Brian Wright (1959-2003)

Olympic, World, and Professional choreographer
1994 USFSA Choreographer of the Year

Brian Wright passed away in Seattle on July 29, 2003 at the age of 43. His memorial celebration was August 24 in Mt. Baker, a Seattle suburb. Click here to contribute memories and tributes to this gifted and beloved man.

Wright's friends Audrey Weisiger and Scott Williams made good on their promise to him of a "non-generic" GRAND BOUQUET for his life celebration. Said Weisiger, "The flower shop had to make 2 huge arrangements, rented an extra large refrigerated truck to transport them, and we couldn't get them onto a pedestal due to the weight. About 50 people participated, $1800 worth of exotic flowers. His family was floored by the outpouring of love. I handed out the flowers to people as they were leaving the celebration and his mom has one container and his sister Pam, who was his caregiver to the end, has the other. The celebration was everything it was supposed to be...wistful, funny, sad, comforting."

"Skating world remembers Brian Wright" by Amy Rosewater.
"Brian Wright: 1960-2003: A gentle perfectionist to skaters" by Kristin Dizon, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter, August 5, 2003.
"Skating choreographer Wright filled sport with love, laughter" by Christine Brennan, USA Today, July 31, 2003.

Brian Wright was one of the top choreographers in the skating world. At an international level, he was perhaps best known for creating U.S. champion Michael Weiss' breakthrough "Santana" free program in 1995, which introduced Weiss' signature muscular poses, adept footwork, and innovative jumps such as a walley-reverse walley-triple lutz combination.

But Wright's list of clients was exhaustive and read like a who's who of skaters. In addition to eligible singles programs, he choreographed pro numbers for such champions as Scott Williams and Rory Flack Burghart, and some of adagio pair Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding's most memorable show pieces. Flack Burghart used programs such as his masterpiece "Summertime" to showcase a unique jump he created for her, a reverse-direction single flip variation that he dubbed "the Burgie."

Wright was also known for being outspoken about being an openly gay man with HIV. He worked tirelessly within and outside the skating community to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. In Christine Brennan's 1995 book Inside Edge, Wright is featured prominently in the chapter "Skating's Tragic Secret." At the time, he did not think he would survive to see Michael Weiss make the U.S. Olympic team -- but he did. During the 1998 Nagano Olympics, CBS aired a segment about Wright choreographing Weiss' Olympic programs.

In fact, Wright lived and worked many years longer than expected. In December 2001, he served as a judge at the American Open professional skaters' competition. He and his fellow judges spent their time backstage engaged in lively debates and arguments about how they had scored the programs. At one point, inspired by some of the skaters they had seen, he suddenly stood up, whirled his chair over his head with both hands as though it were a baton, and yelled, "Look! I'm a Show Act!"

It's this legendary energy and wit that may be more memorable about Brian Wright than even his body of work or his dedicated activism.


I have a very vivid memory of one Christmas, along time ago, at Brian's parent's house.  Brian was about 5 years old making me, his cousin, 9 years old.   I can see it very clearly in my mind and that is Brian dancing gleefully around the small room that happened to filled with 25 or so of his relatives.  It is funny, of all the Holidays our family spent together,  I would remember that one moment more than any of the others.
--Janis Greene

I smile even today when I picture my summer camp experience in Indy... I was probably only 15, enjoying my first summer away from home, and loving the fact that I could skate all day long.

One of the sessions I participated in was Brian's Creative Movement class. In this class was Junior Champion Matt Kessinger, all the way down to little Juvenile girls working on their first double jumps, and then there was me, the ice dancer. But Brian didn't care who you were, national champ, or solo ice dancer, he just wanted to fill your skating with passion! He was the first person to get me to crave creativity, learn how to invent new movements, and how to really express from the deepest, most personal place in my body, my heart. I'm a choreographer today because of my one summer watching Brian move.

I also remember that same summer, how Brian was sick. I only knew he was sick because he could take liberties that no one else could get away with at the rink. :-) When I think of Brian Wright, I think of him smokin' on the ice! I grew up in an age where smoking was only allowed outside of airports, only in the smoking sections of restaurants, and the ash tray in the back of a cab was there to place your chewed gum. I could only relate to smoking at an ice rink through the historical memories of coaches that used to mark figure rockers and counters with the ash of a cigarette. But that summer in Indianapolis, Brian would freely and without inhibitions light up and skate around, smokin' on the ice! His actions were so natural, it was as if he were one of the legends, standing around a figure eight in an old, quiet rink, but with much, much more pizzazz! No one bothered Brian about it, no one even seemed to care. And I just thought it was fantastic... Brian Wright smokin' on the ice.

