Howard Simon

From Howard Simon’s NY Post Obituary, April 16, 2000

New York playwright and public-school teacher Howard Simon died last week without seeing the rave reviews for his first major production – but he left life believing he was a success, his friends said yesterday.

Simon was 37 when he died Wednesday from septic shock brought on by streptococcus meningitis – just three days after his play “James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire” opened in downtown Manhattan.

Like Jonathan Larson, the author of the musical “Rent,” Simon’s life ended just as professional success was arriving.

But personal success had arrived long ago for the soft-spoken, beloved seventh-grade language teacher known for staying after school for no extra pay to help in student theatrical productions at MS 202 in Ozone Park.

“He never talked about becoming successful,” assistant principal Sharon Terry said. “He believed he was successful already.

“He wasn’t looking for fame or fortune. He was looking for what he could do as one person to affect the lives of young people.”

The production of his play at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement was called “funny, thrilling and wise” in a New York Times review.

When news of his death hit the 1,450-student school Thursday, students became hysterical with grief, some rushing to the hallway outside his classroom, others creating a makeshift memorial in the boys restroom.

“They graffitied their entire bathroom with ‘Mr. Simon, I love you,’” Terry said.

“They wrote on the floors, the toilet bowls, the walls: ‘Rest in Peace. We’ll miss you.’”

During rehearsals for his play about a 1963 night in Baldwin’s life, Simon began to suffer from severe headaches and loss of balance. He went into the hospital April 1, fell into a coma a day later and never regained consciousness.

Simon, who received a master’s degree in 1997 from NYU’s graduate writing program, had taught at the school for just a year and a half.

He helped the students write and produce their own plays.

This past Christmas, the play was called “The Boston Massacre.”

Last school year, it was an opera.

“They wrote the story. They did the songs, the scenery, the lighting,” Terry said.

Simon, a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, would bring his friends from New York’s theater world into the school to help the students.

He was working with them on a big production for the end of this school year.

“We won’t have it now because no one will take his place,” Terry said. “The students are very disappointed.”

NFT Credits

Credit Type Production Season
PlaywrightJames Baldwin: A Soul on Fire 1999-00 Season