It’s not easy to pin down the actor Michael Kearns, 63, when asked how he’d like to be identified. “Goddess. Legend. Icon. I’m kidding. Or am I? I like entertainer, but I suppose I’d say artist-activist is most accurate.” Indeed, having spent some 40 years as Hollywood’s first openly gay actor, Kearns isan icon of sorts. And a busy one. He’s written his autobiography—The Truth Is Bad Enough. What Became of the Happy Hustler?—performs his one-man show around the country, teaches, and appears at gay pride parades, LGBT benefits, awards shows and other events. (He even found time to do this interview with RainbowGray, via email.) Besides acting, Kearns has been a long-time AIDS and human rights activist. His most joyful work, though, is being father to his adopted daughter, Katherine (Tia).
Rainbow Gray: You came out publicly on Tom Synder’s The Tomorrow Show in the mid-1970s as the so-called ‘author’ of the book The Happy Hustler. Since then, you’ve been known as Hollywood’s first openly gay actor. Is that how you want to be remembered?
Michael Kearns: I’d rather be remembered as a fighter for human rights because that encompasses all of it, including adopting my daughter. I was going to say I’d like to be remembered for my talent but that’s so self-involved of me. I came out publicly; I did some really edgy and honored work; I became a dad. All that falls under the ‘fighter of human rights’ banner.
RG: When you came out, homophobia was rampant in Hollywood, and some its major male stars were closeted, although it was well known in the industry at the time that they were gay. Is it truly different today? Or is Hollywood still homophobic even though a bunch of big stars are openly gay and, seemingly, doing very well in their careers?
MK: It’s still homophobic. Think John Travolta, Kevin Spacey. It bores me. I suppose it’s less homophobic [today] in Hollywood but the closet still exists. I grow weary of the ones who come out with a million dollars in the bank. What’s at stake? Coming out is courageous when there are stakes.