I Never Knew Theresa Duncan

I never knew Theresa Duncan, author of the blog The Wit of the Staircase among many other creative accomplishments. But I happened to get a note from an admirer of hers last week, asking if I could confirm her death.

Our connection was LA Observed. Kevin Roderick loved Duncan’s blog, and he says nice things about this one, too. Somehow, the e-mailer thought we might know each other, and hoped I might be able to dispel what was then just a rumor.

This thread led me on a search through the Internet to find out what had happened. The facts are unbelievably sad and frankly bewildering. Not only is Duncan gone, but so is her boyfriend of 12 years, the well-known artist Jeremy Blake, who apparently drowned himself a few days after finding Duncan’s body in their New York apartment.

The New York papers have all now weighed in. The most straightforward account appeared in Saturday’s New York Daily News:

A despondent Manhattan artist – who worked on Adam Sandler’s film “Punch-Drunk Love” and exhibited his work at the Whitney Museum – swam out into the surf off the Rockaways in an apparent suicide, police sources said yesterday.

Jeremy Blake was upset that his girlfriend had recently taken her own life when he went to the beach, police sources said.

A woman called cops after she watched the 6-foot-2 Blake walk into the ocean in Rockaway Park about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. He wasn’t seen coming out, and his wallet, clothing and a suicide note were found under the boardwalk, police sources said.

Scuba teams searched the waters and shoreline, but have not found a body.

The 36-year-old artist had suffered a devastating blow just eight days earlier when he found his girlfriend of 12 years, filmmaker Theresa Duncan, 40, dead in the bedroom of their East Village apartment.

A bottle of pills and alcohol were found near Duncan’s body inside the E. 11th St. apartment. She left a suicide note saying that she was at peace with her decision and loved Blake and her family deeply, sources said.

The couple had moved to the city from Los Angeles in February to work on new projects.

Duncan – a filmmaker, writer and author of the blog “The Wit of the Staircase” – posted her last message online the day she died.

“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter,” she wrote, quoting novelist Reynolds Price. “Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence.”

The city medical examiner is waiting for tissue and toxicology test results to determine the cause of Duncan’s death.

Friends who spoke with Blake after Duncan’s death said he was shaken, but appeared to be coping. He asked friends to remember Duncan’s fierce independence and uncompromising spirit. He had also planned to attend today’s memorial service for her in Lapeer, Mich.

“They were extremely intelligent, talented, creative, ambitious people,” said Lance Kinz of Manhattan’s Kinz, Tillou + Feigen gallery, which represented Blake.

“As a couple, they were extremely close, very much in love. They worshiped each other, and collaborated on projects together, as if they were one.”

The Daily News quotes Duncan’s last entry, but if its meaning is connected to her final act, it’s obscure.

An earlier entry entitled “Goodnight Children, We’re In the Arms of the Great Lover,” seems a bit more suggestive — maybe:

“Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets….”

~Rupert Brooke, The Great Lover
See you in the a.m.

Perhaps the Reynolds Price quote fits the circumstances, now that I think about it. The story of her death gnaws at me because there really is no story, yet; no explanation as to why this seemingly vibrant personality was secretly planning to die. Read this interview from February 2006 (excerpts below.)

If you were to design a videogame about Los Angeles, what would it look like? What would the narrative be?
I designed one already that I tried to sell. It’s called “Apocalypstick” and it involves survivors of a cataclysmic destructive event who find the few films that remain, which happen to be solely swanky thirties Thin Man-style flicks. A group of rebels recreates life based on the Stork Club and Fortuny and the weapons of glamour: poison lipstick and perfume sprayed in the eyes, with which they battle a Walt Disneyesque figure who wants to make everything cheerful and juvenile and driven by “It’s A Small World” automatons.


If you were to make a perfume that embodied the essence of Los Angeles, what would it smell like?
My cologne is called Santa Ana after the powerful winds that bring desert heat and faraway smell into the city.

It smells like: Celluloid and sand, coyote fur and car exhaust, contrail cloud and chlorine, bitter orange and stage blood and one bushel of ghostly, shivery night-blooming jasmine flowers like blown kisses from the phantoms of the ten thousand screen beauties who still haunt our hills every full moon because they think it’s a stage light.


If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
I would live in the Griffith Observatory, so I could keep one eye on Hollywood and one eye on outer space.

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
It is hard to make friends here, but I made up for it in enemies, who can make you feel just as warm.

What is the city’s greatest secret?
That we are the greatest city.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they’re inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?
Overnight stay in Chateau Marmont.

Describe your best LA dining experience.
Apple Pan Hickory burger.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
“I Wish They All Could Be California Girls”

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
Like Nietzsche’s quip about suicide, the thought of a massive earthquake has gotten me through many a long night.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Asleep in Jeremy Blake’s arms.

That last answer is the most haunting one. From all reports, Duncan and Blake were inseparable and happy. Why would she leave him? Didn’t she know how he would react? Was there a suicide pact? If so, why?

As I said, I never knew Ms. Duncan, and now I never will. I never knew Blake, or anything about him. But I need to learn their story. I can’t stand the silence.


8 thoughts on “I Never Knew Theresa Duncan

  1. Hi
    I conducted the interview with Theresa quoted above. Needless to say, I’m very saddened and mystified by this turn of events. The eeriness of this story echoes Theresa’s last post … we all need some narrative to understand and absorb this tragic turn of events. I hope someone at New York magazine looks into this further because there’s some strange stuff popping up. In addition to the operatic weirdness surrounding Theresa’s death and Jeremy’s disappearance, Theresa also wrote about feeling stalked and harassed by Scientology/covert ops somehow connected to the family of an old flame of Jeremy’s in March. I hope someone looks into this and reports it. Please let us know if you hear anything.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. I wrote my post so late last night, I neglected to properly credit it, for those who don’t go to the link. It ran in LAist, and was conducted by Adrienne Crew, a blogger, author and attorney based on LA. It’s a great interview. She now blogs at LABrainTerrain.com. I appreciate her commenting here!

  3. I think you and Adrienne Crew are correct in voicing concerns . Theresa posted numerous comments about Scientology from March through June 2007 . Twice she mentions personal harassment and in another states the harassment of another friend by the cult. There is one mentioning that harassment with includes comments concerning Johnny Gosch, James Cownie and Anna Gaskell ; all are deserving of inspection now that events have taken a deadly turn. Scientology specializes in FAIR GAME against it’s enemies. Theresa was an enemy of sdcientology by virtue of her public comments.
    You can read further about death & Fair Game:

  4. Pingback: Sorry, Theresa « From the Desert to the Sea…

  5. Pingback: The Duncan-Blake Effect In The Blogosphere « Seven Kinds of Denial

  6. Pingback: The Duncan-Blake Effect In The Blogosphere, Part 3 « Seven Kinds of Denial

  7. Pingback: The Duncan-Blake Effect In The Blogosphere, Part 4 « Seven Kinds of Denial

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