The Ice King (2018) Script

MUSIC: Afternoon Of A Fawn by Claude Debussy

The life of a competitive figure skater is like a monk.

When there's ice, you go and you skate on it, 11 o'clock at night, 12 o'clock at night, one o'clock at night.

There is no opportunity for friends and family.

If you fall, nobody's going to pick you up.

It's only you.

You live, breathe, and die alone.

Our castaway this week is the best skater in the world, and his name is John Curry.

I wanted to be a dancer.

I was allowed to ice skate.

Because it was a sport, they thought it was OK.

John was the first one to really merge this deep expressiveness of dance with the athletic virtuosity of skating.

in a different way.

He was breaking ground as an artist and as a star athlete.

He said, "Whatever greatness you think I have, "there are demons of equal value that are inside of my soul."


Summer 1971, John appears on our doorstep.

All he had were his skates and his talent.

He needed a place to stay, rent-free, and my mother often opened our house to skaters.

He was very shy at first.

It took him a long time to open up.

All of a sudden, he just started to click with all of us.

And most importantly, he clicked with my mother.

I think the really amazing thing is that he shared with my mother that he wanted to not just be a competitive skater and go for the Olympics, but that he had a vision beyond that, which was to create a theatre of skating and a dance company.

She believed in him in a way that no-one else did at that time.

Dear Nancy. It seems more like five weeks than five days since I left you in the enchanted city.

My heart aches for New York.

In a strange way, I feel that England has betrayed me.

I can't quite explain it, but as time goes by, perhaps I'll find the words.

They were like kindred artistic souls.

As soon as the competitive season was over, back to New York he would come, to kind of recharge and refuel.

I really think that he felt in our home a calm that he had not experienced growing up at all.


Well, I was first drawn to dancing and acting, and I asked if I could go to ballet classes.

I remember being taken into the sitting room and my mother saying, "Can I take John to ballet lessons?"

And my father getting quite cross and saying, "No, absolutely could not."

And that was the end of that. And it was never brought up again.

Richard Button of Philadelphia, who is North American and...

When I saw ice skating on the television a little later, I asked if I could go skating and I was told "yes."

Because ice skating is protected by the umbrella of sport.

..1947 World Championships and will represent us when the Olympic contestants gather from all parts of the world.

I remember very clearly the very first time I put a pair of skates on.

I had a teacher that held my hand.

I said, "Oh, no, you don't need to hold my hand. I can do this."

And I just skated off.

From then on, we used to take him twice a week, or I had, just as a hobby.

He was very interested and always wanted to skate a bit more than anybody else.

Just as a seven-year-old, I started to think of skating as being a dancing on the ice. I didn't think of it as anything else.

One Christmas time, I was given £5 to buy something for myself by my father. And I went and bought...

Don't ask me why I chose them, maybe it had to do with the covers of the records, but I chose Scheherazade, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake, none of which I'd ever heard before.

I was very, very pleased and excited by what I'd bought.

And I went to my father and showed him what I'd bought, and he was very disappointed. And he said, "Oh, dear.

"I thought you might buy something you'd keep."

I think John had a very difficult childhood because of his father.

And skating became the escape.

I was always pretty private as a child.

And the ice only made that easier for me, in a way.

It was my world where I could go and be free and alone.

To me, the music said exactly what it wanted me to do.

When I stopped looking like a little boy and started to look like a young man, then suddenly all the things that I had done up until then, absolutely with everyone's blessing, I was told I should stop doing.

I was told I shouldn't use my arms, I shouldn't do spirals, I shouldn't try and make everything look so effortless and graceful.

I was actually told not to be so graceful.

And I couldn't understand why.

And it was because they couldn't accept it from a young man, which they could from a child.

Men who choose to love other men are treated not only with intolerance and contempt, but prosecuted and jailed.

It's estimated that one man in 20 is a homosexual.

For many of us, this is revolting, men dancing with men.

Homosexuals in this country today break the law.

I can't imagine what John must have felt to have realised that you're different and that difference is something that is looked down upon with shame and loathing.

There may be some in this auditorium.

There may be some here today that will be homosexual in the future.

There may be some girls that will turn lesbian.

But it's serious. Don't kid yourselves about it.

So if any one of you have let yourself become involved with another boy, you better stop quick, because one out of three of you will turn queer.

The rest of your life will be a living hell.

I saw him in Prague.

I must have been about 16, 17.

And John was maybe a year younger.

I just saw him on the ice and I thought it was so natural, and so wonderful.

Beautiful arms, a great back, and the head up.

It was just perfect.

It was just so different to anyone else.

Two more minutes of this five-minute programme left...

I just went up to him and asked him, would he think that it's possible that I come and train at the same rink as he is in England?

And then he said, "Yeah."

I could come for a summer vacation.

I've asked John if I could live maybe with him.

Mrs Curry said yes.

I never knew that he was gay then.

That came later on when he lived in London.

Youth, the swinging youth, who have given staid and sober old London its recent swinging metaphor.

