LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Merv Griffin was gay.
Why should that be so uncomfortable to read? Why is it so
difficult to write? Why are we still so jittery even about
raising the issue in purportedly liberal-minded Hollywood, in
Griffin, who died of prostate cancer Sunday at 82, stayed
in the closet throughout his life. Perhaps he figured it was
preferable to remain the object of gossip rather than live
openly as "one of them."
But how tremendously sad it is that a man of Merv's renown,
of his gregarious nature and social dexterity, would feel
compelled to endure such a stealthy double life even as the gay
community's clout, and its levels of acceptance and equality,
rose steadily from the ashes of ignorance.
What a powerful message Griffin might have sent had he
squired his male companions around town rather than Eva Gabor,
his longtime good friend and platonic public pal. Imagine the
amount of good Merv could have done as a well-respected, hugely
successful, beloved and uncloseted gay man in embodying a
I had more than a passing acquaintance with him, having
worked on "The Merv Griffin Show" as a talent
coordinator/segment producer in 1985-86 as the show was winding
down. Around the office, Merv's being gay was understood but
rarely discussed (and certainly never with him). We knew
nothing of his relationships because he guarded his privacy
fiercely, and we didn't pry.
Merv's secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz
culture, if not the wider America. It gained traction in 1991
when he was targeted in a pair of lawsuits: by "Dance Fever"
host Denny Terrio, alleging sexual harassment; and by assistant
Brent Plott seeking $200 million in palimony. Both ultimately
Over the past 16 years of his life, however, Griffin
deflected the sexuality questions with a quip, determining that
his private life remained nobody's business. He certainly
didn't owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself
to remove the suffocating veil he'd been forced to hide behind
throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in
the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn't OK,
when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could
deep-six one's career.
If you're Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture
would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age?
Even in the capital of entertainment -- in a business where
homosexuality isn't exactly a rare phenomenon -- it's still
spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And
Merv's brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him
further into the closet.
While it would seem everything has changed today, little
actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at
most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and
public figures who have come out. Those who don't can't really
be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a
boon to one's showbiz livelihood.
Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation
never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He
could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It's
disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.