ObituaryTransition

Our first Christmas without Louie Cruz

The social arbiter of the Manila of the ‘80s-‘90s,
the ‘father’ of Boracay, didn’t say goodbye

Louie Cruz in a recent photo he used as basis for his portrait

Early this November Louie was trying to make up his mind whether or not to set up the Christmas décor—the Christmas tree, the trimmings, the colorful Christmas lights on his house’s façade, and most special of all, his half-life-sized Santa (with Mrs. Santa) that serves as lamp stand in the living room. That Santa couple aglow all night-long (made of resin, I believe), which he brought home from his life abroad, has been our visual memory of Christmas get-togethers in Louie’s home.

“Don’t stress over that,” I told him.

“I don’t even know if I should decorate,” he replied. Prepping the house for this Christmas was an annual detail he wanted out of the way before he could resume his chemotherapy. Or it seemed more like it was his cancer treatment that was the detail he wanted out of the way so he could proceed with Christmas.

Louie Cruz—the country’s lifestyle scene maker and celebrator who was known for his off-shoulder look—didn’t make it to Christmas. He didn’t even make it to the end of November. He died last November 20, losing his two-year-old battle against lung cancer.

He died on a Friday, and the Monday before that, we could still talk on the phone, even if briefly. He was telling me how he needed to focus on paperwork for immunotherapy. The call was abruptly cut; bad connection—I thought. Unlike what he had always done the past year, he didn’t say “Ingat! Love you!” right before hanging up. His breathing didn’t sound stable enough.

He was moved to the ICU the day after, and that Friday noon, even as I and Budji (Layug) tried to figure out if we could visit him in the evening (turned out, no ICU visits allowed), his caregiver accidentally pressed the Messenger Call to me. The caregiver was at the nurse’s station; I could overhear some commotion and a woman’s voice giving instructions that were inaudible to me. The call dropped. When the caregiver called again, I “felt” the news even before he could give it: “Gone na ho si Sir.”

This is 2020, the year the pandemic upturned our lives and when no goodbyes are allowed. Louie, our friend of three decades, wasn’t able to bid us goodbye. I lost one of the pillars in my life.

Ironically after the pandemic forced us into lockdown, Louie would tell us always during phone chat—“What’s so sad about this pandemic is that people die alone, no one to hold your hand, or when people die, you say goodbye only on FB.”

He didn’t foresee that his goodbye would be done via Messenger Call.

Cruz celebrates his birthday more than two years ago, with friends in Angeles, Pampanga, shortly after he was diagnosed of cancer. (Photo by T. San Juan)

 

Louie and Budji Layug in the ’80s after their sojourn in Europe in the ’70s (Photo from T. San Juan files)

 

Louie wore mask even before it was a pandemic-must, like at this dinner with Annie Ringor. (Photo by T. San Juan)

In Autumn 2015 Provence, in the home of Patrick and Karen Litre (middle), Louie with Budji Layug (far right), the author and her sons Carlo and Gabriel. (Photo from T. San Juan files)

KENSINGTON

Louie Cruz had built an incredibly vast social network here and abroad since the ‘70s. He was only 71 at the time of his death, but he felt and acted 40 or younger—because not only was he committed to live it up, he also had the high energy and the solid heart to keep friendships, even as his literal heart was already faltering.

Unlike many of his longtime friends, we met only about 30 years ago, when then Bulletin Home and Culture editor Ethel Timbol brought me to dinner in the Cruz’s home in Kensington, London. Ethel was invited over by Louie during our media junket to London in 1989—I think to watch Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson perform in Miss Saigon.

Louie’s parents, Ambassador JV Cruz and Lucy in 1995 in their wedding anniversary in Grasse, France

The Cruz’s Kensington home was a must-visit for many Filipinos not only because Louie’s dad, the noted journalist Ambassador JV Cruz was a well-known diplomat who was our ambassador to the Court of Saint James, but also because Louie’s mom, Lucy, prepared memorably sumptuous meals. She was the consummate hostess and diplomat’s wife and, I would learn later, the mother who was the bedrock in Louie’s life and those of his siblings, too. She was beautiful, and we’d discover, a warm and classy woman.

That night in the dreary London winter, we had Mrs. Cruz’s tempura, noodles and the best Japanese cuisine away from Manila. But just as good as the cuisine—she was known for various cuisines—were Louie’s stories and shocking one-liners. I could never have guessed that two decades later, Louie, I, Budji and another friend, Annie Ringor, would spend the autumn of 2015 in Provence in the house of their bosom friends Karen and Patrick Litre, then in Monaco and the Mediterranean coast, and Paris. Little did we know that 2015 was to be Louie’s final trip to his beloved Europe.

That night in 1989 I met for the first time THE Louie Cruz who, by then, was an institution in Manila’s lifestyle scene, he who had organized the biggest parties of the pre-Edsa Revolution Manila—his Halakhakan gig series tied up traffic from Manila Hotel in Intramuros all the way to Roxas Blvd. He was a chi-chi crowd magnet in the city’s night enclaves.

