Born: June 5, 1940
Died: December 9, 2004
David Brudnoy was born in Minneapolis, only child of Harry George and Doris Ferne Axilrod Brudnoy. He attended North High School in Minneapolis and participated in an American Field Service study tour in Japan in 1957. Also on the trip was Peter Bell, who was later to become a classmate at Yale. David lived with a Zen Buddhist monk, where according to Bell, even as a young iconoclast, David developed his gift for the serene.
At Yale David was a resident of Timothy Dwight, a Japanese Studies Major, on Dean's List and a Ranking Scholar. He remained active in American Field Service work at Yale. He was also a member of the George Orwell Forum, the Young Democrats and the Criterion Board.
After graduation David earned a master's degree in Far Eastern Studies at Harvard. He then taught for two years at Texas Southern University in Houston, one of the United Negro College Fund colleges, before returning to Boston. David received his doctorate in American History from Brandeis University in 1971.
In 1971 his full time academic career ended when, at the suggestion of a friend, he auditioned for an opening as a commentator at WGBH, Boston's public television station. He said he was hired as the token conservative. By 1976 he had won a full-time slot at Boston's WHDH radio station and then in 1981 he jumped to competitor WRKO. In 1986 he began at WBZ-AM where he worked until his death. David hosted New England's most listened to radio talk program, "The David Brudnoy Show" from 7:00 to 10:00 PM weeknights.
David also taught at Harvard, Merrimack College, Northeastern, Boston College and University of Rhode Island prior to joining the faulty at Boston University as a professor in the College of Communications. In a tribute after his death, Dean John Schultz described him as "a brilliant and inspiring teacher for students at the college, a friend, a mentor and a man of incredible dedication."
He wrote for a variety of publications including the New York Times, National Review, Boston Magazine and Reason. He was a founder of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Theater Critics Circle, and served for many years as movie reviewer for the Community Newspapers chain in the Boston area.
Eulogized by the Boston Globe as an "erudite, eclectic libertarian," he always made it a point to read his guests' books or articles. In the words of the New York Times, he "was known for being the stylistic antithesis of the ranting, dogmatic talk radio host and for his thorough preparation for his interviews." Earlier in 2004, David characterized his own style in these words: "I've never believed that the only way to make a dent is to be a table thumper. Condemnatory conservatism isn't anything I'm interested in."
In his entertaining and very frank essay in our 40th Reunion book, David wrote that he was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. Showing no symptoms, he continued with his heavy pace of work, travel and good times until he sickened in 1994 and collapsed one day in the lobby of his apartment building. After 9 days in a coma, the doctors were prepared to let him die but a good friend acting as his medical proxy convinced them to give him more time, and he awoke and gradually recovered sufficiently to return to his work on the air, at B.U. and TV and film reviewing. The story of his recovery was featured in a January 1995 New York Times article and this led to national media publicity, appearances on Oprah and network news and features. In David's words, "it did go on."
After his 1994-1995 brush with death, David publicly acknowledged that he was gay and became a strong voice for AIDS research. He established The David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, "for better understanding of AIDS and fairer treatment of people living with it." Many in Boston credited him with creating a sea change moment in local attitudes toward homosexuality. "With my radio program and speeches and TV shows," he wrote in 2002, "I've done what I can to talk sensibly about the matter of AIDS."
His memoir "Life is Not a Rehearsal" (Doubleday, 1996), was in his words, "a tell-all book sans acrimony, just revelations about me, and, with their permission, about those I have loved, with their real names, about the pal who saved my life and the fine doctors who saved my life and buddies who made my life worth living."
David was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Emerson College in 1996 and through this made contact with undergraduates who inducted him into the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity. In his essay in our 40th Reunion Book, David took pride in finally becoming a "fraternity boy" as well as "a big brother to a bunch of great kids." He gave graduation presents to the fraternity students including a trip to Spain.
In 2003 he learned he had Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and deadly form of skin cancer. He fought with his typical verve, determination and good humor. He took a leave of absence from his work for several months until he was able to return to the air in March 2004, broadcasting from his home due to his weakened condition. He continued on the air until the day prior to his death when he told his listeners that his cancer had spread and his death was imminent. Just a few hours before he died, he was interviewed from the hospital by a friend and conveyed a message of reassurance to his listeners even as he knew he was dying.
Peter Bell and his family remained close to David through the years. Peter fondly recalls appearing as David's guest on WBZ several years ago. David shared Peter's concern for the problems of poverty in the world, and CARE, for which Peter had first served as board chairman and now serves as President, became a special cause David championed.
Former roommate Paul Johnson described David as "ever changing. At Yale his politics were decidedly left of center but he turned into a dedicated libertarian. One thing that never changed was his love for movies. We went to almost every movie that hit New Haven, and David turned that experience into becoming Boston's leading film critic."
In the month prior to his death, David bet Boston Mayor Thomas Menino a steak dinner the city could not get a pothole fixed in 24 hours. Menino won the bet and David kept his commitment by arranging for a friend to take the mayor out for dinner after his death.
Memorial and Remembrance Ceremonies were held in his honor at Boston University and Emerson College.
David was predeceased by his parents and was survived by no relatives. He left countless friends and former listeners and a void in the airways in Boston.