Out of the blue he said, "Oh, I fancy you."

I thought, "What does that mean?"

I soon found out.

I just hugged him and kissed him and that was when it started.

Yeah, I started to become in love with him.

John came home, put on music.

He danced and he choreographed in the living room.

I think he was also deeply in love.

Switzerland and London wasn't next door to one another.

We wrote to one another.

It was almost the daily thing to do.

Dear Heinz.

I guess it will be Saturday or maybe Friday when you receive this letter.

I always feel very lonely on Friday nights.

In the week, there is skating and work, but the weekend, I have time to think.

Thinking is the worst thing a person can do...!

I just want to hold you and feel your arms around me, just to feel you love me.

I think he was very often depressed.

Very often.

I got a job in a supermarket.

I was always absolutely stony broke.

I used to really worry most of the time about money rather than worrying about skating. It was very hard.

I trained at Richmond ice rink, which is a good ice rink, but is open to the public.

And there's just no way you can train in a public session with 300 or 400 people.

Everything was unpleasant, you know?

It just wasn't nice at all and I really got quite turned off to it.

Dear Heinz.

I'm sorry about my shaky writing, but I worked so hard this morning and I haven't stopped shaking yet.

I did figures from 6:15am to 7:45am, more figures 8:20am to 9:10am.

Then I free skating from 9:15am to 12:30pm.

I wanted to ask you if I could borrow some money.

I have very little left and I think Mr Gerschwiler may stop teaching me until I repay him.

I've had the most frightening dreams again.

I dream my father comes into the bedroom and wakes me up - and then I do wake up, I think, and I see him still there, but I think I'm still asleep and that I only dream I wake up.

I just know that his father was dead. He died somehow.

He didn't want to talk about it.

He just said he died in not very nice circumstances.

And that was the end of it.

His father's death had a big impact on him, even though the thought that it was a suicide was something that he had a very difficult time accepting.

There was a relief in a way that might horrify some people, but he was totally relieved.


We went out together sometimes in London.

Then he met other guys also.

Dear Heinz.

I don't know quite how to start, so...

My last letter came to you from London -

I'd been wandering about all day.

I went into the Colville and that is where I met Gilles.

I didn't think I'd get entangled because he's so good-looking.

I thought he must be able to have any boy he wanted.

But it hasn't worked out like that.

I'm living with him at weekends, and in August I'm moving in completely.

You must be very angry with me, and I cannot blame you.

I would like to have you always as my friend, but I have no right even to that.

I didn't take much notice then.

I just thought, "Oh, it's another one."

I much rather would have had him for myself.

I'm probably not the easiest person to befriend.

I'm being honest about that.

But I think real friends are very few and far between.

And I'm very lucky, I have a handful.

I knew that I was probably the most important for him, which has made it easier also for me.

The friendship with John was the most important thing in my life.

Dear Heinz. I've never been so miserable anywhere in my life.

There is not one thing I can say I like about the place.

Today, Mr G said, "You must not do that again. It is too..."

"Too what?" I said.

Then he said the music was not strong enough and I could do much better.

I am fed up of everything I do is "too soft" - he said, "You will skate like a man!"

I said, "I don't want to skate like any man I have ever seen!"

he was world champion about ten years ago.

He was noted for his high jumps and his extremely athletic style.

What we are going to do is you're going to see a piece of Donald Jackson's World Championship performance, and then I'm going to skate to the same piece of music, doing it the way I would like to do it now, using the whole body and trying to express the music.

MUSIC: Habanera by George Bizet

I wanted to skate better than anyone I had ever seen skate before, in a different way.

And I wanted to be able to convince people in general that skating had more to offer than was generally seen.

I knew that the only way I'd ever get to be able to do it was by winning the Olympics.

John Curry, a whirlwind of talent, is the stuff of which excellence is made.

He is Britain's best skater.

It's only by leaving Britain that John Curry has been able to make his talent shine.

Dear Heinz.

How clever of you to guess I'd be here!

The thermometer shows the temperature has gone up a couple - it's now 42 here at the KOA Weather Centre.

The last few months have been among the best of my life.

I've lived in great style in beautiful places, skating to my heart's content.

I don't really fully understand what brought me to the green pasture.

By rights I should be in very different circumstances.

The man who made it all lovely is a friendly, American millionaire who saw in John Curry a talent floundering in frustration.

It was a story out of Cinderella on Ice.

After the World Championships in Bratislava, a man walked up to me and said, "I have enjoyed your skating for the last three years.

"You given a great deal of pleasure and I'd like to help you."

I had the financial resources that are more than I myself think I'll need for the rest of my life, and I don't like to see people with real talent have to stop just for the want of money.

Suddenly, I could put all my energy into the skating.

I never, ever had to think about money again.

He gave Curry the money to buy what he needed most - freedom, time, ice...

..and the best coach in the world.

Down, up. OK.

The second one...

My husband was very hesitant taking him because he had heard many stories, you know, that he was difficult and so on.

