Remembering Uncle Mark
Dr. Dana Litt remembers a lot of special things about veteran stage and film actor Mark Blum, 69, a respected fixture on the New York acting scene for decades who recently died from complications of coronavirus.
His loss is different for Dr. Litt, Associate Professor at the HSC School of Public Health, because she wasn’t just a fan of his movies, plays and TV appearances.
She was his niece in a close-knit family that maintained its connections across miles and throughout the years, no matter where everyone was located or what they were doing.
One of the most special times Dr. Litt remembers was the day, at about age 10, that she spent in Manhattan hanging out with Uncle Mark.
“It was always a special treat when I got to spend time with him,” she said. “He was the fun uncle – smart, witty and great to be around. We rode the subway together to an audition, and afterward we ordered New York City takeout at one of his favorite places. It’s very comforting right now to feel the support and to see on social media and in other ways how many other people loved him, too.”
News of Blum’s passing – at a time when families around the world are especially concerned with protecting themselves and those close to them from the COVID-19 virus – has spread quickly in the days following his March 25 death, becoming one of the most-searched recent Google and Twitter celebrity stories of the week.
Blum’s acting credits include the movies Desperately Seeking Susan and Crocodile Dundee; numerous Broadway and off-Broadway plays; and popular television shows like Roseanne, Frasier, NYPD Blue and Law and Order.
Online fans are remembering his work, his life, influences and spirit, while high-profile celebrities like Madonna and other recognizable names are mourning the loss of their dear friend and urging people everywhere to stay home and stay safe during this period when any of us could be most vulnerable.
“My family is appreciative and has been so touched by the outpouring of support from others, and while we are heartbroken that we had to lose my uncle, we also don’t want his loss to be in vain,” Dr. Litt said.
“If hearing his story inspires others to stay home and be safe, if it has the chance to help change how people think about coronavirus and live their lives right now,” she added. “then perhaps something good can come from something very sad.”
Roughly two weeks ago, Blum reported feeling under the weather. After a week with minimal improvement at home, he and his wife, a fellow actor and NYU professor, ended up seeking treatment at a New York City emergency room, where treatment advanced and Blum was placed on a ventilator. Tests confirmed that the two were suffering from COVID-19.
“It was very fortunate that there were hospital beds and ventilators available for them. As public health and government officials have warned, though, as the pandemic goes on, those hospital resources will be in shorter and shorter supply and might not be there to save someone else,” Dr. Litt said.
Sadly, there is no way at this time for a funeral or memorial service, so the best that family and friends can do is be there for each other from afar.
Dr. Litt’s 92-year-old grandmother, Blum’s mother, lives with a caretaker in the New York City area as does the late actor’s wife, while Dr. Litt is based in North Texas, and her parents and sister’s family are at different locations and isolating in place at their homes in Colorado.
“The hardest part is that we can’t hug and be there to support each other in person right now,” Dr. Litt said. “It’s harder to grieve together by phone, FaceTime and with our web connections, but we’re doing our best.”
She hopes that by sharing their family’s very personal story, it can demonstrate that COVID-19 is not just about numbers, it’s about real people and real loss.
“Whether the numbers are 5,000, 5 million or five, if the tragedy hits close to you, it becomes very real. This is most definitely a public health crisis. More and more cases and deaths are occurring, and the virus is not yet slowing down. It’s important to everyone to take COVID-19 very seriously,” Dr. Litt said.
When Blum and his wife married many years ago, he requested a giant display of fine gourmet cheeses instead of a wedding cake.
So to pay final tribute from her own home to the dear uncle she remembers so fondly, Dr. Litt poured a nice glass of wine and brought out some very good cheese to give him a proper goodbye.
“He wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said.