It was 21 years ago I walked into Gentry. A small dingy little piano bar in Chicago, on Halsted Street. I hadn't planned on going in. But as I walked by I heard this amazing voice singing "How Lucky can you get?" from the musical Funny Lady.,
As I stepped inside, the singer at the piano looked up, saw me, and suddenly stopped playing. For a moment I thought I had inadvertently crashed some sort of private party or event. The guy at the piano looked me up and down said " You! Sit down here!!" and pointed to a seat at the piano.
It would be the first of many many nights, I would sit at that piano while Kris Francis played, sang, and cracked jokes. It was the start of a friendship that would forever change my life. Khris became a dear friend, and more than that a very real and powerful LGBT role model for a young man in his 20's who was terrified of coming out.
Over the weeks, and months that followed that first night sitting at the piano, Kris would make me laugh, always make me sing, and more than anything else, he made me brave. When I finally did come out to my family the first person I told afterwards was Khris. His reaction was true to form; "About f*ckin time kid...". Then he gave me one of his enormous hugs.
People often refer to Khris's act as "tease comedy". I always felt that was a misnomer. As a member of the audience at one of his shows, you were part of the show. People who knew him soon realised to be singled out and "teased" by Khris was in fact, a tremendous compliment. You were not so much the butt of the joke as you were IN on the joke. His barbs and zingers always came with a wink and smile. His musical repertoire was pretty standard. He'd start in the 50's move through the 60's and 70's then touch briefly on the 80's. His progression would stop there because has he so aptly put it; "I have taste."
We would keep in touch after I moved away from Chicago, When I first lived in San Francisco, we would make time to see each other whenever he was back home in Hollister. When I moved to London, I tried in vain many times to get him to come visit. But his work schedule in Maine and on Cape Cod along with caring for his Dad back in CA made it impossible to find the time,
He always make it a point to reach out and check in and ask how I was doing, and always to swap gossip about our mutual friends and share his latest jokes. But more than anything, he was always there for me as a friend and a sounding board. A few weeks ago he suffered a bad fall and injured his spine. leaving him half -paralyzed, developing sepsis and pneumonia. Yet even then, he still wanted to make us all laugh, and remind us to look after each other.
His condition sadly got worse, When I visited him in the hospital last Saturday he seemed like he was trying to say goodbye, and I wouldn't hear of it... I still don't want to believe it. Yet the truth is my friend Khris is gone. Passing away yesterday morning..
I will miss him every day. The world is a darker, sadder place without him.