Don't get upset for nothing, like sometimes you get it.

We honestly never had any problems.

As a matter of fact, we were good friends.

There. That's just lazy.

He knew what he wanted, but he had very bad figures and my husband was very famous Top-class skating is divided into two parts.

Figure skating, crisp circles, sliced into the ice in perfect symmetry.

The figures is demanding. It was very boring for many people.

For him, it wasn't boring.

It's like, you learn the piano, what do you have to learn first?

The scales, or whatever.

The second part is the interpretive freestyle, a strenuous marriage of technique and exuberant artistry.

John was known as a skater that was very talented, but he many times blew it at the last minute.

He was always quite inconsistent.

John always was nervous about the jumps.

In Munich, '74, he fell apart.

He skates around in a catatonic state.

We've all got problems.

If you don't have any problems, you aren't here.

I took a course at the Erhart Seminar Training, EST.

If you were not a success, in other words if you weren't filling your need for love and belongingness you wouldn't be here tonight.

You'd more likely be institutionalised.

I took it because there was absolutely no point in working hard for a year and going to the Olympics and being nervous about not performing my best.

They had to scream on top of their lungs and tell all of their insecurities in front of many, many people.

They had a certain thought process that they had to go through.

Life has changed totally.

That really helped him be able to focus and to not get nervous any more.

Before every performance, he had to go into a quiet little room and I would stay there behind watching that nobody would come in, and he would do his thinking through everything and then come out, completely, like, in the zone.

I had so geared myself to winning, I saw myself doing it all the time, in my mind's eye, I saw myself doing it.

Dear Nancy. Here we are in 1975.

'75 sounds like the end of the century to me.

I feel very happy with the progress I've made during 1974.

It's been a terrifically exciting year for me and the happiest of my life.

We're living in an age of such widespread uncertainty and darkness that I feel doubly lucky.

I owe so much to you and a few others.

Perhaps one day I'll create something so beautiful, the debt will be settled.

Now, then, you may remember that on Thursday I said I'd been meeting another John.

Today he's the new European men's silver medallist skating champion, John Curry. Many congratulations.

You've got your silver medal with you, if we can have a quick look.

Yes, I think it means, "He who deserves it gets it."

Well, you certainly deserved it.

And you seem very pleased with the marks that you got.

In fact, we can watch this again now, to see how you reacted.

John, what did you think of your chances over there, especially with the Russian skaters?

Well, I knew that I'd have to do very well in the school figures to have a chance, but I thought I'd be around...

Well, in the first three.

When there's unrest, the Reds have only one answer - a show of might.

When you get international, it isn't Bill versus Joe.

It's Britain versus East Germany or the Russian skaters.

Yes, it was very political.

The Russians always wanted to be on top.

If Curry's name was Gorinski or Grovkovski, or Koralev, he'd probably be world champion of the last two years.

You don't think the Russians can skate, for instance, do you, the males? I don't, no. What's wrong with them?

They are so crude, they're so unmusical, and they don't have... No quality.

It makes me so cross when they say the Russian skaters are so balletic, they are so wonderful, they're so trained.

I know the Russian skaters better than most, and I know how bad they are and I know that they won't take a ballet class.

I know all that side of it and it makes me really cross when I hear it.

The most important day in a competition for me was when they drew the judges. I would just sit there counting East, West.

I'd go, one for East Germany, one for Britain, and go through it that way.

When you had five Eastern Bloc judges, you'd kiss your chances goodbye.

You appreciate that what you are actually saying is that skating is corrupt? Yes, it is. The whole system is very, very corrupt.

I had the feeling that he's probably one of the best, if not the best skater that ever came.

The only doubt was how to convince the other people, many coaches, judges, they thought that skating was only jump and run, jump and run.

Nobody really liked his way of skating.

I changed my attitude.

I set the programme so that no-one could miss the difficulty of what I was doing.

Most people take two to three months to put together a free skating programme.

John actually choreographed it on the aeroplane between Manhattan and Denver.

He just had a vision.

I think he did 25 perfect programmes before we went to the Europeans.

Don't be psyched out by any Russian or by any East German, just go down and look the best. You ARE the best.


Now in the finals of the men's figure skating event, here is, from Great Britain, John Curry.

He called me the day before the Europeans and said, "There are five Eastern judges

"to four Western judges."

I think I won't have a chance.

John was up against a political situation.

John is one point behind the leader after short programme results.

Don Quixote was really his way of saying, "I'm trying to do the impossible and I still believe."

His lessons of psychology did work very well.

It was amazing for me at that time, to see that this person has just turned himself on like a machine.

Then go ahead and do exactly what he's supposed to do without any mistakes.

CHEERING The Czechoslovakian judge breaks rank.

And he votes for John.

And now John is the European champion going into the Olympics, and that shifted everything.

The Winter Olympics of 1976.

The British team, led by Britain's gold medal hope, skater John Curry.