Much later on, in the 2000s we’d write about him as the man who turned a rustic Boracay into a fun destination. You could say he was the Father of Boracay. Thanks to him, Boracay became “Bora!”.

He was bigger than today’s influencers could ever be, and unlike today’s influencer culture, he conceptualized parties not because he was being hired to do so, but because he and his friends just wanted to have fun—and to shock Manila. To use the current jargon, he was already an iconic brand, although building a brand was farthest from his mind at that time. His youthful hedonism was authentic.

However, at that Kensington dinner, in 1989, I met a guy who was down-to-earth, unpretentious, friendly and kind. There was no reason for me to be starstruck after all, I thought belatedly, because the Louie Cruz of the off-the-shoulder fame was so non-elitist, definitely no power-tripper—although he could be if he wanted to; more amused than embarrassed, he’d tell us later about how in the early ‘80s, he could hold up a PAL flight with late check-in (his uncle, the technocrat Roman Cruz, Jr., was at the helm of PAL and Manila Hotel in their glory years).

When he came home for good in the ‘90s and proceeded to build Giraffe as the iconic club of the decade, I, as lifestyle editor and friend, experienced a defining and invaluable trait of Louie: in-your-face honesty.

He could be honest about himself, his relationships and whatever he was into. He was sharing with the public the nuances of homosexuality long before LGBT rights came into the public conversation. But Louie’s insights about living and style went beyond gender orientation and social status.

Louie had this rare quality of understanding people, rich or poor, young or old, Marcos loyalist or Yellow, and showing them empathy—but with a sense of comedy. His was a wisdom that came with a good heart and a wicked sense of humor.

 They’re my friends, he said—”and they just had their sex change.”

In the ‘90s, one night, he invited us over to dinner in his Syquia apartment in Mabini, which he shared with best friend Bonjin Bolinao. It was just for me and our Chronicle Lifestyle staff Alya Honasan, Apa Ongpin and Joseph Uy—the usual laughs and banter, until the door opened and in came three sexy “ladies.” They’re my friends, he said—”and they just had their sex change.”

We continued our dinner and tried to act casual as the women talked about why and how they did it, how it felt—then suddenly one of them, who was standing beside Apa (whose good looks, by the way, were landing him movie-acting gigs at that time; okay, acting skills, too), pulled up her skirt to give us graphic proof of the surgical precision. Honestly, I don’t remember seeing it, but the rest of the table had a collective jaw drop that very moment.

Then Louie continued with his reflection and insight about sex change, as if we weren’t too stunned to imbibe the nuggets of wisdom: “The giveaway (to their original gender) is when they eat—they have the appetite of a construction worker. It takes more than surgery to become a woman. You need psychiatric counseling first.”

Initially, I found use for him as news source—he knew the latest goings-on and their protagonists. For our People Are Talking About in Manila Chronicle in the ‘90s, we called him up once to ask if the slapping or hair-pulling tussle between two socialites at Giraffe that weekend was true. Not only did he not deny it, he also gave the cause and sequence of the fight—and forewarned the women that he gave a complete account to the broadsheet. No filter, warm and fuzzy, with unabashed decadence—that was how he turned Giraffe into the go-to bar for a generation of club denizens of the ‘90s. Long after Giraffe closed down, sometimes we’d run into “expats” who’d greet Louie and talk about Giraffe because it was there that they met their Filipino wives.

He was honest even about the gossip and brouhaha that involved him. One time, as Lifestyle editor of Philippine Daily Inquirer in the late ‘90s, I got a call from Louie—“I might as well tell you so you’d get the facts right.”

That weekend he got so drunk at the lobby of Peninsula—where people went to see and be seen—way into the night, made a scene not only in the lobby but also before the iconic lion sculpture that stood guard at the entrance. He described his misdeed so graphically that we were in stitches as we took down notes. But we were also quick to note that the morning after the incident, he went to the corporate office of Peninsula not only to accept his hotel ban but more important, to apologize not only to the hotel management but also to the owner, leading industrialist P.L. Lim, who was a good friend of his dad. His good breeding showed even through his raucous moments.

At the height of the coup attempt against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when a military tank rammed into the Peninsula lobby and did considerable damage, we chided Louie that, sorry, henceforth, the notorious association with the Pen lobby would be the coup attempt and no longer the Louie Cruz’s drunken scene. His had been eclipsed, we both laughed about it.

Louie grew up and grew old believing that life was a big party, and he was speaking from experience. They were college boys—he, Budji and some friends—when they went gallivanting all over Europe in the early ‘70s and refused to come home, not even after their parents cut off their allowance. To extend their visas, they had to be students so they enrolled at Vidal Sassoon Hair Salon in London, a city they had come to love as home. It was Budji who must have taken the course rather seriously so that when he finally came home to Manila, he opened the Budjiwara salon—which became a landmark of the era and “Budji” the name was immortalized in the Hot Dog pop classic Bongga Ka ‘day.

