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December 11, 2015

New York Remembers Candida Royalle

Reporter Jason Lyon, who wrote about the New York adult entertainment community in both past and present for AVN's June 2015 issue, shares his experience attending the recent service in New York to honor adult industry icon Candida Royalle. It's early evening in Manhattan, and Washington Square Park is aglow in a brilliant orange-yellow sunset. A street musician plays Rhapsody in Blue on a wheeled-in baby grand. Tourists snap pictures of apartment buildings silhouetted in a sawtoothed pattern against the darkening sky. And chess players huddle over game boards in the wood-scented Chess Forum off Thompson Street, while hipsters thumb through vinyl discs at a cozy independent music shop nearby. Amid this urban oasis of students, artists, tourists, and writers, each claiming their own special part of this heaven called Greenwich Village, I have arrived at Judson Memorial Church to attend a "Celebration of Life" for Candice Vadala, aka Candida Royalle. The feminist, adult-industry pioneer, director, performer, entrepreneur, writer and activist passed away on September 7 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. "I think it’s marvelous," host Mary Dorman will say at the start of the service, "that we are here at Judson Memorial in Candice's neighborhood.  She lived on Eighth Street forever and wrote there, worked there, was an actress there—and so she kind of owned this neighborhood, and I think that's way-way cool to own a lower part of Manhattan." As I walk beneath the graceful arches of the church's entrance, the starkness of its undecorated vaulted ceiling and towering columns is soon softened by the crowd of red-dressed friends, colleagues, family, and admirers, all responding to organizer Veronica Vera's call wear Royalle's favorite color. I visit with Jane Hamilton (aka Veronica Hart) for a few moments, and her warm greeting and bittersweet expression reflect the pre-service feeling of the room: the pleasure of seeing old friends contrasting with the poignancy of the occasion. I take a seat at the end of one of the pews, and the service begins. "Welcome," says host Mary Dorman, "to a place of peace and love. And one person, who has brought us is here, our beloved Candice." Dianne Stasi takes the podium to introduce a photo montage she created titled A Sneak Peak into Candice's Personal Albums. Photos of Vadala throughout her life fill the screen, accompanied by recordings of the songs Friend Like Me, I Get a Kick Out of You, and the exuberant I'm Gonna Live Till Die. After a dedication of Royalle's ashes by Judson Memorial's reverend, the next segment of the service titled The Club 90 Journey begins, referring to the support group she created with fellow performers Jane Hamilton, Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera—all of whom are in attendance—and Gloria Leonard, who passed away in 2014. "Thank you, Candice," begins Annie Sprinkle, "for starting the world's first porn star support group in 1983. The first meetings were in my apartment at 90 Lexington Avenue, hence the name Club 90. Every few weeks we would sit in a circle and share intimate details of our lives. We helped each other imagine our lives’ dreams." Sprinkle continues with a series of thank-you statements, expressing gratitude for the performance art piece titled Deep Inside Porn Stars that Royalle created for the Women's Art Collective, and for allowing Sprinkle and her Club 90 friends to direct for Royalle's women-focused Femme productions. "Thank you, Candice," continues Sprinkle, "for the long phone chat the week before you died, when you shared how excruciating your pain was, and how you just had a really good cry when you looked into the closet and realized that you could not ever wear any of your party dresses again. That really touched me. And you showed us how to die with so much dignity." Sprinkle ends by thanking Royalle "for caring for the birds. She loved the birds. She fed them and cared for them all year round. After you died many of us had some very unusual bird sightings. There were white doves in places people had never seen white doves before. There was a great blue heron that landed right in front of me, and an eagle showed up in San Francisco at her memorial. No one had ever seen an eagle in San Francisco before. So whenever I see a special bird, I will always think of you." Jane Hamilton follows with a series of blessings to the audience. "I bless you with Candice's grace, love, and intelligence. Her clarity of purpose, her passion. Her vision for what was different, and her vision for what was to come. For her pioneer spirit, her creative inspiration and her warmth. I bless you with her ability to use time wisely, to give time to everything, to savor every bite. To sleep late, to stay up late. I bless you with her excellent time management, with her ability to keep journals and to write a lot. To be decisive, to know what you want. To realize every living moment with outermost boundaries. To be the transitional piece between us and the sun. To be a girlie-girl. To care about everything—people, performers, the planet, all of its creatures. So you—like her—should care about your work, your relationships. I bless you all with Candice's soft, sweet love. With creativity, with the willingness to forgive. With her impeccable style. Her good business sense, her love for animals. Her fierce feminism. Her encouragement for each of us to be and realize ourselves. Her inclusiveness and endless and ancient wisdom. Her elegance and class. Her example of mindfulness, her sense of justice and fairness." Veronica Vera completes the trilogy of Club 90 remembrances with a detailed account of Royalle's final days at her home in Montauk, Long Island, which Vera describes as her "Garden of Eden." "I wanted to tell you a little bit about those final days," says Vera, "because I know you all loved Candice so much, and when someone passes we always want to know: was it easy, did they suffer? I had the privilege of being there." Vera's account begins with Royalle's entering into hospice care with what Vera describes as "a matter-of-fact attitude." "Candice was so determined to just keep going on living." Vera speaks of the many family and friends who visited, and she tells a story of Royalle writing the names of family members in her photo albums in a weak but determined hand as her health declined. Vera then speaks of Royalle's passing: "So then her eyes lowered. Her former assistant Suzanne had sent a beautiful chant, Tibetan chant, and we started playing that. And we just continued to tell her how much we loved her. And that she was safe. And then her eyes just got low, and she passed so peacefully." "People have said how good she was with her time," Vera