You've come here as a favourite for the gold medal.

You don't feel too overconfident at all?

No, I know... Well, no, I don't think so.

If I'd been beaten in Europeans, I would have come, thinking, "All right, "they are going to beat me again."

But now, I think, now I CAN beat them. I know I can.

There's something different about the Olympics.

It is your one shot.

It's do or die in front of the entire world.

Every decision you've ever made, every hardship you've ever gone through, the pressure of your entire life riding on six minutes.

John Curry, champion of Great Britain, champion of Europe.

John knew if he did not win the Olympic gold medal that he would not be able to form his own dance company, that nobody would accept him.

He was very determined.

"I'm going to skate and I'm going to win."

Most skaters come along and they take ballet lessons.

They don't translate it to ice.

He's done it. A triple toe loop, a double toe salchow and a triple salchow, in that opening 45 seconds of the programme.

He was different.

His positions and body lines were superb.

What a beautiful spin. Absolutely on the spot.

This is great artistic skating.

I remember standing at the Olympics and just watching this moment of perfection.

Double axle, two and a half turns.

When he hit the spread eagle at the end, he must have known it was the performance of his life and that was it.

John Curry did not put a foot wrong.

John Curry has won the Olympic gold medal for figure skating.

The judges had come to me and said, "Finally, we've found a balance between artistry and athleticism."

And I hope that it will influence skating.

Mrs Curry, you must be very, very proud indeed.

I am. I'm so pleased for John.

Well, you must be very proud tonight.

I am. I am. Listen.

For once, I'd done it right.

Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up, having won a gold medal, your dream since you were a child, and then to go to a press conference where you've already been warned that the major thing of interest amongst all the press as to whether he, John, was going to tell them whether or not he was gay?

Nobody was openly gay, whether they were gay or not.

It certainly wasn't the accepted thing to have a gold medallist in an Olympic sport who was a gay man.

I had thought if I said to a journalist, "This is off the record," that it meant that they wouldn't say anything about it.

A lot of people said that I, quote, "came out" at the Olympics.

But I didn't. I never intentionally set out to make a statement.

But then, having done it, I'm not going to turn round and say that it's not true or I'm ashamed of it or anything else.

But suddenly, I became aware of a great wave of support, real support, that came from England, which was awfully nice.

I'd never experienced anything like that.

I actually thought people wanted me to do well.

Every letter I've had has been about my skating.

They're not interesting in knowing what I do in my private life.

And the winner, the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year, the viewers' choice, John Curry.

Ladies and gentlemen, John Curry.

Sante. Cheers.

Dear Nancy. My week in England has been extremely exciting.

Yesterday, I was guest of honour at the Award For Valour in sport.

I was introduced as, "A man of great social courage."

I've never thought of myself in that light.

Mother has been wonderful about everything.

We talked about my being gay and she was so kind and understanding.

That has been one of the greatest things to have come out of the Olympics.

In the middle of London's West End Theatreland, it's the only Playhouse whose boards are made of water.

Transforming the Cambridge into the John Curry Theatre of skating.

Describe the show. Is it like ice shows we've always seen, with glitter and ultraviolet, underwater scenes?

Well, I hope not!

I think having trained for 15 years and then you have to go and dress up as Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny, I can't see the point of that.

What I've always wanted to do was to take the finest skaters I could find, bring them to very fine choreographers, good musicians, and creative designers and put the whole thing together.

When we were young, we skated together, we practised together.

And we would talk about having this wonderful ballet company on ice.

So, when John did turn professional, he came into my dressing room and he said, "You're the first person I've asked.

"Would you like to become a member of my skating company?"

My eyes lit up. I thought, "This is what I've always wanted."

It's lovely for me to be on the ice with other people.

I love that because, you know, often I used to be skating and thinking, "It would be so nice to have someone to relate to and to sort of skate to

"and with." And now, I skate with one other person and two other people and sometimes with six other people.

And that's lovely. That's like a whole new feeling for me.

It's not ballet. On the ice, we can move in a way that no-one else can.

Would you ever now consider taking those skates off and making a career as a dancer?

I don't think I would, seriously, because I haven't really finished learning to skate yet, so I'm certainly not going to start thinking about anything else.

Once the doors opened, he said, "I've just got to do something right away

"that will get everyone to

"shift...their perspective of skating."

And what a perfect vehicle was Afternoon Of A Fawn.

Because of its ballet history.

I mean, if he ever wanted to bring ballet to the ice, this was it.

It's the piece which is his defining moment.

The story is there is a fawn who's alone in a forest...

..and encounters a nymph...

..and captures the nymph, fleetingly.

And then the nymph escapes again, as if it's almost, like, too much.

It is very intimate and I would say it's a very sensual piece.

There was the Nijinsky ballet.

And then there was the Jerome Robbins ballet.

But the movements and the way they were all presented were very different.

In skating, you can hold a pose, not move a muscle, and you're still moving.

There's one section where they crisscross and they're both holding a pose.

