The Mighty Logo

A Tribute to My Dear Friend Adam Schlesinger

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

When I heard my oldest childhood friend Adam Schlesinger was in bed with a fever and a cough, I was naturally worried. But, like so many, my fears were tempered by the reports that the main victims of COVID-19 were the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. Adam had neither. He was 52 and generally healthy. The only preexisting condition he had was that I wasn’t allowed to lecture him about his conditioning. He used to send me articles about the health benefits of coffee and the six-minute workout.

Although he wasn’t exactly the cover model for Men’s Fitness, Adam did care about his health. We (and another close friend) had spent the past three months doing our semi-annual diet challenge, in which we competed to see who would lose the most weight in three months. Adam had dropped some weight, and he was finally able to get off his blood pressure meds.

When his fever persisted for the fifth day, Adam drove to another state to get a test for COVID-19. They told him he would get results in five days. They never arrived. But his fever began to subside, and he told me he was “excited.” I told him I was jealous that he was going to be immune while the rest of us were stuck in quarantine. He joked, “I’ll be eating in restaurants and going to NBA games.”

The next morning, I texted to see how he was feeling. “In the hospital. Pneumonia,” he wrote back. “I’m in good hands, tho.” My heart sank.

Adam was the last person in the world I would imagine getting the coronavirus. His life was filled with the kind of good fortune that most would dream about. From the time he was a young child, he could sit down at a piano and play any song he heard by ear. We began writing songs together when I was around 7 years old. I like to think I was the Bernie Taupin to his Elton John. Our first collaboration was an ode to his overweight cat, Mandy. “Who sleeps like a log and eats like a horse? Who always gets caught in the kitchen door? Nobody else but Mandy.” OK, maybe I’m not Bernie Taupin. But Adam had chops like Elton.

He would go on to play in numerous camp and school bands. He used to tell me he was inspired by my father, a noted film composer, who put the idea in his head that he could actually make a living making music. There was never any other option in Adam’s mind. He was going to be a successful musician.

And that’s exactly what he became — a critically-beloved, award-winning songwriter and composer for movies, TV and Broadway. Even if you never heard his name, you heard his music. Adam penned the theme song for the movie “That Thing You Do.” His band Fountains of Wayne turned out amazing, catchy albums in the 1990s. Their most famous song “Stacy’s Mom” is still an anthem for MILFs worldwide. Adam won an Emmy last year for co-writing songs on the cult-classic TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” He’d just completed writing songs for a theatrical adaptation of Sarah Silverman’s memoir “Bedwetter.”

He was always writing, always creating. Every time I saw him, he would joyfully tell me about a new project he was working on. And it wasn’t just talk. Adam’s projects almost always came to fruition, whether through his talent, his incredible intellect or just the sheer power of his will. He taught me that if you wanted it badly enough, you could have it. It always seemed to come so easy for Adam, but behind the scenes he was one of the most stubborn, hardest working people I knew.

So when I heard Adam had COVID-19, I figured he would treat this like one of his many creative endeavors. He would eventually pull through then write a funny song, maybe a parody of “My Sharona” called “My Corona!” Good things always happened to Adam. Why would this be any different?

But it was different. This virus does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about your talent, the joy you bring to millions, the family and friends who adore you. It sneaks into your eyes or your mouth, like a foreign invader you cannot see, eventually robbing you of the very breath you rely on to keep you tethered to this earth.

Because Adam still didn’t have the results of his test, he was treated in the ICU and not the special COVID-19 area. Two days later, when his test finally came back positive for COVID-19, he was transferred. We were told Adam was in critical but stable condition, suffering from something called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). He received a promising new medicine that had shown miraculous effects. And for a few hopeful days, his condition improved so much that we were all feeling optimistic and eager to have our friend back. Then, early yesterday morning, I received a phone call from a dear friend. “Adam isn’t going to make it,” he said. Just after he took his last breath, his girlfriend sent us a photo of the sun that had suddenly peaked out from behind the April clouds.

I’ve been trying to process Adam’s sudden and shocking death all day. Why him? Why now? Mourning during the coronavirus crisis is intensely lonely and empty. FaceTimes, social media and texts do not replace the warmth of a friend’s embrace. But that is the new reality we all live in. For now, I can accept that. We need to all practice social distancing and stay safe.  

But here is what I won’t accept. This ugly virus, born from bats, may have taken my best friend from me, but his laugh, his music, his clever wordplay and witty jokes live in a sacred place the virus can’t touch. Dear Adam, “Shine on, shine on, shine on.”

Lead image provided by Jonathan Small

Originally published: April 2, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home