To whom it may concern,
My name is JoAnn Yvon Eberle, and I am Bernie Yvon's oldest sister. I'm not sure I have the ability to put into words the magnitude of what losing my little brother means to me, my family, the theater community in Chicago, and countless others; truthfully it still seems most days like this nightmare can't possibly be real. Surely I'm going to wake up tomorrow and see his smile again, and hear his voice, and feel his hug, right? Bernie's birthday was last week, and that night I found myself in the middle of a parking lot in Tulsa, Oklahoma sobbing uncontrollably at midnight. I haven't slept or eaten or focused well since he died, and my family has felt the negative impact every day of a mom and wife who isn't totally present with them, and is likely to start crying at unexpected moments.
Bernie and I were very close growing up; we shared a passion for music (we both played clarinet and saxophone), swimming and running for our town and school teams, competing to see who could get the best grades, and suffering through early mornings grumbling together in the snow on the paper route we shared. He was the friendliest, most likeable kid around, always ready with a smile, a joke and a kind word.
Bernie was mature and wise far beyond his years; when I left for college at Georgetown his note to me was so generous, caring and loving that I kept it for the last 36 years. This, from my then 14-year-old baby brother. “I’ll cherish all the times we practiced together, performed together, delivered papers together, played tennis together, gained weight together, argued together, laughed together and cried together. When you leave, a part of me will go with you.” Only it’s Bernie who’s gone.
We stayed close as I served in the military and Bernie began his musical theatre career. I've lost count of the number of times I dashed from an airport and changed clothes in a restroom to see him perform, spent a few hours laughing and hugging and catching up, then flew back to wherever I was stationed. He was the one I called when I was down and needed a pep talk, or confused and needed advice, or just wanted to hear his voice.
Bernie was an amazing uncle to my two boys, fifteen year old John and eleven year old Mikey. He's John's godfather, and some of my boys' favorite times include going to visit Bernie in Chicago, sharing every Thanksgiving together, playing cards and board games, and going to see him in Aladdin, Horton Hears a Who, Beauty and the Beast and countless other shows. In fact, when John was in fifth grade and had to write about his "special person", he chose Bernie. In his words: "One of my favorite people in the world is Uncle Bernie. I love Uncle Bernie because he’ll always be there for me. He’s the best uncle I could ever have because he really cares about me. Whether he comes to our house or we go to his, he’ll always help me with everything. … No matter what happens in my life, I’ll always love him so much! That’s why he’s my special person.”
Bernie touched every single person he met with his compassion, kindness and character. He knew and loved my friends and family as if they were his own, and he truly lived the "do unto others" mantra. He brightened the lives of thousands with his performances, and I remember asking him, "Hey Bern, how do you do this day in, day out? Don't you get tired, or bored, or whatever??" And he looked at me with those earnest, smiling eyes and said, "Jay, it may be my thousandth time doing this show, but there's folks out there in that audience that have NEVER seen it. And they deserve my best effort, as if it was my first time performing it. Right?" That was him in a nutshell - always taking the "harder right path". And you always got his best, every time, whether you met him for a moment or knew him for years.
Anyway. I lost a great big chunk of my life and my heart when Bernie died. And so did my parents, my kids, my sister, my husband, Matt, and hundreds...no, thousands...of others.
JoAnn Yvon Eberle
To put down on paper what the passing of Bernie Yvon has meant is nearly impossible.
Bernie was a best friend and colleague for over 25 years. He was like a brother to me and we joked that he was my backup husband, being my “date” at countless events. Bernie was my go-to person. My favorite person in the room. There are two kinds of people, the one that walks into a room and says ”I’m here” and the other that walks into a room and say’s “There you are!” He was the latter in spades with a personality larger than life. Bernie made people feel important, special, and included and would be the first one to welcome a stranger into a group. You only had to meet him once or do one show with him to walk away with a new friend and a quirky and wonderful new way to see the world.
It is still unfathomable to me that Bernie, who was the most vibrant person I’ve ever known, is not going to walk through my door ever again. I have not come to terms with it. His absence in my life is so profound. Every day I have to stop myself from buying him some silly thing that I know he would get a kick out of, or sweet I know he would relish. I recently had to update my info at a doctor’s office and felt a punch in the gut upon seeing his name as my emergency contact. He was a part of almost every area of my life without my even being conscious of it.
22 years ago I was buying my first house and when I went to pick up the cashier’s check needed for the procedure, found my bank closed. I had no access to my money, my husband was out of town, and no family in the area to turn to. Bernie was the first person I thought of calling. He didn’t hesitate to say “of course” and got me the check in time for the closing.
