Lance Out Loud

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The PBS documentary series “An American Family,” broadcast in 1973, was groundbreaking as well as controversial. Widely considered the first reality show, it documented the Louds, an upper middle-class family living in Santa Barbara, California; their daily activities, from mundane household routines to dramatic marital upheaval, were captured on film for the world to see. Eldest son Lance (considered the first openly gay person on television) made no attempt to hide his flamboyant lifestyle. Amongst today’s reality show-saturated audiences (and with homosexuality far more accepted among mainstream viewers), this would probably elicit no more than a yawn; however, in the early 70’s, it created quite a media sensation.

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.

Pat Loud celebrates her celebrity son in new photo book.

In 1973, the first real reality show, An American Family, hit the airwaves and audiences were introduced to the Loud family—including in-your-face gay son, Lance Loud. After decades as a provocative writer and rock musician, Lance died of AIDS-related illness in 2001, but the Loud family came back into focus last year in the HBO docudrama Cinema Verite. Now Lance’s mom, Pat Loud, has gathered original correspondence, writing and photos from her son—as well as recollections from friends like Debbie Harry, Rufus Wainwright and Andy Warhol—for the new biography Lance Out Loud.

I was once invited to write a biopic about Lance Loud by his mother Pat. In the 1970s, the Louds were America’s most discussed clan, thanks to the first-ever reality TV show, An American Family, the experimental 12-part PBS documentary that sought to present unfiltered truth by filming the Louds of Santa Barbara virtually nonstop for seven months. When the series aired in 1973, unexpectedly huge numbers of viewers tuned in. Americans took one look at the handsome couple with their five handsome children and barely submerged problems, and they were hooked by this new way of storytelling. By the time the final installment aired, 10 million people were watching, including every pundit in the country. The chattering class saw the Louds as an example of what was going terribly, terribly wrong in the world at large; the show inspired a virtual phantasmagoria of national projection. To this day the family is still sorting out what the hell happened to them.

Pat Loud, photographer Christopher Makos create a wonderful book in honor of Lance Loud.

Pat Loud on the new book about her late son Lance Loud and his legacy.