I met Mike Nichols in his apartment at the Carlyle Hotel in 1984, and he changed my life. My best friend, Terry Beirn, and I came there to ask Mike if he would help us do a benefit for AIDS research at the Shubert Theatre in New York. There had never been a benefit for AIDS, and most people did not want to know anything about the disease or talk about it. As we sat with him, Mike said over and over to us that he didn’t do benefits.
Finally, desperate, I said, “I don’t do benefits either, but Terry is my best friend and he has AIDS and he’s dying, so I’ve got to do something.” Mike looked intensely at my handsome thirty-four year old friend and began asking him questions. For twenty minutes, Terry told Mike how he was feeling and what he knew about the disease, which was a lot because Terry was a very smart man. There was no cure – at that point, there wasn’t even a test yet to prove you had it. Then, Mike turned to me and said, “No one wants to hear about this. People stick their heads in the sand. If we want them to pay attention, we are going to have to make them laugh.”
He called on many of his friends, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, David Geffen, and for the first time in twenty-five years, he performed on-stage with Elaine May. We raised a million dollars for AIDS research at a time when there was no money coming from the federal government. Mike guided me, gave me confidence, always expected the very best from me and never let me down. I teased him that he was even more of a perfectionist than my mother, but she had given me thirty years of grooming to prepare me to work with him. When my first marriage ended with the abruptness of a major earthquake, Mike offered me a small room in the basement of his office to pull myself back together again and write a screenplay. It gave me a reason to get up every morning, and he helped me re-build my confidence and my crumbled life with his wise advice and humor.
And now, he is gone. A brilliant light that has left an impact on so many creative people’s lives. Mike had a razor sharp mind, the courage to go where many others feared to tread and the biggest, most generous heart. It was an honor and a privilege to have him as a mentor, and I would not be the person I am today if I had not met him. The world has lost a shining star.
“The only safe thing is to take a chance.”
-- Mike Nichols