One of the last times I worked with him I got very ill during a show. He was the one who took care of me,bringing me food and checking in as I sat curled up on the green room couch.
He was my family and Uncle Bernie to my children as well as many, many other kids who were not actually related to him. And the children adored him! He had the spirit of a kid himself.
His 50th birthday party last year was a testament to the profound effect he had on so many people. It was truly an amazing night with a room full of people who came just to express their love for him. I feel so incredibly lucky I was there. I still cannot watch video. I still cannot believe he is gone. That I will never see his face, enjoy his sharp wit, and feel his hugs.
Bernie Yvon was a singular man in my life. From the moment we met he made me feel important. And by that I mean--he wanted to know about me. Really know about me. He wanted to know about my family and my friends and my partner. He wanted to know what I liked and what made me tick. And the questions were not rote and he never asked just to ask. He wanted to KNOW. My mom passed away years before I met Bernie, and yet I feel like he knew her better than a lot of my friends who actually knew her in person--because he asked about her. And oh--how she would have adored him. That is a meeting I would have liked to witness. My father can not remember many of my friends when I bring them up in conversation--but he always remembers Bernie. Telling him about the passing of Bernie was rough. I knew he would be sad at the loss and at my loss and at Matt and the Yvon's loss.
My last voice mail message from Bernie is a wonderful way of summing up this man's character. It is a rather longish message. It begins the same way all of my message from him did---with a joyful tone of voice saying "Hellloooo my dear friend!" He then proceeds to say that he thinks he remembers that I am going to see a show that Matt (his partner of 10 years) has directed and choreographed. He says how happy this makes him because A. I will love it and B, How much it will mean to Matt whom he is so proud of. He then asks how my travel plans are coming for a many month job out of town I have coming up and asks if I need help. He then asks after my health. I had had a minor scare that I had mentioned to him--and he wanted to know how I was physically but also emotionally. The whole message is about others and how he can be of service and how much he loves them. How amazing is that? That was Bernie. He loved the people in his life. And he loved loving them.
I never doubted Bernie's love, loyalty, passion, care, zest for life, dedication to me and all of his loved ones. I ALWAYS knew I could count on Bernie. Always.
And I still do. If ANYONE is capable of being and angel from beyond for those he loved--it's Bernie. And I trust that he is. I feel it. He'd want me to.
To Whom It May Concern.
My friendship and professional relationship with Bernie Yvon began in 1988 when we were both beginning our acting careers in Chicago. Throughout the next 10 years we frequently worked together and formed a lasting friendship. Many people may reflect upon the impact of Bernie's death to our profession and to the countless people who enjoyed Bernie's performances. The loss that has been felt by many of Bernie's close friends is equally important. His death from this accident has impacted my life on a weekly basis.
Bernie and I had been friends for 26 years. Over this long period of time we remained in touch on a regular basis. We would check in on each other and even when Bernie or myself was working out of town we frequently called and knew what was happening in our respective lives. Dinners, birthdays, regular socializing and celebrating life successes and milestones was something that remained constant over these many years. Bernie was a significant part of my support system. A week did not go by without checking in on each other. When a 9-year relationship for me ended, Bernie was there. When my sister died of cancer, Bernie was there. When my current husband was battling oral cancer, Bernie was there for both of us.
As you reach middle age often your social and support system becomes smaller and more focused. Your priorities change and you have less time to devote to a wide array of friendships. At this point in my life, Bernie was one of those friends who I knew would be there for the rest of my life. We had established a relationship that was meaningful and important to both of us. A solid friendship of mutual respect and support for whatever life was going to bring us. We both were childless and living in a large city without a lot of family nearby. I know it went without saying that we knew that we had each other's back and would help and support each other as we progressed in age. This is now gone due to this accident and I am left without this significant person in my life.
It is almost unbearable to write about what I am still unable to speak of. An almost 30 year friendship that exceeded in its role of best friends. Gone in less than a moment, without warning or chance to say goodbye. Dreams large and small, shared, that will never be realized. Dreams not just for himself, but for those that meant the most to him. Friends and family. For all that he had achieved, in what should only have been the first half of life, he was equally hopeful for others. He prayed for their dreams to come true as his had, and which were about to again on a level he long thought unattainable.
The cliché boasts that a true measurement of one's contribution to life can be found in those that loved him. In the difference one makes in another persons life. In this regard, even those closest to Bernie were not ready for the immediate and overwhelming reaction to his untimely death. The stories poured out, in a need to be heard, in hopes that it could somehow heal the pain if shared. That if we could perhaps share a funny story that had happened just a day two earlier, somehow this would all not be true. The stories all shared a common theme. "Bernie, was my best friend".
