25-Sep, 20:44

20:47, December 27 228 0

2016-12-27 20:47:16
Death of a Red Carpet Reporter

Jeffrey Slonim didn’t shout. While the other red carpet reporters tried to get the attention of celebrities by yelling their names, he usually waited for them to come to him. And they usually did.

Although Mr. Slonim specialized in light journalistic fare, he took it seriously. He wrote out his questions in advance and avoided the clichéd “Who are you wearing?” As a result, the quotations he gleaned had some charm.

Kim Kardashian West marched straight to his side. Anne Hathaway greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. Gwyneth Paltrow and Melissa McCarthy breezed past the other quote-hungry reporters to speak into the recorder that seemed permanently attached to his hand.

“He was this little island of sanity at every red carpet,” said Andy Cohen, the Bravo talk show host and author. “When I read the news, I just thought, ‘Wow, how sad.’”

From the 1990s until it all came to a blunt and violent end on Oct. 13, Mr. Slonim, who died at age 56, was a steady and affable presence on the circuit, always neatly turned out and professional as he chronicled the endless balls and premieres. So when he jumped from the roof of a Lincoln Center building, it came as a shock to his relatives, friends and co-workers, not to mention the celebrities who considered him a gentleman among brutes.

“It still doesn’t register,” said Mr. Slonim’s brother, the artist Hunt Slonem (who spells the family name differently). “It’s like, How? What happened? It’s just so shocking.” He paused. “Anyway, he really made up his mind.”

Mr. Slonim’s writing for Allure was his main source of income from the mid-1990s until late 2015, when he lost his special correspondent position at the Condé Nast monthly. The change came as part of a cutback that followed the firing of the magazine’s founding editor, Linda Wells. A few months later, Lena Dunham stopped on the red carpet to tell Mr. Slonim she missed his page. He appreciated that. “What a doll,” he wrote on Facebook.

In the last year of his life, he was trying to piece together a living by turning out celeb-centric items for Gotham, Architectural Digest, Hamptons, the New York Post Page Six column and other outlets.

“I don’t want to say that’s what he lived for,” his wife, Fiona Moore, a school administrator, said, “but he really loved his work.”

He cut a stylish figure, never failing to dress for the occasions he covered, which meant crisp tuxes for galas and preppy seersucker suits for summertime Hamptons fetes. He wore his eyeglasses low on the bridge of his nose as he worked, and the J. Press scarf completed the look of someone who might have stepped out of a novel he loved, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night.”

But the man who might have struck casual onlookers as just another partygoer would inevitably leave the night’s affair for his desk, where he stayed until his copy was ready to file.

“Hardest working man in the business,” said George Wayne, a veteran celebrity-and-fashion journalist. “The thing about Jeff is, unlike some of us — and I’m one of them — he didn’t want to be part of the story. He was always the humble, ink-stained wretch. He waited at the ropes with everybody else, in the herd. He didn’t mind that. He was so unaffected and so good at his job.”

On a typical day, after working the carpet and filing his items, he would get into bed with his wife at 5 a.m. in their railroad apartment on the Upper East Side and sleep until 7:30. “He wasn’t a great sleeper,” Ms. Moore said. After spending time with his two sons, he would take a nap — then it was back to the job.

“I just couldn’t believe the pace he kept,” his brother, Mr. Slonem, said. “He’d be up writing until 5, 6 in the morning. He seemed to have deadlines all the time. He’d always say, ‘I’m on deadline — I’ve got to have this done in two hours.’ For years this went on.”

To those who saw him only when he was in his element, Mr. Slonim seemed to lead a charmed life, unruffled in a milieu peopled with sometimes-sensitive celebrities and often-rude publicists.

He joined the media scrum at Interview magazine in 1984, when Andy Warhol was overseeing it, thanks, in part, to an introduction from his cousin, the writer Tama Janowitz. Mr. Slonim, a Yale graduate, class of 1982, took the job after an unhappy stint at IBM in Florida, where his habit of moonlighting as a cocktail pianist in a hotel bar suggested he was not cut out for corporate life.

He spoke French, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. As a young man he banged out short stories on a portable typewriter. Friends fondly recalled him as an expert orchestrator of parties who sometimes entertained guests with his renditions of Scott Joplin rags and Cole Porter standards.

What he did for a living gave him a front-row seat for the passing celebrity parade. He dined with Warhol at the Odeon. He stood nearby when Tommy Hilfiger got into a fistfight with Axl Rose in the V.I.P. area of the Chelsea club the Plumm. He saw Tom Cruise roar into a Vanity Fair Oscar party on a black Ducati motorcycle. When Prince held an impromptu, after-hours get-together at Lily Pond, a cozy East Hampton nightclub, Mr. Slonim stayed among the dozen or so select guests until 5 a.m.

