|Death: ||May, 2007|
By KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian
When Stevie died last month, so did a little bit of Marilyn Monroe.
Steven Bryant was his own man, and sometimes his own woman, too. When friends and family reminisce about him - Steve or Stevie - they describe a man who lived life his own way, with all of its contradictions.
Sometimes, Steve slipped into a sequined ball gown and high heels and transformed into the blond and sultry Hollywood beauty. Other times, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work at the Holiday, where he knew his customers by name. He was bullied as a youngster, but as an adult, he defended the underdog.
He loved his family and counted hundreds of people as friends. At the same time, he was lonely. The love of his life, Big Steve, died after the couple had been together just three years. Little Steve never recovered.
Now that Steve is gone, his family and friends try to console themselves with the thought that he's in heaven with Big Steve - Big Steve and Marilyn Monroe.
"We're all looking at it that way. But it's hard. It's really hard," said one of his sisters, Sue Wilkins.
Stevie grew up in Great Falls with his parents and two sisters. The family took trips together to Glacier National Park, where Steve proved to be a conflicted hiker. Up a trail, his trip was slow and belabored.
"He'd trudge along reluctantly," said his mom, Mary Bryant.
When it came time to turn around, though, Steve's enthusiasm picked up some. On the way back, he booked it.
"It got to be kind of a joke," Mary said.
The family bought a modest cabin in Lincoln, too, and they spent time there reading books and playing games - doing family things.
"We always appreciated the view of the stars," Mary said.
Back at home, in Great Falls, Stevie dragged himself to school, and Mary said he didn't really like it. Other students picked on him, and when he was in high school, even some adults did.
"There were a couple teachers that were just plain mean," Mary said.
Steve didn't turn mean himself, though. Instead, he protected the little guy - and his little sister, too. At his funeral, Sherri Estep said Steve looked out for her.
"He would walk me to my baton lessons at the park. We would stop at my friend's house to pick her up, and I was always terrified to knock on the door because she had two big, ugly bulldogs. I knew I would be OK, though, with my big brother at my side," Sherri said.
The family is close, and when Sue's husband needed to have his leg amputated, Steve moved in to help them raise their daughter. He loved children, but he helped everybody.
He educated people on safe sex before researchers knew much about HIV/AIDS or even cared, Mary said. A leader in Montana's gay community, he wanted young people to know it was OK to be homosexual, and he encouraged closeted friends to come out.
Shay Sheppard is one. Shay was just a shy guy struggling to come out after being in the military when he met Steve. He said Steve encouraged him to be bold.
"He really shaped me into the gay person that I am today. And now I'm totally open," Shay said.
"And not afraid," said Odessa Joseph, another friend.
On stage as Marilyn Monroe, Steve wasn't afraid either. At least once, he sang a crowd a most seductive version of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." Another time, Odessa and Shay remember he donned a green, beaded sequin gown that was just a tad too tall for him.
"He wore it anyways. He just decided to get higher heels," Shay said.
His numbers were often fundraisers for charities. At the end of the performances, Steve as Marilyn would wow the crowds.
"She'd rip off her wig and kick off her shoes, in a way saying, I'm a man doing this but I'm having fun," Shay said.
They say Steve knew everybody, and AmVets isn't the same anymore without its unofficial greeter. The Holiday where he worked isn't the same, either.
Customers came to the store just to see Stevie, said Barb Kirk, his friend and co-worker. Now, they're coming into the store wondering where he is.
Barb said he worked hard, but when he was distracted they still knew how to get his attention.
"If he wasn't listening to us, we'd say, ‘Marilyn.' His head would come up and he'd say, ‘What, Barbie?' " Barb said.
"He touched people's lives in ways that I don't even think he knew," she said.
Steve made pottery, wrote poetry and did macramé. While he had an outrageous, extroverted side, he also held back a part of himself from the public. It might have been the death of his partner that partially closed him off. They were together just three years, but those who knew them say their relationship would have endured.
"I have little doubt that it would have been a lifetime," Sue said.
About 20 years ago at a barbeque at a friend's house, Steve watched his partner drown in the Sun River.
"He just never really found anyone that took Big Steve's place. And he's been gone a very, very long time," Mary said.
When Steve's family cleaned out his home, they found the green gown that was just a bit too long for him. It was folded up because it was too heavy to hang, and it's now at the Missoula Children's Theatre.
Among the costumes, they found presents they'd given him that remained unused. They found new sweaters he hadn't worn and a nice grill he hadn't used, either - all evidence Steve paid more attention to people than things.
"He really lived just a simple life. But with that, he took care of so many people. I don't know if he realized how many people really cared about him," Sue said.
Beauvais Decker Catholic Cemetery
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: BrixtonWy
Record added: Jun 21, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 20014014
|Photos may be scaled.|
Click on image for full size.