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Volume 18/Issue 13

Rip & Marsha

by Rip & Marsha Naquin-Delain

Visit their site: ripandmarsha.com

Sonny C. Cleveland Loses Battle To Cancer

One of New Orleans youngest Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender activist, Sonny Cheridon Cleveland lost his battle with cancer Monday, June 12, at the age of 33. Born April 14, 1967, Sonny died at home in the arms of his partner of just over a year, Matthew Hardenbergh.

sonny On Friday, Aug. 13, 1999, Matt took Sonny to the hospital when Sonny began experiencing severe chest pains and had trouble breathing. The doctors diagnosed him with a small vascular tumor. One of Sonny's choices for treatment was to undergo surgery to remove the small tumor. Sonny was in the middle of final preparations for New Orleans Pride Festival in late September and refused the surgery. We begged him to resign from Pride and have the surgery. He again refused. When we asked him what was more important, "Pride" or his "life," without hesitation, Sonny said, "Pride!"

And "pride" is the one word which can describe Sonny's entire existence. He was proud of who he was, a Gay man, and he sure had no trouble letting the whole world know.

He came to work for Ambush in 1992 taking on the position of sales manager. His incredible zest for life brought in many new accounts for this publication. He would zip out of our Bourbon St. office on his rollerblades to pick up his ads and collect checks. Sonny could climb stairs on those blades, which made many Ambush clients edgy, do cart wheels or any other wild thing he could think of to shock us all into dismay. Who else would ever try such stunts on rollerblades? We cannot imagine.

Even though Sonny was in a great deal of pain and had trouble breathing, he was able to pull off the largest Pride Festival New Orleans had ever seen in late Sept., 1999. As Pride cochair, his diligent efforts brought in the largest number of corporate sponsors to this 20th pride festival for the Crescent City.

Sonny's vision brought Pride from Washington Square Park to huge Armstrong Park in 1998. As cochair that year also, Sonny would only be stopped by Hurricane George. Open for only a few hours, the festival was closed down by Mayor Marc Morial, in order for the City to ready all of its properties for the advance of the hurricane.

Pride lost over $16,000 for this 19th festival, and many thought there would be no 20th festival. But not our Sonny ...he was like a bull in a china cabinet. He even worked harder to pull off the '99 Fest, and that he did making enough money to pay off all of 98's debt as well as all of 99's expenses, leaving some $2,000 in the treasury, when all was said and done.

With this out of the way, now he turned to his own health. Unfortunately, the tumor had grown at an incredible pace in October, blocking surgery. The doctors, at that time, believing it was a vascular tumor, thought it too big to remove, and such removal would cause Sonny to bleed to death.

The doctors gave Sonny more and more pain medication, because the tumor's growth flattened one of his lungs. After radiation treatment in January, 2000, the tumor appeared to be reducing around his lung, which it did, but it grew from the bottom out into Sonny's lower abdomen. After biopsies and more tests, doctors informed Sonny he had a germ cell tumor, not a vascular tumor. The doctor's then began months of chemo treatment to reduce the size of the tumor for removal.

Memorial Day Weekend rolled around. Sonny and Matt decided to join us in Pensacola to celebrate their one year anniversary. It was last May 30 when Sonny and Matt first got together. Sonny, although weak, was like his old self, talking about his and Matt's plans plus his plans to return to work at Ambush after his operation. Sonny stayed on the beach for hours with Matt and we all enjoyed bloody marys around the pool. Sonny got to visit with all his favorites including Janice Goodbee, Lisa Ducre and Mark Santelli. He went out to dinner and was eating up a storm. This weekend gave us all so much hope.

Sonny learned on June 3 that the chemo treatment had no effect and the tumor was continuing to grow at an alarming rate. The doctors could do nothing for Sonny. They did, however, tell the poor kid that he had up to 4 months of life left. The tumor's growth now was preventing Sonny from eating.

We found this out when we returned from Gay Days at Disney June 4. Sonny was in tremendous pain even though he was taking substantial dosages of morphine and other medications. He was still the trouper, fighting all odds until the very end June 12th.

The entire community was in shock at the news of Sonny's death. Tuesday, the 13th, was one of the hardest days when we took Matt to see funeral director Billy Henry to make Sonny's final arrangements. Matt was strong, and knew what he wanted for Sonny's final farewell. We were concerned about the place for the service itself, because we believed Sonny's popularity and respect he had throughout the community would bring out a large crowd. Billy gave us 300 seats in the solarium at Bultman Funeral Home at St. Charles Ave. A special thanks to Billy for making things so easy for all of us at such a difficult time.

