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If it weren’t for his love of denim overalls, Shane Sawick would have fit perfectly into a 1940’s Cary Grant movie. I can see him now: tall, dapper, great smile, smoothly trading quips with Rosalind Russell, unflappably.
But there was far more to Shane than met the eye. He was dynamic, charming, steadfast, smart, funny, and loyal, but also periodically cynical, stubborn and mercurial. In short, he was fully human, with all of the nuance that is hard to communicate via the written word.
While I was lucky enough to spend two years with Shane, as partner, lover, and caregiver, I know that countless others were touched by him, and I welcome your stories. My hope is that others will share their memories, through the tribute page, and those will be incorporated into this biography, to present an even more complete portrait of an extraordinary man.
Born Shane Michael Sawick in Pittsfield, MA, on August 18, 1956, Shane was raised by his parents Nick and Mary Ann in upstate New York, along with his older brother, Michael, and younger sister, Jill, whom he adored. Jill was quite shy in those days, and Shane was a very loving, protective brother. Winters were filled with snow play and skiing, and he loved nothing more hanging out with his best friend, Vivian Alexopolous, grabbing pizza at DeLeno’s.
A big lover of theatre, Shane treasured his trips into the city to see shows, and it was no surprise when he decided to become an actor. For the County Players, he starred as Hero in their production “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and also appeared in “Gypsy.” He went to college at SUNY-New Paltz, where he appeared in such plays as “The Threepenny Opera,” and met his good friend Joseph Leahy.
Once graduated, in New York City he studied with Actors Studio legend Kim Stanley. (If you don’t know who she is, rent The Goddess — amazing!) Fellow classmate Brien Varady recalls Shane rehearsing a scene from “A Hatful Of Rain,” where his character is withdrawing from his addiction to drugs, and Brian noted how amazing he was. As he says, “We went out after class and I asked him what he used to ‘get there’. He shared his fear of snakes and envisioned that they were crawling all over him,” which is pure Shane.
Like so many actors before him, Shane journeyed with then-partner Glenn Casale to “make it in Hollywood.” Once arrived, he found representation with LA Talent, and began the rounds of endless auditions. He appeared in nationally aired commercials, including 1-800-Dentist and the FX Network. He was also a member of the West Coast Ensemble Theatre, and enjoyed the scene work he did there.
Given his HIV status and his desire to make a difference, Shane volunteered at both Project Angel Food and AIDS Project Los Angeles. At APLA, Shane initially became involved in the annual Garden Party (later renamed the Summer Party). In 1992, Shane enrolled in the training for APLA’s Hotline, and graduated from Hotline Class No. 72. After volunteering for several months on the Hotline, Shane joined the staff of APLA, first in the Volunteer Resources Department and later at the Southern California HIV/AIDS Hotline.
As Hotline coordinator, Shane played a vital role in educating and nurturing that program’s many volunteers. “Shane was always there for us,” said longtime Hotline volunteer Randi Swindell. Randi said that Shane had a gift for putting volunteers at ease and for creating a supportive environment for them to work. “Shane was always very open with us about his experiences with AIDS, and he made it OK for us to share ourselves as well.”
Key to Shane’s enjoyment of his new Southern California life were his new circle of friends. These guys had it all — they were funny, smart, caring, attractive — and made just about any event an occasion. The group included such folks as Greg Solem, Scott Poland, Eddie Nestlebush, Jay Fujitani, Stephen Chappell, Michael McCreary, Loring Leeds, Rick Millikan, and David Bradford, who is much-missed.
While this group had fun wherever they went, one of Shane’s best memories was of a trip to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where the group rented a house, and their days were filled with lobster bakes, board games, and boat trips.
In 1992, Shane met Kergan, and the two quickly became one. Along with Shane’s English Springer Spaniel, Clementine, their family unit revolved around home, friends, and travel, with both working at APLA.
Shane loved to cook, and attempted multiple times to duplicate his beloved mother’s chicken and dumplings, but could never get it “quite the way mom did.” He and Kergan would alternate from ordering delivery from Louise’s Trattoria, and trying out other new recipes. The easiest, which became a weekly staple, was pasta puttanesca, the name of which Shane loved. It translates as “pasta of the whores”, because — as the “women of the night” weren’t allowed to shop daily at the fresh markets — it was made with all-canned ingredients.
Shane loved Christmas. When he was still rather young, his mother began giving Shane nutcrackers at Christmas, which quickly grew into an amazing collection. But Shane was very particular — they had to be German nutcrackers, because they were, quite simply, the best. Shane took great care and pride in decorating for the holidays. With his nutcracker collection proudly displayed, and his tree hung with ornaments gathered from around the world, Shane reveled in the season, enjoying the opportunity to gather his close friends for a meal.
In 1994, Shane took Kergan on the trip of a lifetime — 5 weeks in Paris and Italy. It was Kergan’s first time in Europe, and Shane took extra care to make sure it was perfect. They dined in the mid-level of the Eiffel Tower at the Jules Verne, and had another spectacular meal at Les Tour D’Argent, overlooking Notre Dame, where they are known for numbering their famed ducks, but their $50 bowls of Lobster Bisque quickly became an ongoing joke.
Shane began tiring easily, and began to hate each rock-hewn step, of which there were many, viewing each as a personal challenge.
Upon their return, though normal life resumed, Shane began experiencing a series of medical issues, which were not easily recognizable. He began loosing control of his motor skills, veering off course when walking, experiencing a slurring of the words, his reflexes not reacting quickly… Finally, he was diagnosed with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy.
This quickly-moving illness took hold, and despite his best efforts, Shane was soon unable to talk or communicate. He was admitted to the hospital on March 5, 1995, Kergan’s 30th birthday, and died on March 22, 1995, at 12:22AM, surrounded by his family and friends.
He leaves behind a legacy larger than he could have ever imagined. From the volunteers he inspired on the Hotline, to his fellow actors, to his beloved family and friends, Shane Michael Sawick will never be forgotten.