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Andy Neiman Was a Comet Flashing Through the Darkness 

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click to enlarge Andy Neiman, then in his late 20s and early 30s, would submit images like these as he auditioned for parts in productions in St. Louis and nationwide.
  • Andy Neiman, then in his late 20s and early 30s, would submit images like these as he auditioned for parts in productions in St. Louis and nationwide.

In eighth grade, Neiman produced a video — a kind of TikTok precursor later posted on YouTube — in which he and his classmates danced, pranced and lip-synched to the tune of the Cars' "Magic" around suburban Clayton where he grew up. Watch it and you will find Neiman redefining zest.

Neiman went on to perform in high school musicals and college productions. As an adult, his passion grew, and there wasn't a boundary he feared crossing. He was Avigdor in Yentl; the columnist Mitch Albom in Tuesdays with Morrie; Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man. Likely you saw him in many productions at St. Louis' Shakespeare Festival.

A playwright as well, Andy adapted Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing into Much A Doo Wop About Nothing, a 50-minute musical with original songs and lyrics which he took on tour to more than 100 schools. He also crafted a hip-hop version of Julius Caesar.

click to enlarge In 2008, Neiman played three roles in the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's production of The Tragedy of King Richard III. - J. DAVID LEVY
  • J. DAVID LEVY
  • In 2008, Neiman played three roles in the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's production of The Tragedy of King Richard III.

Neiman brought so much passion to his work that it sometimes concerned his mother. "Are you sure you want to be an actor?" she asked. To which he responded: "Mom, are you sure you want to be a woman?"

Tortured Artist

Lainie's concerns were not misplaced. His siblings began to notice Andy losing the boyhood buoyancy he displayed in his "Magic" video. Andy was as popular and successful a student as ever there was at Clayton High School, David observed, but without ever enjoying himself that much. "He was runner-up for prom king and yet never hung out with anybody outside of school. How does that happen?" David observed.

Even as a teenager, "I think he was a true tortured artist," his sister Emily said.

Neiman attended college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he did forge friendships, including with Danny Greene, who found himself playing a role in a real-life version of The Odd Couple. In his eulogy for Neiman, Greene compared himself to uptight Felix Ungar living with Neiman's Oscar Madison. "I liked order," Greene said. "Andy could live in the mess."

Beyond his acting and producing Neiman had developed another skill — pie making. With Greene performing as sous chef, the two would stay up late making pies and then diving right in to eat them. "There was so much pie," Greene recalled in his eulogy. "So many dirty baking dishes that I got to wash."

It was exciting to be with Andy, Greene recalled. "He could impersonate any character in any movie or any TV show. He could do a Shakespearean monologue, deliver it in the voice of a stuck-up aristocrat, Kermit or Yoda. Out on the street, he would just start singing at the top of his lungs."

But Greene experienced hard times with Neiman as well. Neiman had broken up with a girlfriend in his sophomore year. The student moved on, forging a relationship with one of Neiman's friends. Neiman could not get past it.

A month after his graduation from Wesleyan, on June 19, 1995, Neiman suffered a psychotic break. His brother David was with him. They stayed up all night, as David remembered, "unearthing hard truths that had come to light," working through a relationship that had grown difficult and complicated.

At dawn, as David recalled in his eulogy, "Andy wrote on the wall in huge magic marker the words, 'On June 19, 1995, Andy Neiman was reborn.' And underneath I wrote in slightly smaller writing, 'And on that night so was David.' By noon the next day Andy held my face in his hands and revealed to me that he was the Messiah.

"It was terrifying and disturbing," David recalled, "but a small part of me wondered if it were true. That is the level of reverence that I had for my spectacular brother."

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