Steve J Spears 1951-2007. An Excellent Obit.
I first met Steve at an Adelaide Uni Footlights pre-revue party. Steve was driving the Centralia Hotel’s ute – his Mum, Marcene, worked at the pub as did Steve on occasions, and he was wearing a suit. It was a pretty spiffy number as I remember – light brown and with flares. I can’t remember him wearing a suit ever again.
Before Footlights and law at Adelaide, Steve had been a day student at Rostrevor College in Adelaide where he was, I’m told, a brilliant student, a good runner and the life of the class. His experiences at Rostrevor however, left him with a hatred of the church and the Christian Brothers.
Steve’s parents separated when Steve and his older brother Max were quite young. For most of his early life he lived with his Aunty Kath and Uncle Lou in a small, brick bungalow near the corner of South Road and Henley Beach Road, Mile End, one of Adelaide’s busiest intersections. It wasn’t until Steve was in his late 20’s that he discovered that Aunty Kath was in fact his grandmother- that Marcene was Kath’s daughter not, as he had previously thought, her sister.
Steve was an instantaneous star in the Uni Revues. His aggressive, vigorous humour, his timing and his musicality all added to an extraordinary charisma. His early success led him to drop out of Law School after 4 years. He found it boring and the bright lights of show biz beckoned. An Adelaide sex-shop proprietor commissioned Steve to write a musical and “Stud” resulted. Outrage from the religious right ensured it had some success but when the theatre mysteriously burnt down the season was curtailed. He went to Melbourne and bummed around until writing “Africa – a Savage Musical” for the Pram Factory and he was soon back on stage again.
At the age of only 23, Steve wrote “The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin”. It went on to become, arguably, the most successful Australian play ever written, winning awards on the West End in London and Off Broadway and of course pretty much scooping the pool of writing and theatre awards in Australia.
After the overwhelming success of Elocution, Steve did, I think, struggle to know where to turn next. In Sydney, he became a regular writer on a number of TV series. He loved writing ‘trashy’ shows like “E Street” and was a regular on “A Country Practice” but famously complained that the show had too many trees and not enough cunts. But it was in children’s TV that his talent shone. Steve loved the freedom that came with kid’s material and he was also, in many ways, child-like himself. He wrote “The Big Wish” and “Mr Edmund” for the ACTF’s Winners series and followed these with “The Greatest Tune On Earth” and “The Genie From Down Under”.
When Marcene was dying of cancer (she was only 58), Steve made a documentary “My Mummy Is Dying” and advocated euthanasia. He was very close to his mother and was devastated by her death.
He became disillusioned with writing for TV. He was never a patient person; his talent was as prodigious as his self-confidence and he tired of what he saw as the compromises and frustrations that seemed inevitably to be involved . A number of projects that he invested a lot of time in failed to get off the ground. Even a film version of “Benjamin”, despite the play’s success, didn’t make it.
After 20 years living in Kings Cross Steve became restless. I think he was having trouble mentally with being alone, with depression and with a declining income. He moved to Umina on the mid north coast of NSW into a low-rent flat on the beach and while he was there wrote one of his best pieces, “The Girl Next Door” for the Good Weekend.
He visited Adelaide for Xmas in 2001 and realised that this was really ‘home’ and where many of his friends were. He moved back, bought a cabin on the Esplanade at Aldinga (that he renamed Aldingie) and started writing crime novels and contributing to The Adelaide Review. Then came the sad news about 18 months ago that he had lung cancer (after which he signed his emails as “Bravelung”) which, despite aggressive treatment, spread to his brain early this year.
So now, Steve has gone, at 56. Much too early for a flame of his brightness to be extinguished. He is back in the universe but he’s left much for us to remember him by.
He had hoped for…
A Deaf like Keef’s. SJS Poem:
‘Let me not die alone in the dark.
Let me be Keith Richards
and fall off a coconut tree
and have holes drilled into my head
and die onstage of too much applause,
with extravagant lighting
and excellent obits.’
The coconut tree didn’t happen but he didn’t die alone, there were some excellent obits and the applause at his funeral was loud and sustained.
- Rob George.