Missing Matt

One of my best friends from high school, Matt Klir, died of AIDS on September 17, 1992. Another best friend from those days, Laura Gale, wrote this guest post about how much we all still miss him twenty years later.

Crazy about life

by Laura Roy Gale

Modeling, acting, playing music, fun, friends, family, wackiness and more — all fit into the life of a man who was only 32 years old when he died of AIDS. Matt Klir was a ball of fire in high school, clearly more sophisticated than the rest of us. He had blond, classic good looks and dressed impeccably. Even as a teenager, Matt had his own wonderful sense of style — professional photographs of Matt and his sisters taken at modeling shoots by the famed Victor Skrebniski lined the dining room walls of their glorious home. His parents were divorced, he lived with his sisters and a free-spirited mom, and his house essentially had no rules.

We all practically lived in that house during high school, and Matt held his annual Elton John parties there, too. Matt dressed as Elton himself, and insisted that everyone else come in a costume inspired from an Elton John song. No one wanted to miss a party at Matt’s — one girl who worked at a fabric store after school used remnants to dress as “moss” from Your Song, a carrot-topped senior donned Alice Cooper make-up for All the Young Girls Love Alice, and a group of four (with Beth as Dorothy) dressed as Wizard of Oz characters from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Matt and I were good friends, but he never told me he was gay, and I did not know he died of AIDS until well after the fact. We were in high school and college during the 70s, and it still wasn’t openly talked about. I suspect he moved away in order to live his life openly and without the gossip that might have ensued if he stayed in his home town.

While composing this blog post, I started reading Elton John’s new book Love is the Cure: Life, Loss and the End of AIDS. Elton begins by describing the huge impact the life and death of Ryan White had on him, and how it changed his life. As I read this, I thought about Matt Klir and his impact on me.

I still have an intense sadness about the loss of Matt, and I think of him often. He was one of the graduation speakers during our 1977 graduation from York High School in Elmhurst,

That’s Matt addressing the crowd at the York High School graduation in 1977.

and I will always remember Matt as he looks here, full of humor, professionalism, and wisdom beyond his years. His off-beat topic for commencement was “I am a sponge,” and he wowed everyone with his sophisticated outlook.

Our high school years were full of escapades directed by Matt: driving downtown in his mother’s Cadillac convertible to Great Gritzbees Flying Food Show to graze the free appetizer buffet, getting caught by security guards in the stairwell of a Chicago highrise that had a window with a great view of the skyline (how did he find that?), riding his motorcycle — without helmets — of course, sharing a locker which he regularly booby-trapped to play songs I hated (Muskrat Love comes to mind) when I opened it. The list goes on and on.

The two of us went on to the University of Illinois, where Beth had started one year ahead of us. He and I remained close freshman year, and dressed as two of the three musketeers for Halloween our first year. He had to be d’Artagnan, of course.

Matt was wildly successful at U of I, the first freshman to direct a student play (Kismet) at the Assembly Hall. How did I not know he was gay? Naiveté and ignorance on my part, no doubt.

Matt and I drifted apart, and he left U of I without graduating after sophomore year. I lost track of him. Beth did not, and she traveled to Florida with her first SeeingEye dog Dora to be with Matt and his sisters the day he died. Her memories are not as stuck in time as mine.

HIV positive. AIDS. These words do not conjure up a death sentence anymore. Our friend Matt suffered through the disease’s early years and lost his life to what is now a chronic illness and not a death sentence. I could say “I wish…..” or “If only…..” about Matt but I believe life is to be lived for today.

We loved Matt and I think of him often. It is Matt’s life that had a significant influence on my own life, and not his death. He lived fully and gracefully, and I am happy and grateful to have known such an individualist and a guy who was so crazy about life during my formative years. Matt Klir will never be forgotten.

Matt’s partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, sponsors a Ribbons for the Children event every year in memory of Matthew Klir. The event celebrates the great improvements that have been made in the medical care of children and adolescents with HIV/AIDS and benefits children and adolescents with HIV/AIDS who are served by the Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center’s in Ft. Lauderdale.