Inquirer editor in chief Letty Magsanoc and even Cynthia Villar, who were regular dinner guests in Louie’s pad, would remind him to chronicle their Europe sojourn of the wild ‘70s in a book

While Budji came home and became a fast-rising star in furniture design (his bamboo line became the longest display on the floor at New York’s Bloomingdale’s) under the aegis of Rustan’s founder Glecy Tantoco, Louie decided to live in Germany in the ‘70s. He spoke fluent German. Later in the 2000s, over dinners in his Makati digs, Louie would recount their years of youthful abandon in Europe—they were there at the right time, in the aftermath of Britain’s Youthquake that changed the world. Louie dished out his recollections as we enjoyed his signature mechado and fish fillet—he was a superb cook like his mom—which would leave us incredulous and laughing. Inquirer editor in chief Letty Magsanoc and even Cynthia Villar (long before she ran for the Senate), who were regular dinner guests in Louie’s pad, would remind him to chronicle their Europe sojourn of the wild ‘70s in a book 

The day Louie died, a sad Budji told us, “I’m the only one left of that bunch.” (The rest died rather young.) 

After shaking up Manila’s night life in the early ‘90s, Louie decided to leave city life for life on the island. He moved to Boracay, when it was still a rustic coast life. Not only would he invite friends to fly and visit him, he would also entertain or even host them until he himself opened a restaurant, McSandro, in what would be D’ Mall today. 

 Since Louie’s friends were the who’s who, Boracay soon became the go-to destination of the country’s influential travelers. They would go to McSandro and enjoy its comfort food like Pizza Arugula and Pork Binagoongan. At night, they would hang out at the Pearl of the Pacific which had the widest uninterrupted vista of the sea in that part of the coastline. Louie became a good friend of the hotel owners, the Sanson family. 

Louie and his friends turned Boracay into a party place—“Bora!”. Louie had a way of pronouncing Boracay, with emphasis on “Bo” and “cay,” making it sound American. Before long, he was writing a column on the island life for us in Metro magazine, aptly called Boracay Diaries. (What happened in Boracay didn’t stay in Boracay.)  

Louie and friends began the annual New Year’s Eve revelry of fireworks, music and booze. In time, Boracay became a New Year’s Eve destination not only for revelers but also for families. “Your children would go the opposite direction, to be sure. When parents walk towards Station One, their kids go the opposite way, to Station 3. So much for bonding,” he laughed 

After living for eight years in Boracay, Louie came back to Manila, heart-broken that his McSandro was shut down to give way to the mall. He wouldn’t fly back to Boracay until some time later, with me and my friends. 

Back in the city, he didn’t skip a beat in bonding with friends whose day or night his naughty imagination didn’t fail to shake up. In 2003, with a world reshaped for good by 9/11, when I picked him up for dinner, my car almost passed him by—on the curve outside his place stood this person in black, wearing what looked like a chador, with only the eyes peeking out.  

“You nuts?” I screamed at him as he hopped into the car. (I wrote about this in my book, i’m afraid of heights (or why i can’t social-climb).) 

He explained why he donned the garb, “I want to see how the world reacts to it, the Greenbelt crowd. How global chic and tolerant…And I wanna know how it felt to be reacted to.” 

Our dinner mate Budji walked past our table because he didn’t recognize Louie. At the table beside ours, the man kept staring at Louie, not sure whether or not to greet him. “That’s Ricky Silverio,” an amused Louie said. “He thinks it’s me but he’s not sure.” 

Budji, I and Cora Relova were half-entertained, half-befuddled how Louie could keep up the act the entire night, even when he had to lift the veil to sip the soup and to eat the main meat course. Eating meat became the giveaway.  

In my column Ladies Who Lunch later, I would write—“There were stares but not disrespectful ones….In the respect-for-diversity department, the Greenbelt crowd passed the test that night.” 

Louie Cruz was always out to tease and challenge social conventions, and derived satisfaction from it.  

In 2006, he had this ingenious idea of focusing on the influential Chinese-Filipino community—its growth, achievements and movers/shakers. “Something like their counterpart of Tatler,” he told his good friend, business leader Olive Limpe-Aw of the family that founded Destileria Limtuaco more than 100 years ago. That was how Olive started Asian Dragon, with Louie as editor at large and with me as lifestyle kibitzer. It was fun. 

The later years, however, we spent at quiet dinners, in his new home in Taguig or in the restaurants at One Rockwell. With me and Annie Ringor, Louie would talk about his major concern—getting old and losing one’s able body to be independent. Those long lazy dinners at the end of the day, come to think of it, proved to me what Louie was good at, among other things—he taught us how to see and hack life’s imperfections, find the irony in them. Then in the end, just laugh about them. 

I finally learned from his sister Candy that Louie did find the energy to put up the Christmas décor this year—no doubt an effort he did for his special brother, Mato, and for the gettogether he could have had with his siblings Candy, Jovy, Edvee, Monch, Joel. 

This will be our first Christmas without Louie. 

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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