"It's hard," says Victoria Leacock, 32, a Manhattan filmmaker who was Larson's lover when they were students at Long Island's Adelphi University and a close friend ever since. "I'm going to be celebrating with friends tonight, and he's not there, and it's all wrong."
During a six-week run at an East Village workshop, Rent, a rock-and-roll update of Puccini's La Bohème, earned dream reviews, with Newsday calling it "the first original breakthrough rock musical since Hair." Centered on a group of modern-day bohemians—some of them HIV-positive—in New York City, it was Larson's first big success, and the heartbreaking irony has left his friends stunned. Larson "was always the most talented guy around," says Leacock, "the most talented actor in his class and the most talented writer."
After Adelphi, Larson, on the advice of Stephen Sondheim, a mentor, concentrated on writing and composing. "Sondheim told him there were a lot more starving actors out there than starving composers," says Al Larson, 70, Jonathan's father, a retired business executive who lives with Jonathan's mother, Nanette, in New Mexico. Jonathan didn't starve, but it took him six years of waiting tables to write the musical that has become his memorial. "He had terrific friends and he loved the theater," says his father. "He should be here for this. He worked hard for it."