I was one of the many that called Bernie my "best friend". I believe I shared a special place in his life, though certainly crowed because he truly has the capacity to embrace everyone. Bernie has the gift to really listen. And to remember. It was easy to laugh about his uncanny ability to remember every word he, and others, uttered on stage durning countless shows. But he also remembered where each of us were in life. Whether we were trying to overcome an illness or deal with a family issue. Whether heartbreak in relationships or in new found joy. Friends and family, and their dreams, were his priorities. Then, if you were very lucky, he might let you in on a dream all his own. He had many dreams. Countless dreams. From his upcoming graduation from college when we first met, to roles on stage, the first of us to own a house, tours, Broadway, a sponsored child, and the unbending wish of happiness for his family. Most recently his personal life was about to be rewarded. It was difficult for Bernie to be selfish. To want something for himself. For with all the continuing success he had on stage, the one role he almost felt he didn't deserve was about to be his. Yes, gone in less than a moment.
Given my professional position, I have a unique, though heart-breaking, view of the impact that Bernie has had on the artistic community and the theatre-going public. The personal impact was beyond what I could have imagined. In the days following the accident, hundreds and hundreds of stories filled our phone system at the theatre to the point it crashed. All with a special story about Bernie. A note of thanks he wrote a fan, taking the time to speak to all who waited at the stage door even though he was exhausted, remembering a previous encounter he had with a fan and not forgetting to ask about remembered details. Countless stories. Impossible to answer them all. At first I tried to speak to audiences that were attending the current show each night. To convey how humbled my friend would be at their outpouring, but that he wouldn't want them to be sad. After a week or so this proved too painful to continue, and too difficult for those who worked with Bernie on a daily basis to hear. There were no words that could help. Not yet.
From a business point of view, it easy to speak of Bernie's impact. After more than 20 years of appearances, Bernie had become the most loved of our actors by the tens of thousands that attend each production. They can not get enough of him. Beginning as a song-and-dance man, in recent years Bernie had begun carrying shows on his shoulders. Shows that had been chosen specifically to star Bernie and highlight his unique talents, knowing they would surely mean financial success. In many ways Bernie became the face of The Marriott Theatre. Not only would his name help sell a show, but our audiences actually felt they knew this special actor personally. We would send him out as an ambassador of sorts for the Theatre during subscription and sales drives. Yes, all 35,000 subscribers would say Bernie is their favorite!
The Marriott Theatre was fortunate to have featured Bernie in dozens of productions. More were already in the works. He was mainly responsible for some of our biggest hits. His shows grossing tens of millions. He was often an integral part of the most difficult of our ventures. New works. Brand new musicals developed from scratch. Bernie particularly loved doing those shows, especially when they involved working with friends. Those friends start rehearsals for one those shows tomorrow. He should be there. It won't be the same. It never will again.
The Marriott Theatre
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
I am not exaggerating when I say that Bernie Yvon was one of the most loved men in the Chicago Arts community and the news of his sudden death spread quickly throughout the the theatre community in the United States. Social media headlined this tragedy and thousands of friends and associates shared beautiful memories of their special time with Bernie Yvon. Their messages were all filled with descriptions of Bernie's warm and loving personality, his unending sense of humor and his loyalty to all of his friends.
I was fortunate to be on the Faculty at Northwestern University when Bernie first arrived as a Freshman and by the time he graduated four years later, I counted him as one of my very special friends. Bernie and I worked on several projects together, me as director and him as a talented young actor. Several qualities distinguished this extraordinary individual. First of all, he personified kindness and he possessed an unending supply of good humor. He was the type of person that many would consider one of their best friends. That was due in great part to the way that Bernie loved his friends.
Over the years I have had the chance to work with Bernie on several professional productions, namely at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Every experience proved to me that this was no ordinary actor, but an artist of exceptional talents. Audiences loved him and the Marriott quickly learned that casting Bernie in major roles like Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN, would give the theatre a major hit. He had an enormous fan base. He was so personable and charming that in many instances, Bernie Yvon was the major draw, not the title of the show.
Chicago lost one of it's major "stars" with Bernie's death. The tragedy continues to reverberate in the hearts of the thousands of people who knew him. While the simplest way of describing Bernie's character would be to say that "he was a good man," but that hardly does him justice. He was much better that just "good." He was an exceptional and ideal human being and we are all still reeling from this enormous loss.
Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University
To Whom It May Concern-
Bernie Yvon was truly one of the most talented, kindest and loving people I ever had the privilege of knowing. Not only was he an astounding performer but also a generous soul to all.
