Nicholas Cieri died on December 8, 2010. He was 81 years of age. He was tall and angular, and wore his long hair slicked back, Fifties style.

I had called his friend Bobby to see if I could get in a visit with Nick before leaving on Christmas vacation, and received the bad news. Probable cause of death was pneumonia, in the hospital in Coney Island. Bobby said the staff left the windows open, perhaps maliciously. Nick was bed ridden, at the time, due to a series of falls.

I first met Nick in 1985. He had answered one of my adds for a composer for my musical ‘Paris – A Musical of the 1920s.’ By then my needs had shifted, and I was looking for someone to write up the songs I was composing with my co-author Bowden Simmons.

Nick invited me to his apartment in Sheepshead Bay. It was a short hop on the train from Park Slope, where I was living at the time. He cooked up a meal of pasta, and played a few songs from his musical ‘Born to Sing,’ about the life of Judy Garland. They were good songs. Ms. Garland would not have been embarrassed to sing them herself. I asked Nick what he wanted in payment for his services as musical secretary, and he said three songs—Bowden and I had only written a half dozen songs, at that point.

So I gave Nick a lyric, to see what he could do with it. He came back with a winner.

Over the months and years, I visited Nick and his partner Brendan many times in connection with ‘Paris.’ Brendan played the baby grand Yamaha in their apartment, and wrote up Nick’s songs plus the songs Nick and I did together. I always stayed for dinner. Nick made his own meatballs and fixed a green salad. Sometimes he invited friends over for dinner. He made big meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Nick bragged about his ‘million dollar memory.’ He had a repertory of some three thousand songs; he sang as much as he talked. You could almost say, he sang his way through life. I can’t remember if Nick ever had a regular job; he depended on Brendan’s job as a waiter for income. Nick drove all over town a white Lincoln Continental and always had money in his pocket. He pointed out Cole Porter’s house in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, to me.

Nick had showed promise as a singer in his youth, and had sung with a group called The Overtones, at the Riveria. At a critical moment, he lost out on the big chance, and began writing songs, singing for pleasure. Nick and Brendan met after World War II. Brendan had survived landing on D-Day in 1944, and went on to study music at the Paris Conservatory. He played piano at Broadway auditions. Nick told me about life in New York in the 1950s, when crime was low and people left their front doors unlocked.

In recent years, Nick and Brendan fell on hard times. They made bad investments and lost their nest egg. Nick played the lottery, lost more than he won, and ran up credit card debt. He went bankrupt. He suffered from back pain and had prostate cancer, which was in remission at the time of his death. Brendan labored on as a waiter, ruining his feet. He contracted congestive heart failure and died in 2009.

Nick fell apart after that, sold or gave away his possessions and moved in with Bobby, in his small apartment. When I last saw Nick, in ’09, he was living on a couch in Bobby’s apartment. He watched TV and never went outside. I looked down at Nick and said, “You’re down, but now out,” And he looked up at me and said, “You’re down, but not out.”

I had so hoped we could produce ‘Paris,’ and take our bows onstage together, all three of us. Nick did live to see the production of ‘Born to Sing,’ at a theater in Brooklyn. It had a successful run at the box office, but no critics attended, and the show died there.

Nick was like a friend to me. Once, when I lost my wallet, he drove up from Sheepshead Bay to loan me a few bills. He directed my play ‘Harly.’ He presided over his court of gay and straight friends, men and women, always ready with a song.

Nick was headstrong, sentimental, and loyal. According to Bobby, there was no funeral, only a simple internment. Nick is survived by an older brother. I don’t know what has happened to his music. I’d like to think some of it will survive. I’m doing my part, for Nick and all of us, trying to produce ‘Paris.’ Nick lived his life his way. I mourn his passing. Nick Cieri lives on in the memory of those who knew him.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights reserved.

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