Bob Smith, the first openly gay comic to appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and one of the first to have their own HBO specials, has died.
His partner, Michael Zam, announced the 59-year-old comic's death, "with great sadness, but also a lifetime of happy memories," on Facebook, "after a remarkable 12-year battle with ALS. He was the funniest and most optimistic person I've ever known, as well as the most committed and stubborn (I'm convinced this last trait kept him going so well for so long)."
In a candid, award-winning interview with the Daily Beast's Tim Teeman last year, Smith and Zam, co-creator of FX's Feud: Bette and Joan, talked about Smith being diagnosed in 2006, and then the effects of living with the disease, whose full name is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. As for its more common name, Smith joked, "Lou Gehrig's disease? I don't even like baseball."
Smith was also an author of many books including Remembrance of Things I Forgot and Selfish and Perverse. His 1997 book, Openly Bob, won a Lambda Literary Award; he was nominated for another Lambda award three years later for Way To Go, Smith.
In his last book published in 2016, Treehab: Tales From My Natural Wild Life, in which he wrote about ALS and his love of nature, Smith wrote, "You need to be present in your life–not contemplating your afterlife.
"Navigating a treacherous disease requires the same skills as a hiker. With a life-threatening illness, you have to treat the Angel of Death like he's a skunk. Avoid getting too close, or you'll be stinking like a rotten corpse."
Jay Leno had reached out to Smith in 2015, Smith told The Daily Beast, after he learned Smith had ALS.
"He said that it wouldn't have mattered if I had flopped, but, as he put it, I had killed. That meant a lot to me."
For Smith, living life to its fullest–even when faced with the ravages of ALS–meant everything, especially when placed in the context of his beloved natural world.
"Every mosquito bite is a painful pat on the back that we're still fresh enough to be lunch," he wrote. "We focus on the green in the forest, while gently ignoring that every fallen leaf is a brown Post-It note from Mother Nature that someday we'll all be dead."