Skip to comments.Tap dancer Hines found a new home in Toronto
Posted on 08/17/2003 3:42:39 AM PDT by xp38
Yesterday morning, as Tony- and Emmy-award winning performer Gregory Hines went to his final rest in Toronto, I would like to believe that the thunder overhead was my friend tap dancing in heaven.
The man acknowledged as the greatest tap dancer of his generation who succumbed to bile duct cancer last Saturday in a Marina del Rey, Calif., hospital chose a modest Roman Catholic church in Etobicoke and an Oakville cemetery for his farewell performance.
Gregory, who died at 57, attended St. Mark's, which Father Marion Sobolewski described as a "very humble and simple parish church," whenever he was in town, either working or spending time with the family of his fiancée Negrita Jayde, whom he adopted as his own.
And so the Harlem-born African-American star of stage (Sophisticated Ladies, Jelly's Last Jam) and screen, both big (White Nights, Tap, A Rage In Harlem, The Cotton Club) and small (Will & Grace, The Gregory Hines Show), now lies in the family plot of Carmela and Michael Truszyk in St. Volodymyr's Ukrainian Catholic cemetery west of Toronto.
It was Gregory's encore send-off, but it was the one he wanted. The first was a glitterati-packed memorial service last Wednesday in L.A. But that was just the dress rehearsal. The real show was very private, in Toronto yesterday, attended by about 100 people, none of them "Hollywood."
"This one's a little different," said his son Zack, 20, as he spoke in the church. "Most, if not all of you, knew him personally. Whereas at the last one, not all of them did."
"He was such a famous person yet extremely humble," said Father Sobolewski, who recalled his "shining" face in the pews. Which was true right to the end.
For example, very few people knew of his illness, which was diagnosed a year ago.
In fact, the last time I saw him alive, he and Negrita had intended to tell me. But, because I was bouncing off the walls with happiness over some personal triumph, they opted not to bring me down with bad news. Instead, he and I bopped around my living room, as usual, to Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted" which boomed out of my car stereo yesterday as I pulled up to the church.
The funeral directors didn't get it.
But Gregory would have. He would have seen it not as inappropriate, but me being me, a person needing to do whatever to purge herself of pain.
Gregory was that kind of man, with time, patience and understanding for all.
"The biggest lesson he ever taught me was to shower hate with kindness," Zack recalled. "He had unconditional love for everybody."
In her eulogy to Gregory, Negrita said: "We all knew Gregory was a genius entertainer. He was brilliant on stage. But I want to tell the world how he was so brilliant in life. That he was a genius Christian as well."
It was a long trip home for Gregory, who was born, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day in Harlem, New York.
Negrita, Zack Hines and his father's body were to have arrived in Toronto on Thursday but, because of the blackout, they were diverted to Windsor where they spent the night.
Ironic, in a way.
That's because on Wednesday, they dimmed the lights of Broadway to pay him tribute.
And then, when the power went out, it was as if the whole world went black for him.
Gregory's professional career, as a dancer, actor, singer, choreographer and director began when he was just 5 and took him from the ghetto to international acclaim.
But it was to Toronto he felt most connected, a link cemented when he met Negrita.
He had first noticed the Toronto fitness trainer and nutritionist in her iron-pumping days, when her photos appeared in bodybuilding magazines in the 1980s.
But it would not be until five years ago, when the man who had taken those pictures, Artie Geller, himself dying of cancer, brought them together.
So Gregory spent more and more of his time in Toronto, just hanging out or shooting movies such as Who Killed Atlanta's Children? and Bojangles, a biopic of dance legend Bill Robinson.
"He could drive all over town," Zack Hines said.
"He was very proud of that."
Gregory helped out with various community groups and would also drop into the Dance Works studio in Concord, Ont., to tap out his routines.
Yesterday, four of the young women with whom he would rehearse there, paid him homage as they danced to Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles."
"I knew a man Bojangles/And he'd dance for you/In worn out shoes ..."
Gregory Hines went out in his tap shoes, to thunderous applause.
And yesterday, as the rain sluiced through the city, I could swear I heard someone say "Please, Mister Bojangles, please, Come back and dance ..."
Rest in peace, Mr. Hines.