Robby Browne, a Manhattan real estate agent, philanthropist, and advocate for many LGBTQ causes, has died of COVID-19 complications.
Browne, a broker with the Corcoran Group, died Saturday, according to The Real Deal, a New York real estate publication. He was in his 70s. He had had cancer for several years, but the coronavirus was the immediate cause of death, sources told the publication.
Browne, who was gay, generated millions of dollars for LGBTQ and HIV organizations through fundraising and his own donations, according to GLAAD. These included Gay Men’s Health Crisis, SAGE, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and God’s Love We Deliver. He also served on GLAAD’s board of directors.
His annual holiday season Toys Party brought a variety of people together to donate toys to needy children and raise money for SAGE. “I knew that so many of us had love in our hearts and wanted to have a family in the traditional way but were dealt different cards in that we were gay,” he once said. “I remember so well the joy in people’s eyes greeting me as the host and showing me what toy they had gotten and what it meant to them.” Celebrities who attended the party over the years included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Don Lemon, and Mariska Hargitay.
Browne was out and proud, and he helped others achieve that status, according to GLAAD. “In 1994, Browne helped friend and Olympic diver Greg Louganis publicly come out during the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games IV in New York,” notes a GLAAD blog post. “That year, Browne also went on to medal in his own diving division during the Gay Games. A kiss between him and his friend Louganis became one of the first gay kisses to air on mainstream news.”
In 2007, he accepted Corcoran’s Broker of the Year Award dressed in a women’s swimsuit and dancing to the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” He said he was doing so to honor his gay brother Roscoe, who died of AIDS complications, and the many friends he had lost to AIDS.
Browne had many celebrity clients, including Hilary Swank, Uma Thurman, Rosie O’Donnell, and Jon Bon Jovi. He also had many well-known friends, some of whom have shared memories of him.
“Robby was a father figure, a big brother, a socialite, a philanthropist, an LGBTQ advocate, a true character, and a friend,” Lemon said Sunday night on his CNN show. “He always wore a smile. He fought cancer for years. Unfortunately, though, it was coronavirus that was too much for him to take on, and now at least he is free from pain. Thank you, Robby, for everything. The world probably should have known you much sooner than your death.”
Lemon also shared a remembrance on Instagram.
Activist David Mixner, in a Facebook post, called Browne “the epitome of joy in action,” noting, “We shared a friendship based on a mutual history of friends, struggle and service to the LGBTQ community and the arts.” He added, “Our mutual struggle with health issues often made us closer and we both said to each other we didn’t mind dying on God’s time but resented that we might have to die on Trump’s Time. Much love to you my dear friend.”
Publicist Howard Bragman posted on Facebook, “#RIP You loving, generous, wonderful exuberant, crazy man. We are lesser with you gone.” And Hetrick-Martin and playwright Paul Rudnick were among the many tweeting in his honor.