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38 Responses to “Missing Matt”


  1. 1 Terri Eaton September 17, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I remember Matt and his sister. I had no idea that he died. How awful. My brother was HIV positive for many many years. It was under control. He died at age 52 of a stroke. It’s so sad that he did not live a little longer so that this terrible disease didn’t have to take his life.

    • 2 bethfinke September 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

      Terri, I recall hearing that your brother had died and thought he was way too young. Now that we’ve been lucky enough to live this long, 52 *really* seems young. These loved ones who die before their prime remind me to enjoy the wonderful life I am fortunate to have now. All my best –

  2. 3 Rhona September 17, 2012 at 7:32 am

    As sad as this story is, it is even sadder that the gay/lesbian adults I know today still live in fear of being open about their sexuality. While the Age of Aquarius instilled the ideology of freedom for all, 50 years later we still have a long way to go.

    • 4 bethfinke September 18, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Interesting. One of the many things I get sad about when I think of Matt is that he didn’t live long enough to benefit from the “Will & Grace” times, when it became so much more accepted to be gay. Maybe I’m a bit naive — people still think they have to stay in the closet?

  3. 5 Dean Fischer September 17, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Gret tribute to a very unique guy – – ahead of his time in many respects.

  4. 6 Janine Klir Banko September 17, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Thank you very much for the kind words. This brings back a flood of memories. I spent this past Saturday afternoon with Keith Rost – also part of our close circle of friends. Matt was always going at 110%. He left too soon. I miss him.

    Janine Klir Banko

  5. 7 Carl September 17, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Matt certainly seemed like a great person to know. You are lucky your paths crossed, as brief as it may have been. What a terrible disease that took so many young, vibrant lives. So sad. Thank God there are people and organizations out there helping these people still. Although it’s not a death sentence any longer, it’s still no walk in the park.

  6. 8 Jill Foucre September 17, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Laura, as you and Beth may recall, I went to homecoming with Matt either our sophomore or junior year and the flower bouquet he gave me was made up of Birds of Paradise, at the time about the most exotic flower I have ever seen. He was truly one of a kind and we all knew it at the time. He died on my 33rd birthday and while I hadn’t seen him in a very long time it made me excruciatingly sad. Thanks for remembering him for all of us.\

  7. 9 Francine Poppo Rich September 17, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Beth, you should see if you can get this blog post to Elton John or to his agent. After reading this post, I’ll be he’s just the type of guy who would donate to Ribbons for the Children in Matt’s honor.

  8. 10 Joan McSweeney September 17, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Laura,
    I love your tribute to Matt. I was also very close to him in high school and considered him a true friend. You are so right he was full of life and full of fun. I cherish those memories of riding on his motorcyle, going to the Elton John themed parties and hanging out at his house with his family. He was with me during the worst time of my life when I lost my mother to ovarian cancer. He never avoided me during the tough times, he picked me up from the airport after her funeral and when he spoke at graduation he made a comment on my behalf. I will never forget him. I saw him a few times after he moved to California and again when his mother passed away. We kept in touch but I somehow lost track of him after I got married and moved to OakPark. I always regretted not being able to go to Florida when I heard from Beth he was dying. I will always cherish his memory.

  9. 11 Laura Gale September 17, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I am very impressed by so many replies this early in the morning. Matt was obviously influential, and still is influential to this day. Janine, Jill, Dean and Joan, seeing your comments means a lot to me. I think of Matt often. It was good to reminisce as I prepared for this.

    • 12 Keith Rost September 17, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Laura:

      Thanks for writing up such a great tribute for Matt. We all had shared many great times together. It is hard to believe it has been 20 years ago today since Matt passed. I was really fortunate to spend part of this past weekend with Matt’s sister Janine. We had quality time together sharing memories of Matt…in retrospect it was actually really important to me that we had this time together. Felt like Matt was still around us, actually.

