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Bob Smith, Groundbreaking Gay Comic, Dead at 59

Bob Smith, Groundbreaking Gay Comic, Dead at 59
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Bob Smith, who became the first openly gay comic to host his own HBO half-hour comedy special and to appear on "The Tonight Show," both in 1994, has died after a long battle with ALS. He was 59.

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From left, members of KISS, Garth Brooks, Smith and the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein joined Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" in 1994

Smith's longtime partner, writer Michael Zam, confirmed the passing on Facebook, writing, "He was the funniest and most optimistic person I've ever known, as well as the most committed and stubborn (I'm convinced this last trait kept him going so well for so long). I'm glad we got to share so many years together."

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A memorial will be planned for Smith in a comedy club.

Smith, who believed in making light of everything — including his terminal illness — underscored his orientation in his act in order to be in on the joke at a time when LGBT people were often the punchline. One of his early jokes was that when he came out to his mother, she asked, "Are you seeing a psychiatrist?" Smith told her, "No, I'm seeing a lieutenant in the Navy."

Smith was also an accomplished author, including of the award-winning humor book "Openly Bob" (1997) and the novel "Selfish and Perverse" (2007).

Along with Zam, Smith is survived by Madeline and Xander, the children he fathered with close friends Elvira Kurt and Chloe Brushwood Rose; his mother; and two brothers.