A son of the naval officer and nuclear engineer Capt. Charles E. Slonim, whose career took the family to Hawaii, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington State, Mr. Slonim early on developed a knack for putting strangers at ease, a skill that came in handy on the red carpet.

He met Fiona Moore, the woman who would become his wife, on the Greek island of Ios in the early 1990s. She was on vacation with friends, one of whom had just given her “The Andy Warhol Diaries” as a birthday present. He let her know his name appeared as part of the entry for Thursday, Feb. 12, 1987: “And Jeff Slonim from Interview, he’s Tama’s cousin, and he has perfect teeth, a beautiful toothpaste smile.”

In 1993, Ms. Moore moved into his Lexington Avenue apartment, which is still home for her and their two teenage sons. Their 1995 wedding took place in Cork, Ireland, not far from where Ms. Moore grew up. They found a priest who spoke Hebrew to officiate, as if to provide some middle ground for Mr. Slonim, who was Jewish, and the Roman Catholic Moore family. In his toast, the bride’s father mentioned the Warhol line about Mr. Slonim’s smile, adding that you could judge a horse by the quality of its teeth.

Early in the marriage, there was a complication: Mr. Slonim had blood clots and difficulty walking. The diagnosis was polycythemia vera, a rare and slow-growing blood cancer that may be present for years before symptoms show up. To treat it, he was prescribed the drug Interferon, which he took at regular intervals from the time of his diagnosis until June of this year, according to three relatives.

Ms. Moore saw how the changes in New York’s night life and media business affected her husband’s routine and fortunes. Things turned hectic in the giddy late 1990s, with Mr. Slonim working five nights a week soon after the birth of their first son and the onset of his health problem. But the end of the last decade produced a queasiness for Mr. Slonim and others who relied on magazines for their incomes. Blowback from the economic collapse, which coincided with the rise of digital media, made itself felt at Condé Nast Publications, the owner of Allure, in 2009. That is when a McKinsey & Company report led to a budget cut of 25 percent at several Condé Nast magazines.

The company rid itself of Cookie, Details, Domino, Men’s Vogue and Portfolio. Toward the end of 2015, amid layoffs at GQ, Glamour, Self and Teen Vogue, Mr. Slonim and 14 other Allure contributors lost their yearly contracts. The cutback occurred at roughly the same time as the firing of Ms. Wells.

“People were terrified and upset,” Ms. Moore said. “I think Linda being fired was devastating for him.”

The job of celebrity and society reporter, even one at the top of this rarefied field, seemed no longer enough for a family breadwinner. As Mr. Slonim grappled with this, his health issue came to the fore.

In June, he stopped taking Interferon. He told his brother that his doctor had taken him off the drug because it was no longer effective for him. Ms. Moore said he started taking a new drug, in the same family as Interferon, but it left him in a low mood.

Ray Rogers, an editor who worked with Mr. Slonim at Interview, BlackBook and other publications, was concerned when he saw his friend at an East Hampton benefit over the Labor Day weekend. “I said to him: ‘Jeff, what’s wrong? Are you O.K.?’” Mr. Rogers said. “He looked despondent. He was not himself. And he was like, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ And I said, ‘Jeff, what’s wrong?’ I must have asked him that in three different ways.”

Mr. Slonim’s work often took him to Lincoln Center, where the red carpet is rolled out dozens of nights every year.

On Sept. 20, on assignment for Gotham magazine’s website, he interviewed Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, Matthew Broderick, at a Lincoln Center benefit for the New York City Ballet. On Oct. 7, also on assignment for Gotham, he covered the premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta,” part of the 54th New York Film Festival.

Earlier that day, he called his sister, a psychiatric social worker and professor, Anne Slonim Rafal, and said he was having dark thoughts. After she laid out counseling options for him, he said, as she recalled it, “You know, I’m just being dramatic.”

At home, he told his wife about the call to his sister, and the two of them discussed the possibility of his going on an antidepressant. But Mr. Slonim was against the idea, partly because he did not like the way people looked when they were medicated.

“And then I said, ‘Well, if you’re on medication, you’re actually going to feel so much better, so you’re not going to care,” Ms. Moore said. But her argument did not sway him. “And that, I think, was probably the problem,” she added. “Maybe he should have started taking something.”

They spent the weekend in East Hampton, and things seemed to be looking up. “It was a lovely time,” Ms. Moore said. “Hurricane Matthew was coming in, and we went to the beach and all of that. He kept saying, ‘I feel so much better,’ so of course I believed him.”