      He was a really good friend. I recognized early on when Matt and I became friends at the age of 12 that he definitely was a quality guy. As kids we spent most of our time together initially riding our bikes around the neighborhood (Matt was the only kid in the neighborhood to have an actual steering wheel on his bike instead of the ‘regular’ handlebars…he liked to think outside of the box obviously J ) and then advanced to riding our motorcycles together, managing the York High School Ski Club, seeing Star Wars countless times, illegally drinking as often as possible, driving around in Ms. Klir’s Eldorado listening incessantly to ‘From the Beginning’ by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (we even created an entire 8 track with this one song) and had our share of acting pretty wild during our time in high school.

      We remained friends during our initial years of college but then Matt moved out to California however we still connected several times there as well.

      I miss him. The last time we connected was in San Diego about a year before he passed. I knew when I initially met him when we were both only 12 years old that he was a really great guy; kind, considerate, funny… and even then I knew he would never run with the ‘sheep’ out there. His uniqueness was one of the qualities I admired most. I have to say that I can not even count how many times during our summers during college where we just hung out together…24/7…and laughed nonstop at almost everything that came our way. Innocent, happy times.

      This past April I was able to visit the Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale; my visit was long overdue. I was greeted by several people who support the foundation that Matt had help create and was overwhelmed with how much they appreciated Matt’s initial efforts. I walked out of there that day with a really content spirit knowing that Matt was still recognized for his efforts.

      No surprise, actually. :)

      Thanks again, Laura.

  10. 13 Crystal Klir-Oleff September 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Laura,
    Thank you so very much for writing such a wonderful and insightful blog. Being 6 years younger than Matt, I was not privy to some of his escapades and others that sparked long forgotten memories. The mention of D’Artagnan brought me to tears both happy and sad, as I remembered our “sword” fights in the large living room. He would set up detailed scavenger hunts all through the neighborhood for me to follow to find the “jewels” at the end. One in particular I recall having to be carried on his shoulders through the incredibly tall grasses growing in the undeveloped land behind our subdivision to the “island of trees” to get to the treasure.

    He was such a loving, attentive and considerate big brother to the very day he died, always taking care of and protecting me, physically and emotionally. I love him and miss him dearly.

    Crystal Klir-Oleff

  11. 14 Jenny Fischer September 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Laura and Beth – Thank you for finding a way to pay such a beautiful tribute to Matt. I often find myself telling stories about Matt and his Elton John parties and reading all of your other memories brought back more of my own. He probably lived more life in his brief time here than many people live in a full life-time. What a treasure he was – and clearly still is through his enduring work through his foundation.

  12. 15 Laura Gale September 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    All – the heartfelt words and memories included your comments have been good, yet bittersweet, to read. It is hard to imagine that it has been more than 20, or even more than 30, years since we had these good times with Matt. The fact that so many dear friends saw this and commented with fresh and vivid stories makes Matt’s loss more heartbreaking, but also magnifies the impact he had on all of us. Those who knew Matt recall him easily and with the fondest of thoughts. I appreciate you contributing to this remembrance. Thank you for that. P.S.: it is unfortunate that the only photos I had from Matt’s Elton John parties were from a Kodak Instamatic camera and don’t reproduce well (hmmm…..was it me or the camera?). They are precious and priceless! And many of you are in them!

  13. 16 Bev Finke Miller September 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    He was quite a guy! Thanks for the beautiful tribute, Laura.

  14. 17 Mary Heithoff Clauss September 18, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Hi all,
    I am saddened to hear of Matt Klir’s death. I was in the 1977 class at York and knew Matt to say hi in the halls. I sure wish I ran with you all back then- I went to so many Elton John concerts! I remember clearly his graduation speech: “I am a sponge.” Back then we thought it was crazy, but of course we were all sponges: it was the essence of our learning and development and becoming who we are today. Clearly his perspective was years beyond our understanding.
    Thanks so much for sharing this glimpse into his life. And hi Beth Finke!

    • 18 bethfinke September 18, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Hello Mary! If I recall correctly, you, too, were a little bit eccentric after returning from your time in London…as you say, though, Matt was ahead of the curve.

  15. 19 Eric Keeley September 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

    “Imagine…..if you will…. ..the lowly sponnnnnnge….” I share many of the same memories as all of you. While I really did not have much contact with him after the time of the photo above (I was sitting in the audience between Ingrid Keding and Marsha Keller when it was taken), I was saddened when i heard he had passed.

