Bill Evans served as publicist for Neil Simon, who died Sunday at 91, for three decades. Simon’s longtime friend and associate, who is director of media relations for the Shubert Organization, told Variety he is “very emotional right now, but very grateful to be part of his life.”
Simon took a chance on hiring Evans as he was getting his start in the business in 1976, working on “California Suite,” and they continued working together up until 2006, on some 20 plays.
But Evans wasn’t just Simon’s friend and publicist — in 2004, he donated a kidney to Simon, who was very ill with kidney failure. Doctors said a transplant could possibly end up giving him 10 more years of life, and Simon lived for 14 more years.
“It was an honor to contribute” to someone of Simon’s stature, said Evans, who calls himself “a supporting actor” in Simon’s life.
The New York Times wrote about the pair’s close association at the time: “His kidney loves living on Park Avenue, Mr. Evans will write in a note a few weeks after the surgery, but it’s really looking forward to Bel Air in a couple of months.”
“He made an imprint on the culture,” Evans said. He recalled when Simon “exploded onto the scene” with Mike Nichols when “Barefoot in the Park” premiered on Broadway. “It caught the zeitgeist, it’s so relatable. It just touches the right nerve.”
Simon went on to dig deeper and deeper into his experiences growing up in a difficult family situation in New York. “He kept digging,” Evans recalled. “Matthew Broderick was basically playing him in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ and Broderick burst into stardom after that. Matthew was brilliant, he got into deeper things. It’s a slice of Americana, it’s us, it’s universal.”
Evans said “Lost in Yonkers” was another impactful work that probed more serious area’s of Simon’s upbringing and resulted in a Pulitzer and a Tony.
Simon was notoriously reluctant to ask favors, he wrote in his memoir “Rewrites.” If Evans had not made the lifesaving offer, the New York Times story asked, would he have asked for a kidney donation? “No,” he said.