After the Hamptons idyll, Mr. Slonim went to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center to see his hematologist. He apparently spoke of his recent thoughts, and the hospital placed him under observation.

His wife said he called from the hospital, saying he wanted to leave. Mr. Slonim also called his sister, Dr. Slonim Rafal, who advised him to be honest with staff members and to follow their recommendations. “They never admitted him,” she said. “They just observed him for, I would say, 36 hours, maybe 48.”

“He wanted out of there, big time,” Ms. Moore said. “He compared it to like the seven rings of hell, basically.”

(A public affairs officer at the hospital said that “regarding Jeffrey Slonim,” she had “no information available.”)

Mr. Slonim was released and made his way home on the evening of Oct. 11, his wife said, and he seemed in good spirits. The next morning, they went for a run together, and he said, as she recalled it: “I can see color for the first time. This is amazing.” He was also making plans — lunches for the following week and a meeting at the Condé Nast human resources department.

“He felt he needed to reinvent himself, that print was dying,” Ms. Moore said. “So he was working on his résumé.”

On the morning of Oct. 13, he went to Lincoln Center. The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn was closed, but he slipped past a chain gate and made his way to its northern edge, above the West 65th Street sidewalk.

The lawn, which serves as the roof for the glass-walled Lincoln Ristorante, has become an architectural showpiece and neighborhood attraction since it opened to the public in 2010. At the time of the unveiling, the New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff singled out the lawn for praise in his review of the Lincoln Center renovations: “The project’s most dazzling space, the lawn warps up on two sides, so that climbing it can make you feel as if you were about to float off into the air on a carpet of green.” At its high point, the 7,200-square-foot expanse of grass is 23 feet above the sidewalk.

At 10:52 a.m., someone called 911. Documents from the New York Police Department note “a 56-year-old male who’s observed pacing back-and-forth on a roof and sitting on a ledge.”

A crowd formed outside the entrances to the restaurant and the nearby Elinor Bunin Film Center. Two Lincoln Center security guards were talking to Mr. Slonim, and it seemed to be working. At one point, he turned around and moved away from the ledge — only to come back. People screamed “No!” when he made his move and hit the sidewalk below.

“At 11:05 a.m., the unit was on scene,” a spokeswoman for the Fire Department of New York said in an email. “The unit departed the scene at 11:13 a.m. with one patient to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.”

Despite the doctors’ efforts, Mr. Slonim died later that day, his wife said.

“Here’s a guy who spent his whole career covering high society — and to take his life, he walked over to Lincoln Center and jumped,” his friend Mr. Rogers said. “It seemed intentional to me. It seemed pointed.”

Back in the apartment, Ms. Moore found a note on the computer. “He’s rambling and stuff,” she said, “but he thanks a couple of people, and he thanks Linda Wells. It’s really sweet.”

With tears streaming down her face during an interview in her apartment, she went on: “I understand the whole concept of — not that he committed suicide, but suicide took him. I know that he didn’t have a choice. Because it wasn’t him that did this. I know he would never dream of doing that and leaving us. And I know that.”

Julianne Moore was another movie star who made a beeline toward Mr. Slonim at red carpet events. Their relationship went back to the mid-1970s, when they were each other’s dates for a homecoming dance at J. E. B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va. On the rainy, dark afternoon of Dec. 18, Ms. Moore was among the roughly 350 mourners crowded into the Fourth Universalist Society church on Central Park West. Nearby sat Mr. Slonim’s wife and their sons.

Speakers included his two sisters, who recalled the Superman costume he wore as a boy; his brother-in-law, Dominic Moore, who described his generosity with the swag bags he picked up at parties; the Oscar-winning film producer Bruce Cohen, who reminisced about his days with Mr. Slonim in middle school, at Yale and on the red carpet; and the former Allure editor Ms. Wells, who spoke last.

“Jeffrey hit the red carpet and he loved it,” she said. “Which sounds hard to believe, now that the red carpet is so often a shouting match and a total fame orgy. But he did, and he respected it, too.”

After describing his amusing encounters with Roseanne Barr, George Clooney and Donald J. Trump, she continued: “You could tell he had a genuine connection with the subjects, many of whom made a ritual out of greeting him with a kiss. He gave as much time and attention to the Oscar winner as he did to the guy who was voted off ‘Survivor: Borneo.’”

A montage of still photographs projected onto a small movie screen gave glimpses of Mr. Slonim from babyhood to adulthood. After the clergyman said a few final words, the mourners stayed in place for a long moment, silent and not quite ready to leave.