I knew Bernie for over 30 years. He was a best friend and cherished colleague. He and I both attended Northwestern University and as soon as we graduated, Bernie’s professional career skyrocketed. He was an extremely talented singer, dancer, actor and comedian who starred in myriad Chicago productions, truly making him a local star in the theatre scene. Whether he was singing a driving ballad or performing a skillful comedic turn, he always held the audience in the palm of his hand. To say he was a signature talent is an understatement. His imprint on Chicago theatre was immense and will resonate in this community for many years to come. There will forever be a hole on Chicago stages; one that can never be replaced.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of this wonderful human being. Whenever I reflect on the best way to handle a personal communication or situation, I always think of what Bernie would do in this instance. He found the positive in all. He saw the good in everyone. He made anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him happy and feel special. It was a unique gift- one that brought great joy and love to everyone…truly everyone. He was goodness personified and will be forever missed.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
It is impossible to calculate the magnitude of the tragic loss of Bernie Yvon. It is impossible to comprehend that he is gone. He was a man of staggering talent, good humor and grace. As an artist he brought joy to thousands and thousands of theatre-goers in Chicago, on Broadway and across the country. As a friend and citizen he was honest, loving, kind and unfailingly generous. He did not seek glory for himself, he gave. Without broadcasting his actions he supported causes, gave money beyond his means to give, and performed countless acts of kindness and charity that helped others in need. He was adored by his fellow theatre artists and he was present for his colleagues onstage and off. He was disciplined hard-working and funny so he became a role-model and a leader of the ensembles he worked with over the years. He was held tight in the embrace of his loving family, his parents, his partner Matt, his siblings and his scores of nieces and nephews.
I met Bernie when he entered Northwestern University as a Freshman. I was a professor in the Department of Performance Studies during Bernie's college years and I came to know him well. From the first moment he appeared in my class I knew he was a remarkable talent, a keenly intelligent and genuinely good-hearted totally unique individual. I cast him immediately in a show I was directing and it was the first of many productions we did together over the years at Northwestern and on Broadway and in the Regional Theatre. He played Houdini in my production of RAGTIME on Broadway. He was featured in my production of Kander and Ebb's musical THE VISIT which had its world premiere starring Chita Rivera at the Goodman Theatre. He was also featured in LOVING REPEATING, the Jeff Award-winning musical I directed in its world premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He played the leading role, John Adams, in my production of the musical 1776 at the ASOLO Theatre in Sarasota Florida. The response from audiences and critics to his work in all of these shows was thunderous praise and deep affection. When the staff at the ASOLO Theatre learned of his death they were heart-broken. Forty people gathered for a group photograph wearing buttons with Bernie's image as John Adams to send as part of the memorial celebration of his life.
Bernie's death diminishes the world. He gave so much and had so much more to give. He is profoundly missed. He will never be replaced in the hearts of those who knew him or saw him perform. He was in his prime and in full cry when he was killed on his way to work. He was cut down as his career was soaring. There is no imagining what more he would have accomplished or how very much more he would have given from his proud and passionate heart. This man of true character and goodness was taken from the living world. We bow our heads in sorrow and try to endure the grief we feel at the tragic loss of our beloved Bernie Yvon.
Dr. Frank Galati
Professor Emeritus, Department of Performance Studies
ASOLO Repertory Theatre
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
I am writing to express my deep concern that all who are involved in the case involving Bernie Yvon know the immersive value of his contributions to Chicago theaters, their audiences, and the artists.
Bernie Yvon was more than an actor. His work and professionalism were models for everyone he worked with and for. I had the honor of directing Bernie in lead roles in three major productions: The Goodbye Girl, The Music Man, and Mary Poppins. In each production he gave sterling performances but also led the company in artistry and spirit. In Chicago, we often create musical productions in impossibly short rehearsal processes. But Bernie was able to create rich, detailed, and vibrant work in these challenging time frames. More importantly, he inspired others to do the same. He set a valuable example of how to do work of integrity and intelligence. He never compromised his standards and yet was able to achieve all of this with grace and great good humor.
His loss to the art and industry of Chicago Theatre is beyond measure. I simply know of no other actor who had the range and skill that Bernie had. I also know of no artist more passionately committed to realizing the best our musical theatre houses could offer. Audiences embraced Bernie's work and trusted that his involvement in a production meant that they should attend. The loyalty he earned was well deserved.
I work as a professional director all over the U.S. and beyond. Bernie had a wide reaching career as well including a successful run on Broadway. But he chose to make Chicago his artistic home.
Bernie cannot be replaced. Respect for his extraordinary contributions and the incalculable loss must be paid.
Director of THE COLOR PURPLE, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, Broadway
Associate Artistic Director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater