Obituaries: William Lonon Smith

  • Wednesday October 4, 2023
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William Lonon Smith
William Lonon Smith

November 4, 1947 — September 23, 2023

Everyone seemed to know William Smith, a gay man who was a well-known joyous presence attending cultural events for decades in the Bay Area. He passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of September 23, 2023, following a lengthy struggle with kidney disease and heart failure. He was 75.

Countless artists and patrons of performing arts institutions would recognize him from his ubiquitous attendance at live performances and film festivals, whether or not they engaged in conversation with him.

William had an encyclopedic knowledge of the visual arts, musicals, opera, classical and contemporary music, dance, and theater. He wrote his dissertation at the University of Utah on the work of Bob Fosse and wrote reviews in the early 1980s for the Advocate. But his incisive understanding of the arts never intruded on his sweet nature and the support he unsparingly offered to artists.

Friendships with Mark Thompson, Harry Hay, and the Radical Faeries for a time led to him appearing in the James Broughton/Joel Singer film "Devotions." In 2014, Edward Guthmann wrote a delightful profile of William for the San Francisco Chronicle titled "For Nonstop Arts Fanatic, The Show Always Goes On."

True to his individualistic, iconoclastic nature, William never acquired a cellphone or a computer. He always favored unmediated direct human contact.

William was predeceased by his parents Earl and Elizabeth (née Smith). His closest surviving family members are cousins Ramona Phillips and Lonon F. Smith. Like so many others in the LGBTQ+ community, William was closest to his chosen family, including friends Alan, Julie, Arthur, Larry, Paul, Cass, and many other "Sweet Peas."

His enduring friendship over 43 years with Alan Oakley led many to erroneously assume they were "a couple." Alan recounts, "When William joined me for one of my Hawaii tours, the gay male flight attendant on the flight to Honolulu assumed we were a couple and gave us a bottle of champagne. Very sweet."

But, not only does William leave behind many, many grieving friends with whom he built decades-long relationships, but also many friends of a single night, who sat beside him at a play or concert, fell under his spell, and will long remember his kindness, his charm, and the brilliance of his smile.

His friend Larry Brinkin recalls, "I was always amused that anytime I was with him in public, especially at a film or performance, everyone seemed to know him."

Plans for a celebration of William's life have yet to be announced.

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