And the audience holds their breath.

And then he pushes backwards.

And what you feel is the power and the purity of just the glide alone.

That's what separates his Afternoon Of A Fawn from the dance versions.

The Afternoon Of A Fawn is about intimacy, lust, and love.

Here are these two dancers performing something very intimate.

But not really connecting.

Feeling like this is too close.

"This is too close. It's too much.

"I can't do it."

And so then they flee from each other.

When they're done, you wonder, was it real or was it a dream?

And maybe that was part of the pattern of his life.

What he yearned for so much was maybe more than what he may have been capable of stepping into, with his full, full being.

That was when Ron came on the scene.

Ron was his downfall.

Ron was big and he wasn't a good skater.

Some of us wondered how on earth he was in the show.

They had a relationship, everybody in the company knew.

And John seemed happier, less moody.

I know that he liked someone a bit rough.

He enjoyed that, more than anything.

Ron was all into this S&M stuff - chains and handcuffs.

I think that Ron took him to places he probably wouldn't have gone to before.

I never liked Ron.

Ron was at least as tough on John than John was on all of his friends.

I think John had this hidden shame, so this punishing thing got more and more...

There was one night he came in, John was in front of a mirror and his face was really badly bruised and cut.

And he said that he had been attacked.

He had been mugged.

The show went on for about ten days without him.

John Curry now lives in New York and is rehearsing with noted choreographers here in Westchester for the first American tour of his newly formed company.

You go... One, two, three...

Is it possible to go... One...

One...two, three.


We just need the beginning.

OK. One more time.

It's just the beginning, you stay and then... Just a little bit.

And then now.

That's right, OK?

OK. Now, we were here.

Yeah. Bam ka-bam.

Yeah? Bam. Yeah.

Then you can go... Yeah.

One, two.

Not too big a jump. One, two, three.

One, one, two, three, four.

One, so maybe that way.

Two, two, three, four.

So nice when somebody tells me to do less, because everybody's usually telling me to do more!

From the beginning.

The show at the Minskoff...

The lights of Broadway.

There was a symphony, there was a stage.

There was great lighting, there was great scenic design.

Tango-Tango with JoJo Starbuck. That was a standout.

It shows John in a whole other stylistic kind of milieu.

He's almost like the macho dancer there.

And then JoJo, who's a very strong female, pulling him in and manipulating him almost, if you look at the movement.

And yet he has the last word.

When someone has made inroads - like John did - into an art form, when someone is an innovator and has changed the way that we looked at skating, in this instance...

New Yorkers built a pedestal for him and made a great noise about his excellence.

We had a lot of wonderfully famous people who came to see the show.

Ballet dancers, actors - Woody Allen, Diana Ross.

He just loved the energy of the city.

He loved everything about it, he loved taking his dance classes, he loved the social scene.

And, of course, connecting with a lot of men.

Dearest Heinz.

You really would love New York.

It's SUCH an exciting city.

There are hundreds of beautiful men walking about and most of them seem to be gay.

There's a gay place in the park that is very busy in the daytime and I guess even busier by night.

The gay community was really sort of coming into its own, able to experience the gamut of their sexual desires, without consequence.

There was some arguments between John and Ron and there was a big change in John.

When things go wrong they, you know, tend to create their own problems.

There was one tragic night at the Minskoff.

John came out to do his solo and he was off balance.

He went into his sit spin and he spun round on his bottom and sat there, like this, and obviously there was something very wrong.

And John was breaking down, sobbing like a baby.

Somebody said it was muscle relaxants, somebody said something else. Nobody really knew.

After that, the show was stopped.

MUSIC: Echo Beach by Martha And The Muffins

Fire Island is an island off the coast of New York.

Gay nirvana.

There was a community there called The Pines.

John, I think, felt very much at home, and that he was amongst his people.

He was able to be fully expressive, to be VERY open about his sexuality.

It was a chance to recover from the pressure that had mounted throughout his life.

He would rent a house there and invite various friends to come and visit.

You have to remember he had spent much of his time going into very cold ice rinks early in the morning.

The opposite of that was Fire Island, in every way.

It was sunny, it was the beach, there was really no responsibility.

There was a party crowd.

They were determined to have a good time!

And we did.

# The sky's alive with light

# Building in the distance Surrealistic sight

# On Echo Beach Waves make the only sound

# On Echo Beach There's not a soul around... #

Dearest Cath. Well, as you can imagine, life has been rather hectic for me these past weeks.

Still, I guess I can live through it.

The summer is over and I'm getting used to the idea of living alone.

Still miss Ron.

I do hope we shall skate more.

I was in Fire Island and he was sitting on one of those woodland walkway things.

I said, "Hello, what are you doing?"

And he said, "I was just wondering what it would feel like to drown."

We had a very long conversation about how depressed he was.

He was very lonely.

To cut a long story short, we then went to see Stephen Lieber, who was a rock promoter.

Steve ended up giving John the money to fly to Vale with a group of skaters to put together a repertory.

