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Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family
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Television ate my family. - Lance Loud
The Loud Family, 1973
Decades before the advent of American broadcasting networks' ubiquitous reality programming, a story unfolded on public television that changed television history by spotlighting the true complexities of post-modern middle class family life. The cinema vérité documentary series An American Family premiered in 1973. An audience of 10 million viewers watched with fascination the unfolding real-life drama of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. The program challenged conventional views and depictions of middle-class American family life, documenting marital tensions leading to divorce, a son's gay lifestyle and the changing values of American families.

Lance Loud, the charismatic eldest son of the family, emerged as the leading personality of the series, making no secret of his gay lifestyle in episode two. A gregarious, free-spirited youth, he was the first openly homosexual person to appear on television as an integral member of American family life. Loud became a very public personality, inspiring legions of young people, both gay and straight, to feel free to be who they were and who they wanted to be.

Having his life scrutinized on television had its benefits and it burdens. Loud, emerging as a gay icon overnight, became a television star simply by being himself, and for a time he reaped the benefits of fame, becoming a rock and roll performer and, later, a writer and columnist for Interview, American Film, Details and The Advocate. On the other hand, Loud's most famous quote was "Television ate my family," referring to scars left on the Louds after having their lives laid bare before a national audience. In the end, Loud reportedly found that celebrity was hollow. Nothing could ever measure up to that initial burst of notoriety and he spent years trying to find himself again, struggling through substance abuse and other dark episodes.

Lance Loud, 2001
On December 22, 2001, at age 50, Loud died of liver failure caused by a hepatitis C and HIV co-infection. Several months before his death, Loud asked Alan and Susan Raymond, the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of the original An American Family series, to film a final episode in the Loud story. The Raymonds had remained friends with the Loud family after the 1973 series and a 1983 follow-up, American Family Revisited. The Raymonds' new film, Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family, both commemorates the 30th anniversary of the original series broadcast and explores Loud's legacy by looking back at scenes from the original documentary, examining the intervening years of Loud's life and spending time with him in his final months. WETA and the Independent Television Service are presenting this film memoir to public television.

The Loud family, according to the Raymonds, "had shunned all public attention in recent years and did not readily welcome returning to television." As a last request, Lance Loud asked and convinced everyone — with the exception of his younger brother Grant — to participate willingly and lovingly in the making of this final chapter, demonstrating the strength and unity of his family in standing by him.

According to the filmmakers, Loud often spoke of not wanting to be perceived as a gay icon and a publicly homosexual figure, but rather as simply "an outsider, a rebel, someone always living on society's edge." Near the end of his life he wrote, "Make no mistake. This is not to emphasize the sadness of my demise but rather emphasize the love of my family and friends. When my time comes up, I want to be filmed because life this past year has taught me so much. I also stand as a role model as to what not to do in one's life."

Funding for Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family is provided by PBS, the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

 

Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family is a presentation of WETA and ITVS, and was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Copyright © 2002 WETA. All Rights Reserved.