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Out There

When the brilliant and erratic Jeff McCourt founded the Windy City Times in 1985, he began a 15-year run that changed the way gays were regarded. But his volcanic personality caused countless rifts, and he died this year at 51, largely alone.

(page 7 of 8)

After Bearden’s death, McCourt had a number of brief relationships, most notably with Marc Anthony Donais, a man better known in the gay community as the pornographic film star Ryan Idol.

All of this was complicated by McCourt’s apparently limitless appetite for cocaine and other illegal substances. “He was so abusive of his body,” says Williams. “He got more and more into drugs, and that made him paranoid. He became very hard to deal with.” His personal life was also in disarray. For most of the 1990s, McCourt lived in a spacious apartment on the second floor of an old mansion on Dover Street in Uptown that included a large living area furnished with leather couches and chairs, a book-lined den, and a veranda where guests would gather during McCourt’s numerous dinner parties. “At his peak,” says Williams, “he had a gorgeous lifestyle.”

The mansion was owned by his attorney, Greg Friedman, who lived downstairs with his wife. “I got to experience a guy who was a bon vivant, who loved to party, loved to entertain, and was constantly on the go,” says Friedman. In general, he remembers a far less conflicted personality than was evident to many of McCourt’s friends in those years. But even he notes that McCourt was “not a guy who was lucky in love.”

In the years after Bearden’s death, McCourt would drift into a number of brief relationships, the most notable of which was with Marc Anthony Donais, a man far better known in the gay community as the pornographic film star Ryan Idol.

“In some kind of fucked-up way, they cared about each other,” says Alter. “They were two highly narcissistic, very on-the-edge types of personalities who were using each other for image, for money, for drugs, for sex.” He adds, “In spite of all that—and I know how strange this sounds—I think there was something real there.”

Donais, who today lives in a small New England town, agrees. They met in the late 1990s, when Donais was in Chicago and attempting to launch a legitimate acting career by starring in a play in Bailiwick Repertory’s annual Pride Series. He and McCourt began a yearlong on-again, off-again relationship that was complicated by the fact that, for most of that time, Donais had a girlfriend. “He was somebody I’ll never forget,” Donais says. “He was really like a best friend, a big brother. He would have me in his office all the time to show off and stuff. And he would be wielding his power, and I identified with that.”

The staff remembers it somewhat differently. “We’d have editorial meetings where Jeff would be sitting there with white powder around his nose, drinking booze out of a bottle with Ryan Idol asleep on the couch,” says Weisberg. “At some point we just knew this wasn’t going to work—that this was no way to run a business.”

The odd thing is that, at least on the surface, the business seemed to be doing fine. The 1998 Pride Issue—traditionally the largest issue of the year—came in at just under 200 pages, a near record at the time for a gay newspaper.

Later that year, McCourt would write “The Politics of Passion,” an editorial on that year’s gubernatorial race that would win a Lisagor Award. It is, in many ways, his valedictory statement, reflecting as it did a lifetime’s experience in the struggle for gay rights. After summing up the generally dismal voting records of both candidates, George Ryan and Glenn Poshard, and refusing to endorse either one—a first for him—he noted the recent brutal murder of the Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and concluded by encouraging readers to look to the future.

“Historically, we have always made our greatest strides after, not before, setbacks,” he wrote. “The 1986 loss and subsequent 1988 victory in the Chicago city council on a similar bill is a memorable case in point. That period brought out the best anger, the best energy in all of us. Ultimately, it also brought out the best in our friends and political supporters as well. . . . We must remember, however, that no one can ever tie Pride to a fence and beat it out of someone. Nor can anyone legislate it away. It is a word, a feeling, that will never again be consigned to a shadowed closet of indifference.”


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