With everything now in place, we returned to work at Ambush, since it was deadline week. A special thanks to news editor/theatre critic George Patterson. We could not have made it through this week or the last nine months without his help. Once Sonny became really ill in October, he never returned to work in the office. George filled in the gaps, picking up a lot of Sonny's duties, and without complaint. Ambush continued to pay Sonny all his commissions and for work he was able to accomplish on the Web at home until his death.

Friday, June 16th finally arrived and we headed on over to Bultman for Sonny's funeral service. The place was beautiful with loads of floral tributes there for our Sonny, even from Pride Atlanta and Pride New York. We thought of him like our own child, now experiencing the grief that proud parents know when they lose such an incredible, vibrant, young kid. We have to believe Sonny was there with all of us. He must have been proud to see all 300 chairs filled and more standing in the beautiful solarium. Some of his friends and blood family came up and spoke about Sonny, his life and how Sonny affected their lives. It was a moving farewell to a young man who affected every single person whose life he touched in his own way.

Following the service, Tom Frese opened the doors of 735 nightclub/bar for cocktails along with hors d'oeurvres to celebrate Sonny's life. It was marvelous to meet so many of Sonny's friends who we did not know and hear their stories of the young man we all had loved so much.

Sonny was blessed a little over a year ago when he became partners with Matt. With all of the obstacles facing a young relationship, Matt was put to the test so much more with Sonny's illness. When most people would have given up and called it quits, Matt did not. His commitment, love and tender caring for Sonny has to be admired by us all coming from a young man of 27.

In addition to his efforts in New Orleans Gay Pride Festival for years, Sonny also previously served on the board of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans and was president of the Gay Appreciation Awards.

Sonny, as Christine Cheridon, was King Cake Queen VI in 1998 reigning as Czarina over the Krewe of Queenateenas' Mardi Gras festivities that year.

Professionally, Sonny was managing editor/sales manager of Ambush Magazine, wrote his column 3 Snaps, and was one of the Webmasters at AMBUSHonLINE, a conglomerate of some 36 GLBT Web sites reaching an international audience on the Internet.

Sonny also did lights dazzling dance nights at Bourbon Pub/Parade, Oz and 735 nightclub/bar.

Essence Music Festival July 1 - 3

The Superdome will be the venue for fabulous music in the evening, while the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center will be the site for daytime speeches on empowerment and spirituality when the Essence Music Festival, sponsored by Essence Magazine and Coca Cola, comes to town for three days, July 1 - 3.

On the Superdome's main stage July 1, R & B sensation Luther Vandross and Montell Jordan highlight the star-studded lineup that includes Earth, Wind & Fire and Sisqo. John Henton will host. The next night, queen of hip-hop Mary J. Blige, popular rapper D'Angelo and "old school" favorites Run-DMC take the stage, along with Chaka Khan and D.L. Hughley while Renee Hicks serves as host. The festival closes, July 3, with the silky sounds of Maze feat, Maxwell and Gladys Knight. Al Jamal will serve as host. Musical events are also held in a smaller "Superlounge" venue, allowing ticket holders to roam from group to group. Performing in that venue will be Mint Condition, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Blue Magic, Amel Larrieux, Eric Benet, The Manhattans, Angela Bofill, Chick, Tyrese, Dianne Reeves, Little Milton, Cuba Gooding and The Main Ingredient.

The free empowerment seminars at the convention center showcase premier African-American scholars, artists and authors as well as leaders from the business, political and social communities speaking about issues of the day. The Essence Marketplace, also located at the convention center, offers a multitude of Afrocentric arts, crafts, books and clothing, as well as New Orleans cuisine. Festival-goers will also be able to meet Essence Festival celebrities at the Marketplace.

The Fiesta Cruise, a newly added feature, departs the Port of New Orleans July 4 to the tropical paradises of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Mexico, and returns July 8.

Last year's festival drew more than 185,000 people to the Crescent City and had an estimated economic impact of nearly $100 million.

Tickets range from $30 to $65 for each evening concert and are available from Ticket Master, 800.488.5252.

For more information, visit the festival Web site at www.essence.com.

Pansies & Dirt

Turnabout VI raked in $11,180 for Buzzy's Boys and Girls at Body & Soul. Fish returned to the stage opening the festive show after many years off the stage and out of drag.

Lance's 3rd Annual Toga Party brought some 200 revelers out with almost 80% of those in costume. No Caesar reigned here, but Empress Lance treated the crowd to a huge Bacchanalian Feast, complete with whole roasted pig, turkey and ham. Joe Bush took home $50 cash for most authentic Roman costume.

Water Volleyball, sponsored by Ambush Mag has returned to the all new Country Club Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays beginning at 7pm.

The 9th High Heel Pool Tournament returns to many of your favorite bars beginning Wed., June 28, 7pm, at the Friendly Bar. Tourney play has been sponsored by Ambush Mag since its beginning.

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