*Twenty-five years ago today, Phyllis Hyman was scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. She was to join R&B vocal quartet The Whispers for their 30th anniversary celebration, but the group learned upon their arrival for sound check that Hyman was ill and might cancel her performance.
Hyman, who battled bipolar disorder, had overdosed that afternoon on pentobarbital and secobarbital in her New York City apartment at 211 West 56th Street. She was found unconscious at 2:00 p.m., and died three hours later at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital. She was six days shy of her 46th birthday. Her suicide note read in part:.”I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.”
In this EUR Video Throwback, we take a closer look at the years leading up to Hyman’s final moments. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jenice Armstrong wrote of her death in 2007, “In addition to battling bipolar disorder, Hyman also suffered from drug and food addictions as well as alcoholism. She’d entered drug rehabilitation facilities a couple of times, but couldn’t stay clean for long. At the time of her death, her weight had ballooned to more than 300 pounds and she was experiencing financial difficulties.”
Hyman spoke openly about her emotional highs and lows in an interview with EbonyJet.com.
Phyllis Hyman on Emotional Ups & Downs (EbonyJet.com)
The night of Hyman’s death, the Apollo show went on as scheduled. The Washington Post reported that her band members performed and sang her songs, “and comforted some of the singer’s relatives who had come to celebrate her birthday.”
Initially, the Whispers were going to pull out of the show, believing that performing the up-tempo parts of their set, including “And the Beat Goes On” and “Rock Steady,” would be inappropriate under the circumstances. But a few words from an Apollo employee ultimately brought them onstage. “She told me that Phyllis would have wanted us to go on, and I think that’s true,” group member Walter Scott told the Post. Below, Hyman’s lone recorded collaboration with The Whispers, “Suddenly,” from The Whispers’ 1984 album “So Good.”
“Suddenly” – The Whispers feat. Phyllis Hyman
Hyman, signed to Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, spoke to EbonyJet.com about the bittersweet experience of performing one of her signature songs penned by the late Linda Creed. The veteran songwriter was diagnosed with cancer at age 26, but kept working and writing until her death at age 37. Creed teamed with the label writer/producer/arranger Thom Bell to create hits for the The Stylistics (“You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “Break Up to Make Up,” “People Make the World Go Round,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “I’m Stone in Love with You”), and The Spinners (“Ghetto Child,” “I’m Coming Home,” “Living a Little, Laughing a Little” and “The Rubberband Man.”)
Creed collaborated with fellow Pennsylvania native Hyman on many of her songs, most notably “Old Friend.” Below, Hyman tears up discussing Creed, the story behind the song and the emotion she has to keep in check whenever performing it.
Phyllis Hyman on “Old Friend” (EbonyJet.com)
Phyllis Hyman – “Old Friend” Live (1994)
Hyman’s posthumous album, “I Refuse to Be Lonely,” was released in November 1995. It was supposed to drop months before her death but had been delayed repeatedly over “cost negotiations,” according to the Post.
Hyman had already started performing the tracks “This Too Shall Pass” and “I Refuse To Be Lonely” in concert and public appearances.
Phyllis Hyman, with Billy Preston on a Texas morning TV show, sings “I Refuse To Be Lonely” (1994) – at the 5:40 mark
The constant delays in releasing “I Refuse to Be Lonely,” according to The Post, affected Hyman both emotionally and financially leading up to the day she was found unresponsive on June 30, 1995.
Kenny Gamble spoke about his artist’s bipolar battle in a video recalling the production of her 1986 hit “Living All Alone.” The track was from her album of the same name, and her first for Philadelphia Int’l after leaving Arista following her sixth album, “Goddess of Love.”
Kenny Gamble speaks on Hyman’s Bipolar Disorder, Hyman performs “Living All Alone”