is an irreverent iconoclast whose quips would cut you like a sharp razor.
Neil considers himself agnostic, but the true message of his life is really Biblical: none of us is above sin. Not Neil, who once got caught by a cop, allegedly jerking off in a Miami Beach adult theater, or Bill Clinton, who was suposedly getting oral sex in the Oval Office.
On the air though, Neil had no tolerance for ineptitude. He was a consummate professional who imposed on those who worked with him the same demands he put on himself, which was a call for excellence over expedience, achievement over apathy.
It’s hard to believe only four weeks ago he was calling me from the ER, declaring how useless hospitals were, and insisting I come ‘get him the hell out of here.’ It did not matter that it was a Sunday night at 10 p.m. He called 40 times till he found me. Neil was used to getting his way.
When I visit him now in the hospice, I usually play some of his old radio bits over my iPad, logging onto them at www. neilrogers.com. “The best,” he says, about them. Candidly, he cannot say much more, and I can’t say he has lots of time left.
What I can say is that the Elvis of the airways is leaving the building, departing with a legacy of enduring laughter and spectacular AM radio performances, the likes of which we will never hear on the air again.
Neil Rogers would hate me for saying this, but he is a gay man who has become a straight hero.