Many in Washington’s gay community are reeling from the death of Peter Fox, a well-liked local singer who died Monday after a short battle with central nervous system lymphoma. A funeral is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. at Foundry United Methodist Church for the 45-year-old musician.
The Pompton Plains, N.J., native studied business and music at Pennsylvania State University and had been in Washington more than a decade where he’d worked several jobs. He loved driving trucks and was a motorcycle enthusiast. He worked full time as director of credentialing at the American Academy of HIV Medicine and in recent years had pursued a singing career that found him releasing an eponymous album, giving local performances at the Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre and more, and making charitable appearances for local gay causes. He was also a long-time member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and sang in its Potomac Fever ensemble.
MORE IN THE BLADE: DC SINGER PETER FOX SUCCUMBS TO CANCER
Though his parents both preceded him in death, Fox is survived by three brothers and a sister. He had a good relationship with his family and attested to it in a Blade Pride-related coming out story he participated in last June.
“‘Wow, what’s that like,’ exclaimed my mom when I came out to her (and the rest of my family) in my early 20s,” Fox wrote. “Just the nature of her question to me describes their love for me and their trust that I am exactly who I am meant to be. I just don’t think my clan was genetically wired to feel as though I or they had done anything ‘wrong.’” (Read the full essay here.)
At his cabaret act “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken” as part of Signature’s Sizzling Summer Cabaret series last summer, one of Fox’s brothers was present and Fox told a story of taking their (straight) father to a Pittsburgh gay bar. Fox was surprised to find his father getting cozy with a bear at the bar.
“I was like, ‘Dad, are you OK?,’” Fox said. “He said, ‘Go away, this guy is buying me drinks.’”
Fox’s last performance was at an album release party for his friend, fellow musician Tom Nichols in November. He’d been feeling dizzy for several weeks and though an initial battery of tests revealed nothing, a second round found him immediately admitted to the hospital. After one round of chemotherapy, doctors told Fox nothing further could be done.
Family and friends declined to elaborate on his illness but said he kept his trademark positive outlook to the end. His siblings and closest friend Antonio Casanez — a former lover who came from Australia to be with him in his final weeks — were with him when he died just after midnight Monday.
“He was total Peter Fox to the end,” Nichols says. “Like many people, I considered him extended family. We were extremely close and had done lots and lots of musical projects together. I produced his first album … he had a one-in-a-million voice.”
Fox and Nichols were roommates for about three years before Fox bought his own place in Southwest Washington. Nichols remembers him as a motorcycle enthusiast and a great roommate.
“He was a true artist,” Nichols said of his friend. “He had a unique ability to make every single person he encountered feel like they were the only person in the room.”
Many other friends remembered Fox fondly this week and peppered his Facebook page with tributes. The Blade was in touch with two of Fox’s brothers — Jake and Joe — but both said they were too grief stricken and busy with funeral arrangements to talk at length. They said they’d talk further about their late brother at another time.
“My family and I very much appreciate everyone’s interest in our brother Peter,” Jake Fox wrote in an e-mail.
“It’s very hard to even describe what he’s been in my life,” Casanez says. “So incredible and uplifting. “It’s just very hard to imagine not being in touch with him on a day-to-day basis.”
Jody Manor was also one of Fox’s closest friends and the two spent many days and nights on motorcycle adventures together, even at one point a few years ago going into a cycle-related business together before Fox opted to plunge full steam ahead in music. Manor is glad Fox realized his dream recently of buying a new BMW motorcycle, which he says his late friend was “completely obsessed over.”
“Peter was a rare and beautiful soul,” Manor says. “I’ve been re-reading old e-mails the last few days trying to get ready to speak at the service Friday. He was incredibly wise and a great listener and an incredibly compassionate person. He was definitely a real person and full of foibles just like everybody. He had a strong personality. But he is going to be terribly missed. This has left a huge hole for so many people. There’s something about riding long distances together in the desert. You talk about things and, I don’t know, you just really get to know somebody and he was such a beautiful, beautiful spirit.”
Results owner Doug Jeffries, who’s hosting a tribute event for Fox Friday at his Stroga business (1808 Adams Mill Road, N.W.) just after the Foundry service, knew Fox from his years of working out at Results.
“He was one of the sweetest men, just one of the sweetest, most considerate people I’ve ever met,” Jeffries says. “I never heard a bad word about him, not once … his loss is going to be felt around the city for quite some time. You could not find a better man and it really makes you wonder why it was him instead of yourself. He was just so incredibly kind, so universally liked and admired and I don’t even have to tell you how stunningly beautiful the man was. You wonder how and why this would happen. It’s so hard to wrap your head and thoughts around.”
Daren Phillips guesses he knew Fox for about 15 years having also met him at Results on U Street where Vida is now.
“Peter was so sweet and genuine,” Phillips says. “We didn’t hang out all the time but he was the kind of person, you know, even if you didn’t hang out with him all the time, you just loved him and he just brightened up your day.”
Phillips says Fox’s guileless demeanor was refreshing in a jaded town like Washington.
“I’m not trying to be mean because I really love D.C., but many times in a city that is so cynical about a lot of different things, you know with the nature of politics and stuff in D.C., then you run into people every once in a while who just aren’t caught up in any of that. They love life and they love people and of all the many, many people I’ve known in D.C. over the years, Peter was probably the number one person who was like that and it was so refreshing … and I think if you talked to another hundred people who knew him, they would say the same thing.”
Musically, Fox favored jazzy standards and inspirational originals. He and a small combo worked through hits like “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Lean On Me” during his Signature show last summer. He closed with the Carpenters’ “Sometimes” and dedicated it to his family and friends. A Blade review called it “sweet, appropriate, tender and (lacking) even a whiff of irony … Fox is an anachronism in the best sense of the word.”
Manor said music was Fox’s dream and it was definitely a conscious decision about five years ago for him to invest in it full throttle.
“That’s one of the main reasons we put the motorcycle business on hold,” he says. “Music was his first love and he wanted to make that his career and in the past few years he made enormous strides in that. He always kept his regular job, but his primary energy went into his music career.”
Fox dated some in the last few years but was single in recent months. Friends say his relationship with Casanez evolved over time and even when they were no longer romantically involved, the two talked daily and were, according to Nichols “soul mates.”
“I can’t think of anybody he lived with in the past few years, but oh yeah, Peter was popular,” Manor says with a chuckle. “But Antonio is really the keeper of the flame. Even when Antonio was living all over the world, they talked all the time.”
“I think they always kept a special place for each other in their hearts,” he says. “I think they knew it was never gonna work out for them to be partners but they were soul mates and as close as brothers.”
Though Jeffries had known Fox for years, he was taken aback the first time he heard him sing.
“I remember being at the Nationals Stadium and I was just absolutely blown away,” he says. “It really makes you appreciate life and appreciate every single day because nothing is guaranteed.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial gifts in Fox’s honor be made to the Icla Da Silva Foundation, the largest bone marrow recruiter for the National Marrow Registry.