Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died the same day a new documentary about his life and legacy opened in New York.
“Koch,” which will open in Southern California theaters beginning March 1, offers evidence that the combative mayor had mellowed little in his later years. Filmmaker Neil Barsky conducted extensive interviews with Koch in his Manhattan apartment in 2010 and early 2011, where the former mayor, who ruled New York from 1978 to 1989, spoke of his controversial time in office, offering no restrictions on subject matter or time.
“He was living the life that any 86-year-old would envy,” Barsky says of Koch, who was 88 when he died. “He was out on the street, campaigning for obscure Democratic Assembly candidates, going up to Albany, having spirited political debates with his family over the dinner table. He remained a very funny, in-your-face kind of guy who loved to battle.”
A highlight of Barsky’s movie comes on the 2010 election night when Andrew Cuomo won the New York gubernatorial race. Koch is seen surrounded by adoring well-wishers, but, at evening’s end, goes home alone.
Koch never married and was hounded throughout his life by rumors that he was gay. He refused to comment on his personal life, telling New York magazine in 1998 that “there have to be some private matters left.”
“You definitely understood the price for being in the public eye,” Barsky says. “The price for him was that he did not have a lifelong companion.”
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“Koch” was the latest and, now, last of the former mayor’s extensive media appearances. Koch found his way into more than 60 movies and television shows, including “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Sex and the City,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Spin City.” He served as a judge on “The People’s Court” from 1997-99. His passion for film manifested itself in a different way when, in the summer of 2009, Koch began shooting movie review segments for a weekly web video show called “Mayor at the Movies.”
“He would never hesitate to say what was on his mind,” Barsky says. “And that mind stayed crystal-clear even as he knew his body was going.”