    The two years later in August 1994, I lost my best friend, Jim Gutenschwager, to the same horrible disease. I miss you guys. See you on the other side.

    Love to all!

    • 20 Laura September 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      Hi Eric – you have a good memory. That is how Matt started his commencement talk: “Imagine, if you will….” He said that a lot, and it was a bit of an inside joke that he would begin his graduation speech with that. Again, what a lasting impression Matt made. Thank you for your comment and memory!

  16. 21 bethfinke September 18, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I’m enjoying reading all your memories of our friend Matt, and especially appreciate the ones left here by Joan, Keith and Crystal – we all like to think of the Elton John parties and how crazy and flamboyant Matt could be, but it’s oh so important to remember what a loving and caring person he was, too. His partner said he started sponsoring that Ribbons for Kids gala in Matt’s name because he “was inspired by Matthew to help others through philanthropy.” As Keith says above –no surprise, actually!

  17. 22 Kim Fazzini September 18, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Hi,

    I read Laura’s words of tribute to Matt last night. I am Laura’s cousin. Just a couple of days ago I was going through a pile of my friends headshots to show my two boys, who were asking about all my friends that were actors. I think Laura gave me his headshot because I always had such a crush on Matt when I was in grade school. I will always remember how nice he was to me and never rolled his eyes or made me feel silly for being a little school girl gazing at him whenever he was at Laura’s house. But besides having a crush on him Matt was the first person that I personally knew that made it as an actor. I wanted to go into acting during my H.S. and college years but many people said it was too big of a dream. Well, Matt was a huge inspiration to me. When Laura told me he did a walk on for the show (Detective School ??? I think the show was called) I was glued to the TV. Someone I knew made it to the screen even if it was just for a couple of minutes. If he could do it so could I. And I did. I never got into it seriously but I did a bunch of theater, made it through the Second City Training Center, and did some extra work. Even though I didn’t go further with it once I started teaching, I enjoyed the many moments I spent on stage or in front of the camera. Many of those moments were inspired because of Matt. He never knew of my dreams of being an actress but his actions and what he did with his life were a huge part of some of the happiest times of my life. I will always be thankful to Matt for being the person behind all of that.

    Thanks Laura for not letting us forget what a wonderful person Matt was.

    • 23 Laura September 18, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Matt was a big inspiration to many of us, and because we all hung around together – all the time it seemed – we met one another’s families and obviously made impressions. Kim and I have talked about Matt through the years, and to her point, we won’t forget how he cared about others and inspired us.

  18. 24 Mary Staley September 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

    What a beautiful tribute to Matt, I wasnt lucky enough to be one of his close friends I was in calss of 77. I did know Matt and I remember him fondly and he made an impression on me as a really nice person. I am so sorry to his family and friends for your loss. I have no doubt that Matt is an angel in Heaven and still making people happy. One of my bestfriends in Highschool Scott McDonald was also living a secretly life and he too moved away to California without anyone knowing his secret. it wasnt until I heard about his death that I knew his secret, everything you all are saying about Matt could have been said about Scott, if they didnt know each other in life, i hope they have found each other in Heaven and are having blast!

  19. 25 becky September 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Such a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. Thanks for sharing – indeed a reminder to live each day fully.

  20. 26 Jane Easterly September 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

    I was a sophomore when Matt was a senior and the marching band’s drum major. Everyone in the band was reading The Three Musketeers that year because of Matt. He had that kind of persuasive power!

  21. 27 Jane Kostiwa Baker September 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

    What a lovely tribute to a lovely guy. Your words brought back a flood of memories and emotion. Those “Elton John” years were some of the best of my life and certainly would not have been the same without Matt. He was truly an inspiring guy. It’s also wonderful to have insight into how he touched so many lives in his short time with us. Thanks all for sharing your personal memories.

