The art of dealing with death

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The Independent Culture
"Dying," as Sylvia Plath baldly observed, "is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well." With some address books beginning to look like graveyards, gay men have resolved to perfect the art. In The Long Goodbye, (5.40pm BBC2) Armistead Maupin, the bestselling author of Tales of the City and his lover, Terry Anderson, talk gently to Bel Mooney about the strength of their relationship where Anderson is positive and Maupin is not.

Anyone expecting hallowed silence, sob stories or quietly expressed euphemisms about "the shadow of death" will be disappointed. Nor is this one of those well-intentioned documentaries about Aids from the early Eighties, where those living with HIV took to pronouncing to camera that "it was the best thing that ever happened to me". Naturally enough, it was essential to find something positive about the trauma they were going through and a brush with mortality is the fastest way to clean up your act, but subsequent interviews have had less desperate agendas.

Living in San Francisco, Maupin and Anderson have probably attended more funerals than it is wise even to contemplate, yet this very proximity to death has, in some respects, been strangely beneficial. Beneath the anger, there has been a profoundly healthy demythologising of death. As a result, the programme touches simply and gracefully on areas usually handled with kid gloves.