Well, John, where are you based now, then?

Well, I spend most of my time in America.

I'm based more or less in Colorado, where I rehearse with my skating company.

Every day we have a warm-up class, which is very much the same as a ballet class.

In other words you start with very simple exercises and work up to the virtuoso stuff.

I got a phone call saying John would like to invite you to join his company. In skating, if you're invited by John Curry to do anything, it would be like, in television, turning Oprah down.

You know, you would never do that.

Do you get lots of infighting about

"I should be getting paid more than Joe Bloggs, "who is not as good a skater as I am?"

No, what I did was, the reason a lot of my shows don't succeed is because someone earns a lot of money and most of the people earn virtually none.

So we all have the same wages.

Everyone in the show is paid the same amount of money.

Which allows us to continue our work and we think that's the most important thing.

He had a dream.

He had a vision of what a great company and a great show should be.

Having a live orchestra, flying in very well-known choreographers...

..and we wanted to give him that.

No matter what.

1982, we did four different events throughout Canada.

I was always on the road. I was always the point guy, and it was during that period that I got to know who he was and understand him a little better.

I felt that every female skater was either secretly or openly in love with him.

He was physically the perfect male specimen.

He was such an intimidating character and he could change his face quite quickly, so you never knew which John you were getting at that moment.

He was a perfectionist and I think that probably contributed to his moodiness.

Let's call it arrogance at times, standoffish at times, difficult at best.

The usual thing with the arm, one, two.

If he was in a good mood with a skater, he would be instructional.

Use the same arm on the first two and then reverse arm on the second two.

But he could be very mean to the female skaters.

That's right. That's lovely.

Specifically anybody that may have had a weight issue.

He had very cutting acerbic kind of commentary.

OK. Plie. You didn't do much of a plie.

That's right.

One, two, three, four,

That's too much space.

Skaters were in fear of him.

We'll do it two at a time. No-one wanted to come under his microscope, yet everyone wanted to come under his microscope, and it was almost as if everyone understood that demons lived inside of him.

It was like the great ballet masters.

He demanded a lot, he got a lot...

..and he drilled them very rigorously on and off the ice.

He took average skaters and made them incredible.


How do you feel, skating with a live orchestra?

Well, it's a lot of fun and sometimes it is rather a challenge because every day the orchestra, being human, is slightly different, so one has to try and respond to the differences in the music.

We were brought to Japan.

It was gorgeous. They put ice all over the Yoyogi Stadium, they had the new Japan Philharmonic playing...

..but John was miserable, absolutely miserable.

He walked in, he saw the arena, he saw billboards, and it was like, "I haven't worked all this hard to skate in front of signage."

And he was really upset and he was not going to perform.

The Japanese producers had put an applause in there and that was appalling to John.

He didn't want to know, didn't want to skate, he didn't want anything to do with any of this.

They then actually had to get the key of his room from the manager.

Quite honestly I was concerned that he had taken his life at that time.

He was deeply depressed.

He said to me, "Some consider me to be a genius.

"I want you to know that

"that other side of the spectrum lives inside of me.

"Whatever greatness you think I have, "there are demons of equal value that are inside of my soul."

That was a side of John that was almost impossible to...

You couldn't wave a wand to put that right.

There was this deep melancholy, this despair inside of him.

And it had nothing to do with the company he created.

It was to do with something else, something in his life he wanted that he couldn't have.

The battle was always the same.

He didn't have a lover.

He wanted a lover all the time.

"I'm lonely, I need someone here..."

A cry for help.

Bobby Campbell of San Francisco and Billy Walker of New York both suffer from a mysterious newly discovered disease which affects mostly homosexual men.

Many victims get a rare form of cancer called Kaposi sarcoma.

Others get an infection known as pneumocystis pneumonia.

We were in the dark. We didn't have very much information.

Investigators have examined the habits of homosexuals for clues.

I was in the fast lane at one time, in terms of the way I live my life, and now I'm not.

It went from very light and carefree kind of living, to fear and caution.

I have four friends that have died.

I have two friends that are dying.

I listen to them, brilliant people...

..brilliant people.

John Curry is the man, it's said, who first turned athletics into art.

It was he who first whetted the public's appetite for the ice wizardry that Torvill and Dean have lately been satisfying.

For the last 14 months, he's poured his energies into training his ice dance company for next week's Symphony On Ice in the Albert Hall, of all places.

You always fascinate me with your shows.

I mean, it's called Symphony On Ice.

It's unusual in that it's at the Royal Albert Hall.

Have they ever had ice there before?

No, they've had just about everything else, no ice skating.

When I turned professional, it was the place I wanted to go to.

It's taken me seven years to get there.

This might be quite a naive question, but how do you build the rink? I mean, do you put in a little swimming pool and freeze it?

I believe we had a week to put ice into the Albert Hall, which under normal conditions would have been enough.

We had some stuff that came in a little late, so we were already behind schedule.

We set up the rink and turned it on and we had a generator, and that broke down.

