A Mother’s Story: Pat Loud’s Holiday Memory of Her Son Lance

IN 1973, PBS premiered the documentary series An American Family. The series depicted the everyday joys and dramas of an upper-middleclass family from Santa Barbara, California—Bill and Pat Loud and their five children. In 12 hour-long episodes, An American Family forever altered the culture of television and celebrity, in the process giving the Louds’ eldest son, Lance, a platform from which he became one of the day’s most prominent gay icons. As a performer, writer and commentator, Lance’s public life mirrored the issues and illnesses affecting an emerging out-and-proud gay community. He died on December 22, 2001, at age 50, from liver failure due to HIV and hepatitis C co-infection. Below is Pat Loud’s holiday memory of her son.

Los Angeles isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think about Christmas. Palm trees and traffic jams don’t bring thoughts of peace and joy. But in spite of the paradox, Christmas has come to this city and like most everyone here, I am glad.

I love Christmas. It makes me remember when my children were little and the weeks of excitement that grew and grew until the GREAT DAY came and the patter of little feet could be heard on the stairs at about five in the morning when I was just getting my best sleep. The food, the music, the toys and the laughter (and a few tears) and the smell of the pine tree all decked out with lights and tinsel mingled with the aroma of roasting turkey. Who wouldn’t like that?

Now, from the Olympian heights of my 86 years, I look back on it all and know how lucky I was to have lived those many Christmases. Not all of them were great, though.

My son Lance died 11 years ago on December 22nd. And nothing, including Christmas, will ever be the same again.

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I am not a religious person and regret that I could not give him that solace at the end. When someone asked him if he believed in anything, he answered that yes, he believed in baked goods. Bravado or bravery, we’ll never know, but if there is a Heaven, I am pretty sure he has sweet-talked himself into it.  

So it is with sweet sorrow that we Louds embrace the Christmas season, even now. We do all the family rituals we always have done and laugh and enjoy each other just like we used to. We sing carols and cook and drink Tom & Jerry’s and vodka just like always, but without Lance it just isn’t the same.

Lance had been very ill for a long time and was seemingly now in recovery, but his medical bills had been huge. A fresh influx of cash would be a godsend.

So when photographer Christopher Makos called me and suggested we do a book about Lance, I was thrilled. But I didn’t know just how much that book (Lance Out Loud, Glitterati, 2012) would mean to me at this season. Poised between tears and laughter, I can open it up and see through the pages the delightful, brilliant clown who is my son.

Every mother has a favorite Christmas story about each of her children. The one I have of Lance isn’t really a Christmas story, but it happened in December; so I do regard it as seasonal.

I was staying with Lance in his home in Los Angeles when I happened to read in the paper that rhinoceros horns were being bought in China for huge amounts of cash. Lance owned one, a gift from a friend back in the days he was living in New York.

Lance had been very ill for a long time and was seemingly now in recovery, but his medical bills had been huge. A fresh influx of cash would be a godsend.

Pat and Lance Loud in New York City during the early 1970s. (Photo: Christopher Makos)

I showed Lance the article. We rejoiced at the prospect, and I told him to get the horn and climb in the car and off we would go to Chinatown to try our luck at apothecary and herb shops. We would soon be rolling in cash.

Lance said we couldn’t take the car because parking in Chinatown was pretty impossible. We must go on his motorcycle.

I reluctantly agreed. Clutching the horn in its plastic bag, I swung my leg over the bike, grabbed hold of Lance for dear life, and off we sped to Chinatown. My dearest hope was that no one would see us.  

We roared up to several shops, whose owners looked at us like we had just arrived from the planet Mongo and backing away, refused to even look at our priceless rhinoceros horn. After many rejections, we motored home, deflated but still in possession of our treasure. And nobody we knew had seen us careening down the streets, Lance singing at the top of his voice and me hanging on for dear life.

Not much of a story, it is true, but one great memory.

Merry Christmas, Pat Loud

Do you have one holiday memory that may be not so much of a story, but still means something special to you? Tell it in COMMENTS.

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Pat Loud is the well-known and beloved mother of Lance Loud, who through her collection of his papers, artworks, and memorabilia was able to compile and construct Lance Out Loud, an important document of one life that represents an era of American popular culture. She currently lives in Los Angeles, with her husband, Bill Loud.

. Email Stephen | @GlitteratiBuzz