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Goodbye, Billy 

Some of Billy Manes' closest friends and colleagues bid farewell to an incomparable man

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click to enlarge Tony & Billy - PHOTO BY STEPHANIE PORTA
  • Photo by Stephanie Porta
  • Tony & Billy

Billy Manes died just after 4 p.m. on Friday, July 21, at the age of 45, due to complications of severe pneumonia. His husband, Anthony Mauss, made a statement to Orlando Weekly regarding his partner’s death on Sunday, July 23.

"My husband, Billy Manes, passed away peacefully on Friday afternoon surrounded by his family of friends. He had been ill for a couple of weeks with what turned out to be pneumonia, and by the time we sought medical attention, it was too far advanced. He died due to complications of his condition leading to organ failure.

"Billy Manes was a walking fucking miracle, a man who fought ferociously to create a world where justice, equality and respect were the cornerstones of his community. He loved Orlando. He knew what was possible here in this sprawling mass of ex-pats, misfits, introverts, seekers, party people, bookworms, performers, makers, artists and friends. His driving force was love. He loved you, Orlando, and he knew of your love for him. He fed off it; it sustained him. He would have fought proudly for each and every one of you forever. Unfortunately, his body had other plans. 

"So ... grieve, Orlando, grieve, but don't forget to laugh, create joy, and love each other wildly. That would honor him."

Manes and Mauss were married Feb. 14, 2015, and had been close friends for 17 years. Here he tells us the story of their meeting.

"Have some cock soup."

Those are the first words Billy Manes spoke to me on what, in hindsight, might be deemed our first date. But it wasn't. Billy was with Alan and I was with my first husband. From the moment our friend Taylor made us stand next to each other, Billy and I were friends. There was an instantaneous connection, an openness, a tangible raw power to our friendship. These were the hallmarks of Billy's relationship to almost everyone he knew. It was empowering just being near him. I remember thinking I was devoting a lot of time to getting ready for what Billy himself described as "goofing around downtown." I chalked it up to the fact that he was already kinda famous and I knew walking into a room with him meant that people would be looking at me as well. So I made an effort. Billy always demanded you make an effort – he believed that if you didn't, what was the point? Why make a scene if there was nothing to look at; why all the going out if there wasn't something fun or interesting or challenging? Billy loathed mediocrity.

So I was nervous, that first time. Sliding into his car through the passenger-side window, I was nervous that I might disappoint this man whose car door wouldn't even open. (And there was a packet of powdered "cock soup" on the seat, a joke gift from his co-worker Jessica.) "You look cute," he bubbled enthusiastically. "And you look like Luke Duke," I responded flatly. He laughed.

He laughed at my obvious joke authentically, he laughed in a way that told me that he knew I knew I had just made a lame joke, he laughed because I had made an effort. I was hooked. I knew I was going to need more of that laughter. I knew I was going to have to make an effort with him for a very long time.

I don't remember what exactly we did that night. I could look it up – no doubt it's on file somewhere in the Weekly archives of his "Blister" column, but that was unimportant. Maybe it was a bar opening with male strippers, maybe it was a dive somewhere in Bithlo, maybe it was some club event ... I don't remember. What I do remember was that I had never felt so alive, so excited to be out in the world, to be open to the endless possibilities of the night. I remember the electricity that surrounded him.

click to enlarge cocksoup_tony.jpg

We got home late. Probably later than someone who was in a relationship with someone else should. As I extricated myself from his car like some existential rebirth, he said, "That was fun, what are we doing for my column next week?"

Next week!? I get to do this again next week! I just stood there giggling in my delight. "I'll call you tomorrow."

He leaned out the passenger-side window and reached out to me.

"Don't forget your cock soup!"

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