When it became clear that we were jeopardising our opening night, we began to bring in ice trucks so we could just somehow get that floor frozen.

When it came time to skate on the ice... really wasn't thick enough to be skated on.

There were patches of sand which were extremely treacherous.

If you hit sand with a blade, then basically you're history.

Everyone knew there was a problem and so it was as... Difficulties were sort of skated through, the audience got more involved.

It had part of its own momentum.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has accompanied the skaters up until now, but this is Burn - a modern synthesised composition by Jean-Michel Jarre.

One piece that showed John's potential was Burn.

It was extraordinary.

He was like a magnet, he was like the nucleus of this atomic group.

And they keep being drawn into this magnet, and escaping again.

And escaping.

It was really, really demanding.

It involved all of the skaters rotating in both directions the entire time.

And then there was this one section where John was kind of weaving through us.

That part terrified him and it terrified us, because if one of us was too fast or too slow, it screwed up his timing.

He would slam right into us.

The audience is raptured.

Completely engrossed.

We were looking at each other, sort of saying, "This is our time.

"This is our time."

It justified everything we had gone through.

So there was no reason to be concerned about being in debt.

Because by then, the skaters were looking at the opportunity of performing in the Metropolitan Opera House.

Joining us this morning to talk about skating on the stage of the Met, two 1976 Olympic champions -

John Curry and Dorothy Hamill. Good seeing you both, thanks for being with us. Thank you.

The Met is pretty much everybody's dream, whether you are an opera singer, or a dancer, it is like, "Oh, my God."

To perform at the Met is the highlight of one's career.

In New York, you cannot have more illustrious exposure than that.

The show went on sale and it sold out immediately.

For the last 72 hours, engineers have been busy laying an ice rink on the Met's 8,000-square-foot stage.

Straighten out something first of all - you were supposed to open last night.

Yes. We had a problem with the ice, which has now been solved.

You've been on the ice this morning?

I went this morning. I've skated, it's fine, we're going to open tonight at eight o'clock.

I didn't sleep the whole night before the opening.

Because this was it, this was going to make or break John Curry's company and his career and we all were very aware of that.

Thousands of people in the Opera House were used to operas and ballets. They weren't quite sure what it was they were going to see.

The company's musical director, Charles Barker, conducts the overture to Rossini's William Tell.

It was unbelievable. We'd never seen anything like this.

And it was sensational.

The cast were sensational.

I think it was Anna Kisselgoff who wrote, "The Metropolitan Opera House

"nor ice skating will ever be the same again."

That told him he had achieved what he set out to achieve.

They were so awestruck by what they saw.

They stood and cheered for about 20 minutes at the end of the performance.

And I remember going backstage and John was crying.

He was shaking from head to foot and he said, "We did it."

I said, "Yes, you did," and he said, "Can I stop now?

"Can the company go ahead without me?"

And I said, "No, you're the star of this company and everyone wants to see you."

He had obviously got it in his head that once he had skated in the Met, he had done his job.

But, of course, that isn't true, because the company was in debt.

Keeping a group of skaters together for the best part of a year, we kept a permanent conductor so that the tempo was always perfect.

Everything was very expensive, so I explained to him that he had to keep doing this for two or three years, until there were other stars who emerged and then he could step back.

But the truth was, he didn't want to perform.

He was in pain. His legs were hurting, as many skaters' do.

He wanted the company, but he did not want to be its star performer.

Everything after that was less.

Not because the skaters skated any less wonderfully...

..but because the spirit had gone.

Because, without John's spirit there, it wasn't the same.

The Scandinavian tour was...not fun.

We started in Copenhagen and we walked into that arena, signage all over the arena, and John just said, "I'm not going to skate."

He came up with a number of different reasons why he couldn't do it.

But of course all the tickets had been sold.

The next thing we knew was that he had not warmed up before he performed and he had injured himself.

I went in the ambulance with him and I said, "So is it bad?"

There was just a look in his face that made me feel he was taking a dive.

The middle part of the tour had to be cancelled.

This was, financially, a disaster.

He came back to New York for treatment and then he went to perform at the last engagement which was at the Bergen Opera House.

Which he did beautifully.

Eliot Feld, when he created Moon Skate, took John in a direction to have him reflect on the ice the melancholy that was in him.

It is a very reflective piece.

The movement that's all about regression and progression.

Without any visible effort.

It is almost transcendent.

It was almost like you were a voyeur, looking in at the stage in a very intimate moment that he was experiencing.

Every single time he performed it, he cried.

At this particular juncture, his tears would start flowing.

I really, genuinely sensed the journey he had taken in the dance to that point had led that to happen.

That piece is full of searching.

Searching for something that he doesn't get.

He was always searching for the constancy of love, for a love that would endure.

It was so moving, so beautiful.

And at the end of the piece, you would see the... despair, the resignation, the acceptance of the fact that he can't.

He can't find it.

