- 21 Feb 22
Producer, broadcaster and LGBTQ activist Bill Hughes documents his friendship with the late radio and TV presenter Vincent Hanley, who died in 1987.
Bill Hughes will appear on Irish screens tonight in a new documentary about TV presenter and radio DJ Vincent Hanley, who tragically passed away as a result of AIDS-related illnesses in the late '80s.
Sex, Lies & Videotapes tells the story behind Vincent's life and death, speaking to friends and lovers of Ireland's first LGBTQ celebrity.
A native of Clonmel, Hanley became a household name in the late ‘70s with the then ﬂedgling RTÉ Radio 2 before landing a gig in London with Capital Radio. Turning down a lucrative contract extension, he relocated in 1984 to New York where MT-USA was lovingly assembled.
“He could have kept making good money in England, but Vincent was always up for a new challenge,” Bill Hughes claimed in April 2020. “Our ‘production ofﬁce’ was his sublet apartment in the Woodward building on the corner of 55th and Broadway. This was pre-Mayor Giuliani and his zero-tolerance cleanup of Manhattan, so the neighbourhood was pretty earthy. I ﬂew over to New York on Sunday. We scouted for locations on Monday, shot on Tuesday and I ﬂew back on Wednesday. Editing took place in Windmill Lane on Thursday/Friday morning, after which I dash out to RTÉ with the tape. Saturday was spent dying and going, ‘I can’t keep this up!’”
Asked what Vinny was like off-camera, Hughes beams and says: “He was just one of the funniest. To this day, I have a picture of him by my desk. People thought we were lovers. We weren’t, but in terms of the craic we had we were inseparable. He was a big foodie and loved a good bottle of wine, preferably before or after a Broadway show. Musically, he was a massive Motown and black soul fan. If Diana Ross released anything, it’d go straight to the top of the list. He was a very early champion of Whitney Houston - Vincent thought her voice was magical - and played Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ before it was a hit. His favourite segue was to say, ‘And now, here’s three from ZZ Top!”
Describing a man full of life, energy, and big ideas; Bill talks to Cathal Kerrigan and Una Mullaly about the brutal reality of being gay in this country at that time in the new documentary.
Bill told Miriam O’Callaghan on her RTE Radio 1 show today that, seeing as homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until the '90s in Ireland, many LGBTQ people left the country for freedom.
“It was illegal to be gay until 1993 and you just never knew when you could be targeted for being gay. The guards were within their rights to persecute you if they felt like it. So many of the young men ran to Dún Laoghaire to get on the ferry, to Dublin Airport, to Shannon Airport, Cork Airport, saying ‘Let’s get out of here and where will we go? Let's go somewhere gays are accepted’.
“They would fly to London, New York and San Francisco," Hughes added. "That’s 1982, so they were flying out of Ireland to get away from this but they were flying straight into the arms of AIDS. They were thinking, ‘I’m now in a society where I can behave freely’ and sure they were like lambs to the slaughter.”
Nicknamed "Fab Vinnie", Hanley introduced the latest music videos from the streets of New York, becoming a major personality for those aged 25 and under. Tragically, his life was cut short at the age of 33 in 1987.
Bill Hughes worked alongside Vincent for many years and first realised the DJ was getting sick when he went to New York to join him for MT-USA in 1985.
“I noticed the deterioration because it was clear," Bill told Miriam. "The camera doesn’t lie and it was clear that his body mass was shrinking. It was clear that his face was becoming slightly more gaunt.”
Hughes noticed the illness plaguing the streets of NYC at that time, spreading rapidly.
"Everywhere I looked I could see men who had more advanced symptoms than Vincent but I could see that Vincent was on that track. I could see it was just a matter of time before he would end up with the Kaposi's sarcoma either on his face or his body. He did get a spot and Terry O’Sullivan, his great friend, spotted the spot and went, ‘Okay, this is happening’.
Terry was a health professional and knew what signs to look for, but Vincent both refused to accept reality. He later gave an interview to Gay Byrne, assuring the Irish public "vehemently" that he was not experiencing symptoms of AIDS.
Bill said: “It was obvious to anybody who had a shred of logic in their brain. You’re looking at a person who is in their final stage of grave illness. He refused to know that he was dying. He didn’t accept it.”
“Vincent caught the AIDS virus at a time when the medical profession just didn’t know what this thing was or how to deal with it,” his friend rued in 2020. “Before becoming Acquired Immune Deﬁciency Syndrome, it was ‘Gay Cancer’ and then HTLV-3. Unlike today, there was nothing to alleviate the symptoms or manage the terrible pain. Once it took a grip, it was pretty savage. The ﬁrst thing was the rapid weight loss which, with him being very body conscious and always going to the gym, hit Vincent really hard. He was into carbs and protein before I’d even heard of them, so he hated the sunken cheeks and looking off colour. It’s fair to say that he went into massive denial and refused to publicly acknowledge what was wrong with him.”
Sex, Lies and Videotapes airs tonight at 9:35pm on RTE One.
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