Vale James Waites: Lover of and fighter for the underdog, the glamour puss and all the quirky ratbags
James Waites 06.03.1955 – 12.02.2014
Today was a difficult day. The usual morning practicalities and logistics changed with a text message from my mentor and friend, and a voicemail message from a concerned stranger.
James Waites has passed away.
In the early hours of this morning, James went down to Coogee beach for his last swim.
James Waites was a lover.
Many knew his life through a string of reviews and articles about theatre. He was the first to be openly out as a gay writer for a mainstream newspaper.
Friend and confidant of Patrick White, contemporary of William Yang, friend to countless artists including Jim Sharman: James was ever-present at the start of so many luminaries careers, cheering on the underdog, the undiscovered the left of centre and the unusual.
He loved theatre – for the opportunity it gave to express and engage ideas and feelings. He loved artists and brave statements. And embraced them all with a huge amount of enthusiasm and love.
As his website states:
“James Waites loves are dogs and actors: “Both species are cute to pat, excel in performing wonderful tricks, and lick you all over for humble rewards like liver treats and pieces of cheese ” he observes.”
James Waites was a fighter.
He once told me that being a critic was “really a mix of parish priest and dentist” – and you had to be the bravest to stand up and applaud when everyone else was too scared to. He called a spade a spade – and got fired for it on more than one occasion. He would refuse to clap, exclaim something was “utter crap” if it lacked heart or empathy. He walked his talk. He was brave… early on nick-naming Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton “Glitter and Fluffy.”
He fought not only battles of the intellect and popular opinion, but physical battles. He had suffered great physical pain, living with a range of illnesses and chronic pain and recently diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease which would keep him up at night in fear and frailty. However, his battles were often put aside for others and he often pushed through to present at opening nights.
James Waites loved the underdog.
Look, he loved all dogs. But especially the underdog. His compassion knew no bounds, taking care of lost and stray pups from multiple walks of life… sometimes offering them shelter, food, what little money he had, comfort, perspective. And often this was not to his benefit. He was the first to “find” Paul Capsis and told me how as soon as he met him – he knew he’d be a star. He spotted Steve Peacocke in 2010 deeming him the next Hollywood hero (and yes that has also come to pass) – he had a genuine midas touch of finding talent and promoting it in his wry and cheeky way.
James Waites kept company with Australia’s best and brightest.
On the table in his dining room was a folder of photos for me to scour through. Photos and postcards of him at dinner, on couches, in foyers with Australia’s best and brightest… Everyone knew James. James knew and loved everyone. Even if there were a few overly colourful stories or cheeky secrets of misbehaviour amongst his peers, friends and colleagues, James loved them all. And loved them especially for their flaws.
James Waites was a romantic.
He’d love love stories. He loved romance. Cuddles from handsome men. Sweet words. He didn’t understand why so much sex in Australian theatre seemed so mechanical and forced and unromantic.
I loved James Waites.
He was more than a critic to me.
He was more than a mentor. More than a friend.
James was also my family. I am the keeper of his history, and I’ll be arranging his memorial in the next few days.
He likened us to Grotowskian wolves howling to each other in the darkness. At 2am or 6am or 1pm whenever – I’d stop to answer his call. He’d stop to answer mine. We spoke, texted or wrote to each other daily in the last 2 years of his life.
We were collaborators. I read all his reviews and edited made suggestions – for the Australian Book Review, his essay for Belvoir’s 25th Anniversary Book. His Currency House Platform paper: Whatever Happened to the STC Actor’s Company. He’d read me, give me notes… tell me when I was on track… or too soft. He introduced me to everyone.
People he loved, artists he admired. The arts was his life. His community meant everything to him.
Though he couldn’t write often due to his energy levels and the side effects of medication and his Parkinsons… but a facebook post attracting comment and likes from his community would inspire him for days.
Thank you to all those who have called and messaged, texted and contacted me. It’s a sad day for us as we have lost a gentleman, a lover, a parish priest, a dentist, a thinker and one of the worlds most generous humans.
Whilst I begin with the paper and preparations – tying up loose ends and getting things in order – I am reminded through the flood of love, well wishes, offers to assist, offerings of condolences and deed-doing… what a truly remarkable community James gathered around him – full of loving generous, adventurous, compassionate souls. How proud he is, was and would be of how we have come together in this sad moment.
And I will miss him.
Forever. More than anyone will know, and more than I can fathom right now.
As I left Maggie Blinco’s house today, she reminded me of a story that summed James up. Last Christmas she was walking with him and they passed a drunk man on the street who was lying in full Summer sun. James, with little strength and coordination picked up the man, moved him into the shade. The man fell back asleep not knowing that a stranger had helped him.
I thank James for all he has done, to make sure I was sheltered. I already miss his shelter and the comfort of knowing he’s there.
Details of a memorial service will be announced on Friday 21st February 2014 at http://jameswaites.com/ . The memorial will be open to all who loved him, all he loved and those who respected and revered this irreverent, energetic, larrikin statesman of Arts and Culture.