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Remembering Ed Gallagher, gay football player and champion of equality

Ed Gallagher died in 2005 at age 48 after having a powerful impact on sports and access for Americans with a disability.

Ed Gallagher played football at the Univ. of Pittsburgh before attempting suicide because he was gay.

(This story was published in 2005).

Author and spokesperson Ed Gallagher, of New Rochelle, N.Y., died at his home Wednesday, May 4, of a heart condition. He was 48.

Ed was a friend of Outsports.com and a great champion of equality for gay people and those with spinal cord injuries. Ed had attempted suicide in 1985 by rolling over the edge of the Kensico Dam in Westchester County, just north of New York City. A starting tackle at the University of Pittsburgh, the shame stemming from his homosexual thoughts overwhelmed him as he approached his thirties and drove him to his suicide attempt.

While he attempted to commit suicide by rolling off a bridge, he dedicated his post-attempt life to building bridges. He created a not-for-profit organization and Web site, Alive To Thrive, which was dedicated to "promoting suicide prevention, emotional and sexual health, creativity and potential, and the free expression and rights of all individuals." In 1994, he wrote a book, "Johnny in the Spot," based on his experiences as a gay spinal cord injured man. He also wrote other collections, "Will I Live Another Day Before I Die: Thoughts on Suicide and Life" and "Roller Coaster Release - A Collection of Organized Chaos."

I first met Ed on a trip through New York City in 2001. He had author Dan Woog and me up to White Plains, where he taped his cable-access show, Mister Ed's Corral. The show was an extension of Ed and committed to the issues he took to heart. While he was always the shortest guy in the room, sitting in his wheelchair, from the moment I met him, he was also always the biggest person in the room. He lit up the room and everyone he talked to. He was always cracking jokes – usually at the expense of the person he was talking to, or New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, whom Ed had a big crush on.

One of the last times I saw him was at Splash, the gay dance club in Manhattan. It was Ed's favorite hangout – handicap accessible "and the guys give me love," he would tell me. Ed had been going through a rough time – but he didn't talk about it. He wouldn't. Ed always focused on the positive. Even when he severely burned his legs a few months ago, he was calling me from the hospital telling jokes. He was the talk of my Super Bowl party this year, as he drooled every time Tom Brady flashed up on the screen (another of Ed's favorites). He was great to be around.

"Ride the sun. Ride the moon. The wind, the clouds, the rain, the snow. The dark. The light. The fog. The slime. Strap yourself in, don’t jump out. Or you won’t get there. Wherever there is, it is yours alone. Roll."

- Ed Gallagher

Rollercoaster Release

Even up to his death, he was continuing to fight the good fight. He had begun to arrange for a new television show and was producing part of a radio show. "A media mogul," he'd call himself.

I guess it's ironic that a guy who tried to kill himself 20 years ago would love life so much. Maybe he just needed to come close to losing his life before he realized how good he actually had it. He dedicated his life to opening other people's eyes to that, before it was too late for them.

Ed made the best out of everything. And the thousands upon thousands of people he touched over the last 20 years – some of whom he surely saved – will miss him dearly. He was larger than life – and his legacy of caring and a positive attitude will live on even now that he is gone.

To some that knew him, it seems odd that Ed requested that there be no formal funeral service. He was always looking for publicity for his cause and appeared on HBO’s Suicide Notes, CBS’s As The World Turns, ABC’s Sally Jessy Raphael Show, The Home Show, Over The Edge, and 20/20 Wednesday.

Instead, contributions can be made in his memory to The Alan T. Brown Foundation to Cure Paralysis, 185 E. 85th St., New York, NY 10028.

I also hope those that knew him, or knew of him, will share their thoughts of him here. For those who didn't know him, I encourage you to get acquainted with him through his Web site or a story I wrote about him five years ago.

If you are considering suicide, LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Adults can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, and it’s available to people of all ages and identities. Trans or gender-nonconforming people can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.