He is again alone, you know, on the ice, all the people that he has loved or had relationships with have fallen by the wayside. One way or another.

You know, maybe it's an acknowledgement of how far he came and how close he got, and yet, not quite there.

Both in terms of his personal life and in terms of his professional ambitions.

That was the last time that that company performed.

That was the end.

PROTESTERS CHANT When it comes to preventing Aids, don't medicine and morality teach the same message?

CHANTING: Americans are dying!

We want to identify every person who is a carrier.

We want to identify every possible way to stop them from spreading the disease.

Aids at that time was terrifying.

Since they didn't know what was causing it, there becomes a fear of contagion.

That sort of fed into this homophobic narrow-mindedness -

"See, we told you it was wrong, now you are being punished."

..saying that the only good homosexual is a dying homosexual...

In the arts, circles of friends, people you knew were suddenly ill, and the circles started to get closer and closer.

They were shrinking towards your inner circle.

Now, you were in America for ten years.

You came back in November of last year.

With a pocket full of money?

No, no, with a pocket empty, actually.

Why? What happened? Well, I put a lot of my own money into the shows and I had some difficulties along the way, with the people who were producing.

I lost everything I made, actually.

I went to Liverpool, I saw the show.

We walked to the Atlantic Hotel, where I stayed.

And then he told me, "I'm HIV-positive."

I just said, "No, can't be." And then I hugged him.

We went then straight up to my room.

Sometimes I cried, sometimes he cried.

It was just a fact.

You sort of knew that he knows also that it's death fairly soon.

Dear Heinz, it was so nice to see you over the weekend.

When you left on Sunday, I smoked the cigarette you left behind and felt very tired.

I called Mother on the telephone.

Well, we had the best talk we've ever had.

And I think it will be a great help in the rest of my life, and hers.

While we spoke, I cried very deeply.

I told her so many things that had been causing me great distress.

Mother spoke very calmly and with great compassion.

I even spoke about my fear of Aids.

So you can tell it was a much more personal conversation than we've ever had before.

You hung up your skating boots, what, 18 months ago?

Yes, 18 months, yeah. Never skated since? No.

And never will? I don't think so, no.

In 1990, John had stopped choreographing and skating.

But we had asked if he would be interested in doing a dance for The Next Ice Age.

He came for three weeks, and we rehearsed every morning.

And he was so different then than he was during the stress of when he was running his own company and having to deal with the finances and just everything that goes with it.

These are the original costumes that John designed himself.

They are different colours of what I think he must have thought the Danube would be lit by the moon.

This is the kind of detail that John was designing.

It was right from the start going to be a quartet, four men.

I think he was thinking, "What will be my final work?"

He wanted the dance to be about friendship, that's what he told us.

A sense of joy, and a sense of beauty, and happiness.

He thought, that's what I want people to remember me as.

And so, here, 30 years later, we'll be restaging it with a brand-new cast.

You know, for me to see the three companies that he evolved -

Ice Theatre of New York, Ice Dance International and then The Next Ice Age, is so powerful because these skaters are practising and performing his legacy.

The legacy is there.

But whether there will ever be another company of the sort that John had... probably not.

Most of the people that were in theatre skating and in fact most of the company members throughout John's company, almost all of the men are dead.

From Aids.

Even now in sports, we have a lot of homophobia, whether it is figure skating or football.

At that time in the late '70s, it was a completely different world.

Look at him as an artist, and somebody who broke boundaries.

He had the guts to be his true self on the ice.

And I think that's the greatest achievement that he was able to leave in this world was that he made this, who only started skating 20 years later, be comfortable to really be themself on the ice.

We met him at Coventry railway station, I think, Andrew and I. And he came home and he said he was ill.

And that was it.

A lot of the time, he was quite well.

But most of the time, when he could, he was in the garden.

Either gardening or needle-working.


Dear Cathy. How lovely to hear from you.

I've not been to Prague for, what, 20 years?

It looked as if a strong wind would demolish it then, so whatever must it look like now?

Well, I have something to tell you which you've probably heard already.

I have Aids.

I'm not traumatised...I think.

And inside, I am peaceful.

I love being at home again, and not having to teach and skate is a welcome relief for this old body.

This is not a very uplifting letter, but dear Cathy, do not worry or be sad.

I've had an extraordinary life, by any standards.

I've met with great success and happiness, and at times, the reverse.

So keep your pecker up.

Lots of love, John.

In a way, what have you done?

You haven't invented penicillin, you haven't cured cancer, you haven't built an old people's home.

You've zoomed around the ice.

Is what you do really of any importance at all?

Is it important? It's only important because things like skating or... or any kind of performance that brings people pleasure, really some of the things that, if you like, make life worth living.

I know that sounds terribly corny, but it does.

If everything in life was entirely practical, we would all have our amount of bread and water and so on, but some things have to move you or make you feel very happy or even very sad or something.

They have to make you feel something.

And I'm very glad that I've been able to make some people feel something with my skating.

I think that's great.

And I think that's important.