After that summer, I didn't see Brian again for a few years. He showed up in Seattle one day, with a budding skater by the name of Michael Weiss. The buzz in the rink was electric! All the little girls were running around whispering and giddy that Michael Weiss was there... Michael Weiss was there!! I however, the ice dancer, didn't know, or really care who the dark-haired freestyle guy was... all I knew was how lucky I was to be seeing Brian Wright again!

Brian wouldn't know who I am... but I'll never forget him... his passion and energy will always stay fresh in my mind... and of course the image of Brian, smokin' on the ice! :-)

It is with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of my old friend Brian Wright.  I wish to express my heart felt sympathy to his loving family, care givers, close friends, supporters and long time fans such as me...  We were very close once; sometimes sporadically or for long periods of time... I got to know Brian Wright very well and he knew me better than most.
I am now 43 years old, which is also Brian’s age, and lord knows it went by fast, like my trips to Tokyo on the Bullet train eating Camembert with Brian Wright... What a grand time we had together. There may be many stars on this earth, but his will shine in heaven as bright as any summer day.

Away, then, my dearest Oh! hie the away.
To lone lake that smile
in its dream of deep rest,
to the many star-isles that enjewle its breast.
--Edgar Allan Poe

In loving Memory
--Jean-Pierre (JP) Martin

Brian's brilliance as a creative choreographer will shine indefinitely.  His wit and charm will be remembered by many.  But the courage, tenacity, and pragmatic fight he put forth to battle for his life should be an inspiration to us all.  How precious this gift was to him; one we should all learn to give to ourselves.  We'll miss you Brian for who you are and the lessons in life that you were willing to share.  God bless you.
--Michael Fisher

It is so sad to hear such unfortunate news about a person who was so talented and full of life. I got to know Brian when I created and produced "Angels On Ice" for GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) in New York in 1995, he had choreographed Michael Weiss's program and was extremely helpful with suggestions for the production, for which I was very grateful. That event raised more than two million dollars which helped in the ongoing battle to end AIDS. It was an evening of with many high points, one of which was meeting Brian for which I will always be grateful.

Skating has lost a truly great talent, one that gave so much to the sport both personally and professionally. It is wonderful to have happy memories of a person that delighted in what he created and brought to the world, he will be greatly missed.
--Edwin J Cossitt

I know in my heart that my wonderful memories of times with Brian Wright would be best served by gripping my fortunate life and squeezing it for every lovely drop.

Brian could, in fairness, have been described as a talented skater who (like the vast majority of eligible skaters out there) may not have reached the elite level of results boards and podiums, but...became a part of a growing realization that it is possible to achieve greatness in skating without having landed a triple axel at the Olympics.  As he proved his valuable worth through teaching other skaters, I think he extracted a soulful satisfaction from it.... for himself, beyond the recognition it could derive.

Somewhere during the years that I knew him, he'd evolved into the kind of person who didn't treat skating like it owed him something.  While he appeared to think the exchange of good things between he and skating was symbiotic and even, the HUNDREDS of us who were inspired by his example that know we got the better end of the deal- by far.  In my own case, I was inspired by not only his clever, custom designed choreography...but also his ability to be a strong, yet emotionally available gay man.

Brian adapted to what worked for each individual skater when putting programs together, making his stuff less likely to be immediately pegged as a top choreographer cranking out cookie-cutter work.  It was the programs he did with Michael Weiss that opened my eyes to the fact that this young kid -- that I'd known all my skating life -- was now a young man who cared about expression.

Most of my memories of Brian are only sort of skating-related: talking and joking at restaurants with groups of skaters and coaches (mostly about philosophy, people, and current events), and side trips taken while attending events or seminars (usually to things historic or of artistic note)...he was smart, well read, cultured.  The conversations were always funny and passionate.  I'll miss those.

But, I know how delighted he was when his health was good, after times where his confidence in body's ability to fight would be almost beaten.  He made sure during snaps of feeling much better to make good use of that time.  And crack jokes and laugh with those of us he was working with during it.

So, I will take pause in his passing...and not miss this opportunity to appreciate what  can be wonderful.... and what is wonderful in this life.   My thanks to you, Brian.
--Doug Mattis

I remember meeting Brian back in 1998 at the American Open.

My friend walked up to him and gave him a bouquet of chocolate roses, and then told him how much she loved his choreography, especially for Scott Davis' West Side Story. She was literally gushing over him for his work!

He was sooooo shocked that he was getting these chocolate roses. He was so sweet in thanking her over and over again.   You should have seen his face when she first walked up to him.  He almost didn't pay attention for a split second because all he saw was someone carrying roses - and I'm sure he didn't think they were for him.  The look of amazement and joy that spread over his face when he realized they were for him is a look I'll never forget. 

