Remembering Way Bandy Friends Recall The Makeup Artist, Who Died Of Aids

Posted: November 15, 1986

NEW YORK — He had always guarded his private life - indeed, he had cloaked it in mystery - but then he died, in the limelight at his own request, at a time when many deemed it risky to identify with the dread disease that took him.

So perhaps it was Way Bandy's courage that inspired more than 200 friends and colleagues to pack a Manhattan memorial service Thursday night, to tell old tales about the Southern boy who reigned as the nation's premier makeup artist until August, when he lost his battle with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Bandy was 45, but not even his closest friends learned of his age until the end. They still don't know his real name.

Naturally, Maury Hopson was at the service. The noted hairdresser had been Bandy's best friend. They used to talk on the phone 10 times a day. "We could spend an entire plane flight across America debating whether wheat was more beige than barley," Hopson said during the service.

They had worked as a team for years, wowing the world back in 1974 by transforming Watergate whistle-blower Martha Mitchell into a magazine cover girl. Bandy had introduced Hopson to natural foods, and to this day Hopson follows Bandy's prescription for cleansing vegetables of pesticides by using water spiked with Clorox.

Francesco Scavullo, the photographer, was there too. He and Bandy had worked together for 17 years, with everyone from Tatum O'Neal to Ali MacGraw and Jerry Hall. Scavullo noticed how sick Bandy was on Aug. 6, when the makeup man arrived at his studio for a shooting but was so overcome by exhaustion and delirium that he could not work.

That in itself was a shock to everyone, because it was an axiom in the fashion world that Way Bandy never got sick. He lived on things like carrot juice, ingested nine vitamins daily and spent long hours poring over health- food catalogues. When he went on tours for his makeup books, he required that bottled water be placed in all of his hotel rooms, because he didn't want to swallow impurities from the tap. His close friends called him "the indestructible force." He'd had two sore throats in 20 years.

Grace Mirabella, the editor of Vogue, also was at the service. She had played a key role in getting Bandy hospitalized. He had never trusted doctors; indeed, he was a fanatic about self-reliance, which had made it tough during the summer for his friends to confront him about his coughing fits and about the way his fashionable linens seemed to be sagging on his 6-foot frame. "He always looked so good," Mirabella said the other night.

But on Aug. 6, she received a call from Bandy's agent, Helen Murray, who was hysterical. Murray wanted medical advice fast, and Mirabella called her husband, a prominent doctor, who in turn confronted Bandy and persuaded him to seek assistance. The next day, Bandy entered New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Within a week, on Aug. 13, he died. The diagnosis: a form of pneumonia that fells people whose immune systems have been weakened by AIDS.

Dr. Jeffrey Laurence was at the service. He directs the Laboratory for AIDS Research at New York Hospital, which will be financed in part by a memorial fund set up in Bandy's name.

"I personally have learned about his courage," said Laurence. "It was courageous, not only that he was able to face a terminal illness, but to

announce it to others. The importance of that act cannot be overemphasized.

"All of us have been concerned about the stigma attached to the disease. We need to talk about it more. The fight against this disease goes beyond medical science. If this were cancer or heart disease, it would just be medical science. Unfortunately, AIDS involves politics and social science as well, and this has to change.

"This city has the highest incidence of AIDS in the United States. (AIDS has killed more than 14,000 Americans; 4,300 have died in New York City. A new National Academy of Sciences study says that, by 1991, the annual death toll will exceed 50,000 - about the number of American soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam War.)

"We need support for education, for prevention programs. We need to learn more about AIDS, and quickly," Laurence said. "Way Bandy, in his own manner, overcame the inertia that may threaten all of us - the feeling that when you're confronted with an overwhelming disease, people just want to give up. Let the action that each of us now takes become a living testament to his memory."

*

Bandy had not been an activist against AIDS before he got sick. Maury Hopson recalls that he and Bandy had believed that activism might be bad for business; until a couple years ago, it was commonly assumed that anyone crusading against AIDS probably had the disease, and the two friends figured that their stigma as gay people was a sufficient burden.

To guard against AIDS, however, both men became celibate (they had never been intimates, says Hopson). They watched friends succumb, and they agreed, according to Hopson, that they would go public if it ever happened to them. Last spring, when Bandy still seemed healthy, when he was working with clients like Sigourney Weaver and Nancy Reagan, he showed displeasure with the way designer Perry Ellis' death on May 30 was handled. Spokesmen for Ellis

deny that he suffered from AIDS, but Hopson and Helen Murray insist that it's the fashion world's most open secret. "Way and I would talk about Perry on the phone and ask ourselves, 'Who's kidding who?' " Murray recalls.

Within weeks of Ellis' death, Bandy began to weaken. He didn't confide this. He relied increasingly on his "all-natural" home remedies - filling an eyedropper with Clorox, squirting it into a glass of water and gargling - but nothing helped. In a sense, then, Bandy kept his mystique to the bitter end, even as he breathed his last while Maria Callas was singing the third act of Tosca on his cassette player. His real name, and the identity of his family, remain a secret; the information is contained in a sealed envelope held by his attorney in New York.

His North Carolina upbringing also is shrouded in mystery, although he had told friends that he once taught English, that he was married, and that he and his wife parted when he fell in love with New York during a visit in 1965 and chose to stay and reinvent himself with a new name, a new career and a nose job.

So the people who turned out the other night knew him only in his second life. They knew him for the pranks he pulled in photo sessions (like dressing up as a Virginia Slims girl and sauntering onto the set), for his ambitions ("If you're not creative in life," he once told a friend, "how can you fill up a day?") and for his devotion to Eastern religions (he told Hopson that he was aware of previous lives and was confident of living new ones).

"It was a pretty good life, and he knew it was," said Carol Phillips, president of the cosmetic line Clinique. "We all knew that he had whatever it takes to be something a little bit beyond the here and now."

Hopson still has his friend's ashes. They will be scattered soon, in a pine forest in Key West, Fla., where Bandy kept a home. Hopson knows it sounds odd, but he feels "in touch with Way's spirit," and feels reassured that Bandy is in a safe place. He says that, yes, the AIDS announcement was great, that he hopes it will help people and that perhaps it's all part of some "grand design."

"But no matter how much meaning there is," he says, "I just don't care. I still would rather have my friend back."

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