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Former Examiner arts critic David Bonetti dies

by Cynthia Laird

David Bonetti. Photo: Courtesy Amanda Doenitz
David Bonetti. Photo: Courtesy Amanda Doenitz  

David Bonetti, a gay man and former longtime arts critic for the old San Francisco Examiner newspaper, died Wednesday, April 4, in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was 70.

Mr. Bonetti was found in a chair in his apartment, where he'd been listening to music, his younger brother, Gary Bonetti, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview.

His brother said that an exact cause of death had not been determined.

"He lived alone. They were trying to check fire alarm equipment," Bonetti said, adding that building personnel entered the apartment after receiving no response. "He looked peaceful."

Mr. Bonetti had a wide circle of friends in the Bay Area, and visited here every spring. In fact, he had just been in San Francisco last month.

"I was lucky enough to see David on his recent trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles," B.A.R. arts editor Roberto Friedman said. "My partner, George, and I took him to see 'The Death of Stalin,' then to the Pilsner for his beloved martini. He was, as usual, fun, vivacious, full of stories and wisdom. Still can't believe he's gone. On top of everything, David Bonetti had a real talent for friendship."

Gerard Koskovich, a queer historian, said in a Facebook tribute that he met Mr. Bonetti in 1989, shortly after he started work at the Examiner.

"He gave particular attention to queer cultural institutions and queer artists, whose work he took seriously," Koskovich wrote.

Eventually, as the local newspaper profession was downsizing, and after the San Francisco Chronicle bought the Examiner, Mr. Bonetti took a buyout and moved to St. Louis, where he served for seven years as a critic at the Post-Dispatch.

He later took another buyout and moved back to the Boston area. His brother said that Mr. Bonetti had recently been doing freelance work, including as an opera critic for Berkshire Fine Arts, an online publication.

"It is likely that, before or since, Boston has never had a more provocative opera writer," Charles Giuliano wrote in an obituary on that site. "His reviews often included references to performances in San Francisco and gleaned from his trips to Italy. While not an expert or specialist in classical music few could match the richness and color of the writing."

His brother said that being a critic was the "perfect job" for Mr. Bonetti.

"He was a good-humored guy and enjoyed living life fully," Bonetti said. "He was very focused on his work and didn't suffer fools gladly. You better know what you were talking about."

Mr. Bonetti was born April 28, 1947 in Milford, Massachusetts. He went to college at Brandeis University, where he graduated in 1969.

His brother said that he wasn't sure when Mr. Bonetti came out as gay, and that while they weren't close, "we were by no means estranged." He said that Mr. Bonetti was close to his nephews, Andrew and Michael.

In addition to writing, Mr. Bonetti loved to travel, his brother said, and would frequently talk to his nephew Andrew, who also likes to travel.

"He'd been to Italy 12 times over the course of his life," Bonetti said of his brother.

In addition to his brother and nephews, Mr. Bonetti is survived by his sister-in-law, Paula Bonetti.

Bonetti said that memorial arrangements have not yet been made. Mr. Bonetti's West Coast friends are likely to have a celebration of his life.

Bonetti said that in the days since his brother's passing, he has read a lot about him.

"He made quite an impact," he said.

Contact the reporter at c.laird@ebar.com.

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