Brad Davis, 41, Star of ‘Midnight Express,’ Dies
Actor Brad Davis, the all-American boy who starred as Billy Hayes in the film “Midnight Express” and originated the role of Ned Weeks in the play “The Normal Heart,” died Sunday at his home in Studio City.
Davis was 41 and died of AIDS-related complications, said his wife, free-lance casting director Susan Bluestein.
Bluestein said the couple learned that Davis was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus in 1985 but, fearing discrimination, kept his condition a secret so he could continue to work as an actor.
“The Hollywood community may deny it. They will say he could have worked. All I know is that my husband was frightened, and that he wanted to be able to keep putting food on our table for his family,” Bluestein said.
She said Davis had decided to go public about his illness about a month ago but was prevented from doing so by his deteriorating physical condition. Bluestein and the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Alexandra, have both been tested and been found to be free of HIV.
“I promised my husband I would come forward to help other families who are living with the secrecy and the fear,” she said in an interview. “He did not want to be one more faceless person.”
She added that Davis, who drank heavily and used intravenous drugs until he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1981, apparently contracted the virus from drug use. “He had a couple of experiences of sharing needles with people who later died of AIDS,” she said.
Ironically, Davis’ two most celebrated roles were as a drug smuggler suffering the hell of a Turkish prison in “Midnight Express” and as the lover of a man dying of AIDS in “The Normal Heart.”
“He brought fury and overwhelming love to the role of Ned,” said playwright Larry Kramer, author of “The Normal Heart.” “He was also one of the first straight actors with the guts to play gay roles,” Kramer added.
Davis also played a young, gay sailor in German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1982 “Querelle.”
John Erman, who directed Davis in “When the Time Comes,” a film about assisted suicide, said: “He was a consummate professional but also had this little-boy quality that came through in his work.”
Davis was born in Tallahassee, Fla., grew up in Titusville and moved to New York City at 18, spending two years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before studying with noted acting teacher Wynn Handman.
“He belonged in the front ranks of actors,” said Handman, who has taught Richard Gere, Christopher Walken, James Caan and Raul Julia. “He was not only dedicated but naturally gifted.”
Those who knew him said Davis’ career suffered after his triumph in “Midnight Express” because of his drug addiction. “He was young and wild and success came fast. He couldn’t handle it,” his wife said.
Their 20-year relationship--they were married 15 years ago--survived the strain and grew stronger after Davis became sober and more spiritual, she said.
Davis was also featured in such films as “A Small Circle of Friends,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Heart,” “Cold Steel” and “Rosalie Goes Shopping.”
On television he was seen in “Walt Whitman,” “Sybil,” “Roots,” “Robert Kennedy and His Times,” “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” “Unspeakable Acts” and “The Plot to Kill Hitler.”
On stage he appeared in “The Elusive Angel” and “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his parents and a brother. Funeral services will be private.