I am glad I have that wonderful memory of Brian. One of my most positive experiences as a fan meeting skating folks.

Another fun memory:  At the last American Open I attended (maybe 2 years ago), I went to the reception after the last day of competition. My friends and I all hit the dance floor to the band playing "Downtown". All of a sudden there was Brian Wright, dancing and vogue-ing for all he was worth right next to us.

All I could think was, okay, it's a skating reception, there's one of the best skating choreographers dancing next to you - what do you do? You dance!   :-)

I am sad at the news of his passing, and wish his family and friends peace.  May God bless them all.
--Kathleen  (Kruss)

Brian has been the inspiration in my life.  I first met Brian through my best friend, Lorraine Borman.  Lorraine was the driving force during Brian's competitive amateur years in the Seattle area.  At the time, I was a young skating coach out of Lynnwood's Sno-King Ice Arena in Lynnwood, Washington.  I really didn't know what type of coaching I wanted to get into until I met Brian.  One day Brian came back home to Seattle from skating in an ice show.  He would skate around the rink, do a jump and a spin here and there and then would head outside for a smoke.  I sat outside with him and had our usual chats- catching up in each other's lives.  He told me that I should get into choreography and that I should study formal dance- ballet, modern, jazz.  I decided to take his advice and 15 years later I produced the 2000 National silver medalist in the Junior Ladies division, Lisa Nesuda.  

He was so comical at times.  I remember after taking 3 dance classes on Saturday, I ran into him along with two skaters who I worked with at the time (Tamara Kuchiki and Neale Smull).  All three of us bumped into Brian at the Westlake Mall in downtown Seattle.  When we asked what he was up to, he replied, "I'm rushing to another doctor appointment and just finished a 'feeding' from another doctor."  We all looked confused as to what he meant by the word "feeding."  He laughed at us and said, "You know, a blood transfusion." Brian was always joking about his health and I think that's why he stayed around for a long time.  Laughter kept Brian alive all these years.

I'm really going to miss him.  He's been an inspiration to myself and the rest of the skating world.
--Walter Afalla

I am saddened to hear of Brian's passing and offer my condolences.  I used to skate a lot at the Fairfax Ice Arena, and one day, around 1999 or 2000, I saw Brian at the rink helping a skater with choreography.  I'd heard of him and was excited to see him in real life.  It sounds like he touched a lot of people's lives in a positive way, and I am sorry to hear the news.
--Judy Tseng

I used to teach at Fairfax IceArena, so I was asked by Audrey and Juli McKinstry to participate in their team in an AIDS walk.  Brian was there, but he had to be pushed in a wheelchair.  All went well for the first 3rd of the walk, and then we had to push him across the grass and gravel of the Washington monument grounds.  That must have been agonizing for Brian as he was bounced around and forced to cut through traffic.  When we passed a policeman, he yelled, "Help, they are going to kill me before I die of AIDS!"
--Ed King

It is with great sorrow that I learned of the passing of one of the greatest choreographers in the skating world.  For 25 years we lived in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Out adopted Korean daughter who began her skating career in Sun Valley under the direction of Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, had the privilege of having Brian Choreograph 4 or 5 competive programs for her.  Each one a winner!  They had a great working relationship and they shared hours of laughs together on the ice.  My daughter Kari Lynn Leeming gave him gifts after every work session, she adored him - his smiles and dry humor enticed her to work hard - and his words of wisdom taught her from the very beginning that hard work brought great rewards.  Some old video tapes of them skating together, makes you wonder if they didn't come from the same mold - she seemed to instinctively move in unison with him - when they skated on the outdoor rink in the summer choreographing a new piece - people would stop and stare, as this little girl moved her body in unison with his-matching every edge and grinning from ear to ear.  Kari Lynn sends all of her love, for a man she truly respected and enjoyed working with for many years.  We will surely make a donation in his name to the skaters fund sponsored by Charles Fetter.  Thank you for letting me share these wonderful memories with you.
--Kari's Mom - Lynn Leeming

I was a competitive figure skater based in Springfield, IL.  Every year, we would go to Indianapolis for a few weeks in the summer for training.  My first year there, I had the opportunity to work with Brian.  He actually created one of my first programs.  I was so nervous and admittedly was not to thrilled to have this super tall strange man giving me direction.  But the more I watched Brian and his work over the years throughout this sport, the more I realized what a truly gifted, incredible man he is.  I will always look back fondly on that summer and the impact he made on me and figure skating.  God Bless his family and friends.  He is truly an icon.
Chicago, IL

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