continues, "and she really did everything she had to do in terms of her cancer, but she really put cancer in its place. She continued to live for the five years that she had ovarian cancer. Cancer just had its place, and she continued to live. And that lesson in time is such a lesson for me. "And it’s not only about time," Vera summed up. "I realized that Candice's great attribute was gratitude. She didn't take anything for granted. She didn't take people for granted. From her files, I see the long letters she would write in response to people, beautiful letters. She kept journals, really going over the times of her day. … She was just grateful, and she continued to work and to be grateful for every moment of the day. And that's for me the lesson that I want to carry with me from my dear friend Candice." The service continues with a series of tributes titled “Memories of Love” by her sister, Cinthia Vadala, Michele Capozzi, Bob Christian, Jan Dirk, Kathy Groet, Jamye Waxman, Larry Trepel, Cathy Brown and Joey Freeman. Adam and Eve’s Bob Christian remembers: "Candice was the reason I joined Adam and Eve, to sell her movies. Working with her, getting to know her, the sincerity and belief in what she was doing helped me stay there. "I was so excited to work with her in such a good way," Christian continued. "I said, 'Would you give me some screen credits, producer credits with my real name, which is Bob Christian?' And that's not a big deal perhaps to many of you, but … it's pretty unusual to actually stick your name on an adult movie, and I'm still obviously proud of it because I'm bringing it up. And it was because of Candice." Christian concludes his statement by reading a letter from his daughter to Royalle, presenting it as an example of her cross-generational appeal: "Dear Candice," Christian reads, "It's been a while since we've connected, but you'd probably be surprised how often I think of you. I wear the jazz club T-shirt from you quite often. Over the summer I spoke of you as I discussed my Dad's work, adult entertainment as an industry and the evolution of feminism with my friends. They were fascinated by the novelty of my association to you, but what I really enjoyed was their receptivity to an intelligent conversation about sex. They were all raised very Christian, and they so enjoyed listening to the insights that I shared that I learned from you—that just like in most any environment, women have faced obstacles, and some brave women have stood up to them and overcame them, like you. And that it is healthy and empowering to posses and enjoy your own sexuality. And aside from all that, it's also possible to view your work, whatever it is, as a meaningful business and to form lasting relationships with the people you meet through it." Jamye Waxman begins her statement by speaking of her struggle to keep her emotions at bay. "She was a really dedicated friend," recalls Waxman.  "In 2014 on January 3rd, I was giving birth to my daughter, and I asked Candice to be in the room." Wayman explains that Royalle’s cancer had returned, so she could not make it to Waxman's home in Santa Cruz. "Minutes after I had my daughter I snapped a photo to send to Candice—before I sent anything to my parents or anyone else. And to one of my other friends in the room I said, 'Can you please just text this to Candice?' It was 1:26 in the morning in New York. I said she'll see it in the morning … and she'll know that my daughter Sonia was born. So I get a text back from her immediately, because she was a late-night person, so excited about the birth. A day later I go onto Facebook, and there before I'd even announced it to the world, Candice has posted a beautiful exciting welcome to my daughter to the world, and I was so ecstatic and so happy that Candice would take the time and love … that she welcomed my daughter the minute she was born with open arms, and I was just really excited that Candice could love her so much even though she couldn't be there, and I was really glad that she was the one to make the birth announcement." Following a call for a moment of silence by Gloria Leonard's daughter Robin Leonardi, singer-songwriter Libby Johnson sits at the church's piano and sings her original composition "Goodnight Dancer," inspired a friendship dating back to the 1980's and Royalle's love of dance.  As I sit in the church, I lose myself to the lilting melody of Johnson's song and her lovely verse… Made up of flowers, Hidden superpowers. Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. …and I think how beautifully it fits the occasion in its clarity, simplicity, and elegance. I recall the remembrances spoken this evening, and I am brought back to the statement by Larry Trapel, describing a bicycle ride with Royalle near her Long Island home during the final weeks of her life: "As we passed the pond, and the cornfields, and the farmhouses that we knew so well, sadness left her face and she glowed with a smile that comes when we are happy to be alive in this world. The pedals turned, the sun beamed on her, and for some precious minutes the sickness was abandoned by the side of the road. At some point, fatigue and pain returned, and Candice looked at me to let me know she needed to head back, weary, but happy that the wind was in her face, and all was as it should be for just a brief time." The service nears its conclusion with a video montage created by Alexandra Silk and Luc Wylder. Although she was not at this New York service, I communicated with Silk later by phone and email, and she told me of her and Wylder's desire to preserve memories from Royalle's life in their creation. The montage is filled with clips of her speaking about her Star Director Series for Femme Productions, receiving her doctorate from the Institute of Human Sexuality, enjoying time with Petra Joy on a windy day, describing seeing her father play drums with his jazz group, singing the Banana Split song in an interview, scenes from her days as a performer, and more. "I loved her so much and miss her every day. She was my mentor and my dear friend," says Silk. The nearly two-hour service concludes with a recording of Candida Royalle singing "The Tomato Song," a swinging and sweet tune she wrote while dressed as a tomato onstage in the early 1970s, ending the evening on an upbeat but poignant note. As I leave Judson Memorial Church, the chess players of Greenwich Village are still hovering over their game boards. The hipsters are as intent as ever to find that long sought-after album, and New York is filled with the poetry of countless life stories illuminating the night sky. And it feels right, and it feels good. And it feels like this is the way it should be. Because tonight I heard the story of one of New York's greatest spirits, and all is at peace.

 
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