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7th May 1984 – Pages 52 +53

Blondie’s Debby Harry clings to the hope that ailing Chris Stein will survive.

By George Carpozi Jr.
Her rock-goddess sheen of glamour is gone, replaced by sadness and exhaustion. The bedside vigil diva Deborah Harry is keeping for her mysteriously ill boyfriend has sapped her strength. The ice-blue eyes that helped usher in the era of New Wave music are red from crying, the trademark peroxide hair is disheveled.
“I’ve put my life on hold till he’s well again,” says Harry, 39, sitting in the waiting room of New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. In a nearby room lies Chris Stein, Harry’s live-in lover for ten years and, along with Harry, co-founder of the influential rock band Blondie, formed in 1974.
“I just can’t think about anything until Chris has recovered. My life, my career, my home – they mean nothing to me while he’s like this.
“If the doctors don’t do something soon, I’m afraid he’ll die. What makes it look all so hopeless is that they don’t seem to know what to do,” adds Harry, who’s had bad luck personally and in her career for a couple of years.
A solo album, KooKoo, released in 1981, sold poorly. A 1982 Blondie concert tour flopped, and the band broke up. A movie role as a housewife in the low-budget Union City failed to launch her film career, and her Broadway stage debut in Teaneck Tanzi was a wash. But these travails are far overshadowed by Stein’s malady. And helping him recover consumes Harry.
“He’s suffering from an illness he’s had for two years,” Harry says of Stein, 35, who played lead guitar in Blondie. “In the past month he’s gotten worse. His weight has dropped from 165 pounds to 100. He’s so weak he can’t stand on his feet. He lies in bed all the time. Because of that, doctors have said that they can’t conduct the tests which would tell the precise cause of the illness,” she explains.
Doctors treating Stein refuse to discuss the case. All a hospital spokesman will say is that his condition is “very serious.”
Taking a long moment to compose herself, Harry adds a tenuous clue to the nature of his illness but stops short of verifying the rumors that Stein had AIDS. “All I can tell you is that Chris’ condition has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs. He’s been losing weight for the past two years, yet I’m told the problem has nothing to do with his diet.
“What it amounts to is the inability of his body to absorb proteins. But the doctors don’t really know what it is,” she says.
When Stein was first hospitalized last February, she spent several hours a day with him. Now, she’s with him constantly. At night, she sleeps on a cot alongside his bed. Nurses and doctors at the hospital say she does all she can to keep him comfortable.
“She holds his hands, strokes his forehead and whispers encouraging words,” says one hospital employee. “She’s a marvelous person, so caring, so loving, so concerned. It’s heartbreaking to watch her, to see the suffering she’s enduring.”
Adds a nurse, “She weeps constantly. I can understand why. She sits there beside her friend and watches him melt away before her eyes. It’s a real tragedy.”
Through it all, Harry’s devotion is unwavering. Leaving him for brief forays to a nearby supermarket, she buys juices and baby foods to bring back and feed Stein as a respite from hospital food.
Ironically, if it weren’t for a far happier event in the same hospital, Stein’s illness would never have become public. Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, model Jerry Hall, chose Lenox Hill for the delivery of their child, who turned out to be a healthy baby girl, Elizabeth Scarlet.
Last February, alerted to the impending birth, the press descended on the hospital. Then, tipped off by a Lenox Hill employee, reporters and photographers spotted a haggard-looking Harry entering the building.
The press corps was shocked by her appearance. “They thought she was a bag lady at first,” recalls one hospital worker. “She looked as though she’d been living on the streets.”
Understandable, considering Stein’s serious condition, but still a far cry from the halcyon days of Blondie in the late ’70s. Bursting on the scene in 1978 with the hit album Parallel Lines, Harry’s bleached blonde hair, rummage-sale clothes and menacing yet sensual presence set the stage for a new generation of female lead singers. Eventually Harry scrapped the street-tough image for a more alluring, high-fashion one. She was featured in a glitzy Gloria Vanderbilt designer jeans ad and in 1981 was named one of America’s ten most beautiful women by the tony Harper’s Bazaar.
Her creamy, distant voice brought a primitive energy back to rock’n’roll in an era of soulless, synthpop disco music. With smash singles beginning with “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture,” and later “The Tide Is High,” Blondie sold more than ten million records. Through all the success, Harry and Stein became international celebrities, but still lived a quiet, private life in their New York penthouse apartment. It was a loving, symbiotic relationship that endures.
“He needs me and I need him. He wants me to be with him, and that’s where I want to be,” says Harry, again near tears.
“This has been a terrible ordeal. A nightmare,” she murmurs. “This is the worst time of my life. Until Chris recovers from this dreadful thing, nothing matters.”

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