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Reflecting on 50 Years With the Same Man

Reflecting on 50 Years With the Same Man

How Two Gay Men Made It to Their 50th Anniversary

Writer and singer Tony Cointreau basks in his golden anniversary with husband Jim Russo.

Three days before Halloween in 1966, I went to the studio of Phil Moore, a famous orchestrator, to pick up some new arrangements I would need for the opening of my singing engagement at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.

As I stood outside his front door, he handed me the music, and at the same time introduced me to a man he was working with -- a man who was then doing promotion for Capital Records. I couldn't see this gentleman, because he was standing in a dark hallway, and when I heard the words, "Tony, this is Jim," Jim simply replied, "Hello."

The moment I heard that one word from Jim's lips, I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with him.

Three nights later, I attended a Halloween party that Phil and his wife, Lisa, were giving. I was quite excited because I knew I would finally meet the man who had seduced me totally with that one word, "Hello."

The young man's name was Jim Russo. He arrived with a beautiful young actress friend, Ronda Copeland, and meeting him in the flesh was not a disappointment. He was all I could have hoped for.

We saw each other a few times before I left for my nightclub engagement in Miami. I arrived at the hotel the night before my opening with a fever of 102, which the hotel doctor immediately took care of with a shot of penicillin and a shot of vitamin B-12.

As I lay in my bed that evening, there was a knock on the door. When I got up to answer it, I found Jim Russo, who had come to surprise me for my opening night. If anything was going to make me feel better, it was seeing the man I knew I would love forever standing at my door.

From that day forward, Jim worked with me on my singing engagements throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. It was an exciting time for us both, as he helped put together my shows and made sure I was dressed properly and my hair was perfect before I went out on stage. I used to refer to him as "Mama Rose," the iconic stage mother from the musical Gypsy. And he was always right.


In 2008, Jim and I decided, a few days before Proposition 8 was passed, to get married at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. At the entrance to the hotel that evening was a sign that said, "Tony and Jim -- 42 years -- It's about time!" Forty-six friends, the tapestry of our lives, came from around the world to celebrate with us. What a beautiful testimony it was to our love and life together!

In 2013, I had a life-threatening operation. Later on, in 2014, after I had recovered, we decided to get married again in New York State, where we live. It was a simple ceremony at Marble Collegiate Church, with our two dear friends Mark and Glynnis Snow as witnesses.

Jim's beautiful vows sum up our life together for 50 years:

September 13, 2013, was the worst day of my life. It was the day I thought I might lose you. Also, the week before--when you were in the hospital--was a nightmare.

You and I had been together for 47 years, for almost 24 hours a day, and to go home alone was unimaginable. There was no talking, no sharing, no making plans for the future, no quietly just being together; most of all, no laughter. In other words, there was -- NOTHING.

And looking back, the whole experience was absolutely a blessing, because it made me appreciate and love you more than ever. If I thought I loved you before, and I did, it is nothing in comparison to my love for you now. Every day I will thank God and be grateful for the gift of time we've been given to renew our beautiful journey.

My vows were quite different: I went to the piano and played and sang, "Can I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?"

The secret to our 50 years together is really very simple -- unconditional love.

TONY COINTREAU is a scion of the liquor company and a former singer, who was befriended by women like Ethel Merman and Lee Lehman. For 12 years, Cointreau worked with Mother Teresa and her New York City AIDS hospice, A Gift of Love. He details his life in his forthcoming memoir, A Gift of Love.
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