    • 28 bethfinke September 22, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      I agree, Jane – I thought I knew Matt pretty well, but hadn’t heard *half* of these stories before – particularly enjoyed the one about him lifting his little sister Crystal on his shoulders for the scavenger hunt through the “tall grasses.” Sometimes when these comments came in I would get an unrealistic urge to contact Matt and tell him about Laura’s beautiful tribute to him, and all these wonderful comments.
      Thank you everyone, for commenting here – I’m thinking of Matt now, and he’s making me smile.

  22. 29 Karen Bischoff September 24, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I had a life changing senior year when I met Matt. He was so unique and different from any other guy. He was so self assured, at times he made me feel inadequate and awkward, but I was. I remember how expressive his face was, without saying a word, I knew exactly what he was thinking. We hung out with Keith Rost, Bob Buttendorf and Bonnie Mueller………the four Musketeers hanging out at Ground Round, throwing peanut shells on the floor! Aahh, we were a wild group! Thanks to Matt, I learned how to ski, savor the Elton John album “Blue Moves”, put creases in my cupcake papers and most importantly, enjoy life, laugh and cherish good friends!

  23. 30 Crystal September 24, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Ok I must ask…what do you mean “put creases in my cupcake paper”?

    • 31 bethfinke September 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      I can’t answer your question about the cupcake creases, Crystal! I do appreciate how Karen reminds me of another quality I learned from both Matt and your mom: self-assurance. They had the courage to be themselves, and even when they secretly didn’t know what the heck they were doing they let everyone around them *think* they did, which gave them the guts to try new things. I was somewhat of a conventional scairdy cat when I started high school. As you know, there were 1000 in our high school class. My experience with a smaller group in the band, and with Matt and, consequently, your mom, showed me that one way to give yourself the courage to try new things is just pretend you know what you’re doing and make everyone around you think you do, too. The worse that can happen is you fail, and then, hey – you can try something else. This trait has helped me immensely after losing my sight, I am so thankful to you and your family for sharing this Klir way of thinking.

  24. 32 Karen Bischoff Finnessy September 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Crystal,

    One of Matt’s lame sayings when he wanted to go home early was Well I must run, have to crease my cupcake papers………………guess that was his way of saying that it was going to take him a lengthy amount of time to do such a tedious task, so he needed to get a good nights sleep and leave early………..it was so odd the first time I heard him say it, but after that, it was just ………………..Matt :) .

  25. 33 Janet October 8, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Hi, I’m Beth’s neice, and ten years younger than her. I remember Matt very well. He was sooo handsome, and we would watch for him to be on TV, on Skittles commercials.

    • 34 bethfinke October 8, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Funny, I don’t remember much of Matt’s TV spots people here are referring to, but I can oh so easily picture the b&w photograph of him on a “safari” surrounded by all those stuffed animals – Marshall Field & Co. used it to promote Christmas shopping. Beautiful.

      • 35 Laura October 8, 2012 at 10:02 am

        If you can believe it, my sister stll has an original Astrolite box (maybe some of you recall that toy) with Matt’s picture on it. He was shown intently building a fabulous structure of some sort!

  26. 36 Judith Jehorek Kinnavy October 10, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I found this tribute to Matt incredibly moving. Mary Weberg had texted me that she had heard Matt Klir on Colorado Public Radio yesterday. I hoped against hope that the news of his death years ago was somehow incorrect. When I googled Matt, this story came up and, sadly, my fears were confirmed.
    I just shared your blog on Facebook. What memories! Matt was my “co-editeur” (as he would say) on Collage, York’s creative writing mag. He would come in to our classroom for an editorial meeting & start playing spontaneously off the top of his head. God, such an enthusiasm for life! And I loved those Elton John parties. I dressed as a “Painted Lady.”
    So many familiar names from long ago as I read these replies…
    Would love together back in touch with Keith Rost-do you have his contact info?
    A real tribute to Matt that he impacted the lives of so many…

  27. 38 Adara Servicios Integrales, S.C. January 14, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    S�lo desear deseo de decir que su art�culo es tan sorprendente . La claridad a tu post est� simplemente excelente y que yo puedo que eres un profesional conocimiento en este . Fine con su dejar que me a apoderarse Feed a quedarse mantener al d�a por inminentes puesto. Gracias 1000000 de gratificante .


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