My dear friend Nancy Winters passed away last week.
You know her better as the beautiful “Mrs. Gahan Wilson.”
Nancy was famous in her own right as an author and journalist. She told me that when she married Gahan in 1966, New York society was atwitter with word that “Nancy Winters has married some CARTOONIST!” She said, “When I married Gahan, my boys were teenagers. They really needed a role model. He was great.”
An accomplished novelist, (Nancy would chastise me for choosing these titles from her oeuvre, but then she would have a good laugh about it), she penned insightful and humorous books that included How to Train a Man and Feasting Afloat. The latter contains instructions for cooking meals aboard a boat, something Nancy assured me she NEVER did. Of course I have copies of these gems, as well as a stack of cookbooks that Nancy used to cook from for Gahan. With the last book she gave me, she introduced me to the many pleasures of reading Nigel Slater.
Mr. Gahan Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world’s greatest living cartoonists. Most famous for his work with Playboy and The New Yorker, Gahan’s work was collected in Gahan Wilson 50 years of Playboy Cartoons, a coffee table book released in 2011. Some of his chubby, colorful characters have also been featured on the cover of Dan’s Papers. He’s the author of about 40 books that cover a wide swathe of cartooning, fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
His work is often referred to as “gruesome.” Gahan embraces the word “macabre,” pronounced in his Illinois accent, to describe much of his subject matter. Despite its outward appearance, there’s always a note of humanity about his work, a grounding in the joy of being alive. He’s the subject of the 2013 film Born Dead, Still Weird (see the trailer featuring Nancy below).
Given an opening, Gahan would calmly assert, “Yeah, I was born dead.” He was a blue baby. I always found him more nice than weird. He was kind to our son, his youngest fan, from the moment he met him at the foot of our driveway in Sag Harbor one sunny afternoon.
When Nancy was living and working in England, it was Gahan’s twice-daily practice to walk into Sag Harbor Village, passing our house, for exercise and whatever else he needed.
When Nancy came back to Sag Harbor, I used to take the two of them to do their weekly grocery shopping because they didn’t own a car. We would also drive to area beaches and watch the water together. I think of them every time I see the ocean. They moved back to the city a few years ago. After a couple years there, they moved to Arizona to be near Nancy’s sons.
Gahan is in Arizona and he really needs your help.
His friends and family kept his advancing dementia under wraps for a long time. In fact, up until a few years ago, he was still submitting cartoons to The New Yorker. Once when our mutual friend Terry Sullivan called Gahan in New York and asked how he was doing, he responded, “Well, I’m pretty senile!”
He is now 89 years old, and he’s devastated by the loss of Nancy’s presence. Gahan’s stepson, Paul Winters, is asking friends and fans to donate via gofundme.com to raise some immediate funds to find him some memory care until they can set him up at their new ranch in New Mexico. They’ve raised $37,664 of the $100,000 goal since launching the campaign on March 3. (See gofundme video below.)
Gahan and Nancy had been residing in an assisted living facility in Arizona, but, Winters explains, “With my mother’s passing [on Saturday, March 2], the facility is about to discharge him. We must find him a memory care facility immediately.”
Winters and his family will move with Gahan into the ranch at the end of the month. “We had selected a ranch with lots of acres, a beautiful home and a casita ‘guest house,’” Winters says. They planned to set up Nancy and Gahan at the assisted living facility so they could spend some time there and the rest with Winters at the ranch.
“We are still going to the ranch, where we will spread my mother’s ashes,” Winters says. “Gahan will be in our care at the casita, and we will also find him a memory care unit in Santa Fe since he also needs daily medical care.
“Gahan and my mother did not save for anything like this. We are asking his fans to help us, help Gahan. That’s what this is all about. Making the rest of Gahan’s days as wonderful as they can be.”
This is how I like to think of Gahan: