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SF Gay Men's Chorus singer dies on stage

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Ryan Nunez
Ryan Nunez  

Friends are recalling a singer with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus who died on stage Friday night as a loving man who cherished his work with the group.

Ryan Nunez, 39, "collapsed on the risers during intermission" of the chorus' March 31 "Paradise Found" performance at the Herbst Theatre, according to a Facebook post by Tim Seelig, the chorus' artistic director.

"After an hour of CPR, administered mostly by chorus brothers, [he] was pronounced dead by paramedics. ... He died on the spot where he had sung the first half," Seelig said, adding, "I have not experienced such shock or soul-shattering grief as that. Ever."

According to people present Friday, the rest of that night's show was canceled.

In addition to singing with the chorus, Mr. Nunez was also the organization's administrative coordinator.

"He was our voice to the world," Seelig said. "Filled with humor and huge hugs for all â€" he just took care of everyone â€" first. ... No one loved SFGMC more than Ryan. The chorus literally changed his life â€" as knowing him changed all of ours."

In an email exchange with the Bay Area Reporter, Seelig said, "His was a life well lived. Countless people find themselves better off â€" far better off â€" for having known and been loved by one Ryan Nunez."

Seelig recalled choir rehearsals, which are supposed to be "an orderly thing. The conductor gives directions. The singers follow the instructions." Unless you were Mr. Nunez.

"In that case, you feel that it is incumbent on you to keep a running commentary going from your seat in the lower baritone section," Seelig said. "Sometimes the commentary was just for those around him â€" whom he kept in stitches â€" but often he provided his retorts loud enough for all 250+ at any given rehearsal to hear. They were all timed perfectly and would disrupt the flow of the rehearsal deliciously."

Larry Nelson, a friend of Mr. Nunez's, said in a Facebook post, "He viewed his music and participation in the chorus as a supreme healing power. ... Ryan loved the chorus and they loved him deeply."

Nelson recalled that when Mr. Nunez found out that he'd been accepted to the chorus, "he wept and told me he 'had gone from 3 friends to 300.'"

Addressing his departed friend, Nelson said, "Ryan, you would also often say to us when it looked like we were going off the deep end, 'I'll give you a minute Giiiirrrrlll!' ... "How I wish and will for the rest of my days for just one more minute with you."

In a phone interview, Nelson referred to the number of people who have expressed grief over Mr. Nunez's death. He choked up as he recalled that Mr. Nunez "once told me he was afraid that he wouldn't make an impact. ... He was afraid that people would not remember him. Now look."

Photos taken Friday night show Mr. Nunez happily singing in the back row of the chorus. Nunez also appears this week in photos taken a couple of weeks ago for the Bay Area Reporter's 2017 Besties readers' poll winners. The chorus was named best choral group.

A spokesman for the medical examiner's office didn't respond to a request for information about the cause of Mr. Nunez's death.

A Gofundme campaign to help with Mr. Nunez's funeral expenses had raised more than $22,000 by Tuesday, exceeding its $20,000 goal.

Funds that remain after expenses are covered will go to the chorus' financial assistance network, which provides scholarships to singers.

"Ryan loved his work with the chorus and most specifically as administrator of FAN," the campaign summary says.

The campaign is at https://www.gofundme.com/phnwgg-ryan-nunez-funeral-expenses.

 

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