David Brudnoy, WBZ-AM Boston talk show host and co-founder of the Boston Society of Film Critics, died December 9 from merkel cell carcinoma. He was 64.
The popular evening radio personality was known for his incisive but non-antagonistic questioning of guests ranging from politicians to movie stars and directors to authors. Writers in particular loved appearing on his show because Brudnoy was an interviewer who was known to have actually read their books.
Born in Minnesota he came east to attend Yale, obtaining degrees from Yale, Harvard and Brandeis. By the 1970s he started becoming a fixture in Boston media, offering film reviews for one outlet while analyzing politics and current affairs for another. Over the years he had regular gigs at most of the TV stations in Boston including pubcaster WGBH, while doing a nightly talk show on WHDH, WRKO and, since 1986, WBZ. His articles also appeared in national publications ranging from the National Review to TV Guide.
In 1981 he was one of the founding members of the Boston Society of Film Critics, serving as its membership chair for many years. His reviews appeared in print in the Tab newspapers, a chain of weeklies throughout Massachusetts, and on WBZ radio.
He made national news in 1994 when, near death, he was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital and quickly slipped into a coma. Unknown except to his caregivers and a handful of close friends, Brudnoy was being treated for HIV infection. He eventually returned to the air — with WBZ setting up a studio at his residence for his nightly broadcast — and spent his first hour revealing to his audience that he was gay and that he had AIDS. Although setting up and actively supporting an AIDS research charity at Mass. General, Brudnoy declined to be pigeonholed as the “gay talk show host with AIDS.” His audience rallied around him, and he remained the leader in his time slot. He later wrote a memoir that included his account of his battle, the 1997 “Life is Not a Rehearsal.”
In the fall of 2003 he was diagnosed as having merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer. It was unrelated to his AIDS. He was off the air while treated with chemotherapy and radiation, but returned earlier this year a little hoarser but eager to get back to work. Brudnoy also taught college level courses on the media, recently joining the faculty of Boston University.
The day before his death, he gave a series of farewell interviews, including one with WBZ. It was broadcast as “The Last David Brudnoy Show” with his friend and fellow radio host Peter Meade taking calls from Senator Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino — as well as regular listeners — reminiscing about Brudnoy and his career.
He left no immediate survivors. Donations may be made to the David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, 100 Charles River Plaza, Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114-2792.