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“I’ve heard that Steve McQueen went to Mexico for something called Gerson Therapy that included laetrile treatment for his cancer.”

There was a long pause. “Excuse me,” said Elliott, the immitigable highbrow, “but who’s Steve McQueen?”

One week I missed my weekly Elliott call, and when he called the week after he told me that the reason was that, in the midst of all his therapy at Sloan-Kettering, he had had a heart attack. “A mild heart attack,” he said, “but I could’ve done nicely without it.” Two weeks later he mentioned that he had to end our phone call for a dental appointment, for he had an abscessed tooth. “Leukaemia, heart attack, and now a fucking toothache,” he said. “Please, don’t ever tell me God doesn’t love a joke.”

When I didn’t hear from Elliott over the next two weeks, I called him. Gerianne answered, and told me that her husband had died two days before. He was to be buried the next day.

“Don’t have to tell you, Jack, how quickly you Jews like to bury your dead. But we are going to have a memorial for Elliott in three weeks’ time. May I convince you to speak at it?”

“Thank you, Gerianne,” I said, “I’m honored to be asked. I liked Elliott a lot, but I’m not sure I knew him well enough to speak at his memorial.”

“In that case,” she said, “I’m going to insist that you come and speak.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Years ago my Daddy told me that you never let a person speak at a funeral or memorial who asks to do so, because he only wants to talk about himself. Since you don’t want to speak at my husband’s memorial, I know you’ll say good and interesting things about him. Please come, Jack, Elliott would have liked you to be there.”

At the memorial, I was one of four speakers. The others included the past president of the Juilliard School, a man named Paul Levering who edited Opera News and was a friend of the family, and Richard. The Juilliard man spoke of the high standard Elliott’s set as a teacher, Paul Levering spoke about Elliott’s odd idiosyncrasies as a writer (among them, he was unable to quote from a book that he didn’t own, and once, in order to write about the great Grove Dictionary of Music he felt he had to own the work in all its many editions, which Levering had to scamper about to obtain for him), I of his courageous performance at the National Endowment for Arts, and Richard of what a good father he was. Between the four of us, I felt afterward, we hadn’t come close to describing, let alone capturing, the true Elliott Lazar, his ambition, his self-appraisal, his brilliance, not least his meshugass.

At a dinner for a few friends after the memorial, I sat next to Paul Levering.
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