My best friend Jill Gascoine

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What do you even begin to say about the best person in the world?

I’ve been writing this eulogy in my head since Jill got Alzheimer’s, because that is when she died for most of us.

When she was diagnosed, I wish I had had the guts to squeeze her so damn hard that I hugged all of the life out of her. It wasn’t fair that such a cruel disease took one of the best people. One of the best minds. Jill’s brilliant mind… her kind mind…her generous mind….her interested and interesting mind. Because that’s the thing about Jill. She was both interested and interesting. Most people are only one or the other, but Jill was both and it was one of the reasons she was so extraordinary. She was one of those few people you meet who have “it”… “It” is an intangible thing, but you know someone has “it” when they walk into the room and everyone turns. It’s not about being beautiful, which Jill was, it was about radiating an invisible magnetic force that would draw people to her. 

My Jill. My beautiful, generous, funny, deadpan, loving Jill. Jill who handed out $20 bills to homeless people like they were Tic Tacs. Jill whose unapologetic laugh lit up the universe. Jill who always hosted Thanksgiving for orphans, once taking half of the theatre company to the Bel Air Hotel for brunch because…why do things small? Jill who made everyone she came in contact with feel important because she looked into their eyes and really listened when they talked. Jill who loved her dogs more than people, and felt most at home in her garden… or binge watching Charmed… before binge watching even became a thing.

Jill who meant what she said and said what she meant.

Jill who loved her sons with a maternal fierceness and passion that you almost felt like a voyeur in her intense love for the two spectacular men she created. Jill who loved her husband with her entire enormous heart and loved the life they had created together from buying glasses at the 99 cents store and living in Park LaBrea, to building a warm, inviting and exquisite home together – despite her questionable love of dried flowers.

Jill who loved fiercely and hard: People, animals and experiences….Whether it was enjoying dry martinis or buying fancy shoes, she splurged equally on her friends and herself.  And even though she loved a good meal, Jill was a professional dieter who treated dieting like an Olympic sport.  One of my favorite diets of hers (of which I participated in many) was our vegan fiasco. Jill told me a month before we went to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, that we would be drunk every night, so that we should diet to lose weight. So, we both became vegans for the month and we each gained 20 pounds.  Jill wanted the title of her biography to be “The Little Fat One on the End” because she was convinced that she didn’t have the ideal dancer’s body – even though she went on to star in 42nd Street in the West End.

Oh, and Jill was right, which she invariably was, in Edinburgh we did get drunk every night…and celebrated her spectacular performance and her ‘coming home’ so to speak. She was the star, and given the well-deserved adulation, both from her cast who adored her, and the audiences who welcomed her home. She began her career in Scotland she used to say “as poor as a dormouse” and she became a star. Her best friend Michael O’Hagan helped her, and from that kind gesture, she spent her life helping others. Michael has passed over to the other side, and now she gets to see him. She gets to see Mark Troy and Francis and Charlie and Zena and Nancy and Ernie and Gizmo and Ella and every one of the myriad of animals and people Jill rescued in her life and loved ferociously.

And Jill loved ferociously. She led with her heart and inspired others to do the same.

Because Jill was not just a mama bear to her sons, she was one to everyone she came into contact with. She took us all under her protective wing and helped nurture us, until we were ready to fly. Encouraging us, Championing us, Believing in us.  There are too many actors to count, whom Jill generously helped because she was the heart of every theatre company she was in. She started a theatre company with her first love, and I had the honor of being in two theatre companies with her, where she stole both the audiences and the artistic directors’ hearts. She was their muse. She was our muse. Every single one of us who came in contact with her. Because Jill was never about Jill, she invariably spent all of her time making it about the person she was with. She made you better by putting her energy on you.

And she didn’t pull punches, it was one of her best qualities.

She told me when I was 24, “Darling, nothing is going to happen with your career until you’re 40.” I was heartbroken. “What am I supposed to do until then?” I asked her and she looked at me, curious, like there was any answer except the one she was about to give me. “Be happy.” It’s an ironic statement from someone who suffered from depression, but Jill knew how to be happy. She knew how to dive into the deep end of life whether it was trying out a cooking recipe, entertaining, acting, watching a film, having a drink, writing a novel… Jill did it 100%. She truly never did anything half assed.

She was a consummate actress. She was the perfect friend. And my heart is broken. But it broke when she got Alzheimer’s and faded away in front of me. So, it’s begun to heal. And the best way I can honor Jill, how any of us can honor Jill is to think WWJD.  Whenever you don’t know the answer to something difficult, stop and think, what would Jill do? Because whatever the answer is, it will definitely be led from the heart.

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Showing 11 comments
  • Dan Frischman

    So beautifully written, Colette. I’m sure her sons are very appreciative of this, as are we who now feel we knew her, if just a little.

  • Melissa Hamel

    Lovely tribute for a beautiful spirit.

  • Melinda Hughes

    Colette, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. Reading about Jill has inspired me to live my life more like she lived. I’m sure she will continue to inspire others as she lives through those who were lucky to know her. My deepest condolences to you for the loss of such a profound and impactful friendship. Rest In Peace, Jill. The world is better to have known you.

  • Michael J. Cahill

    A sweet testament to that delicious brand of comradeship that binds for a lifetime, something I have not been fortunate enough to know. I envy you that. It seems this is the very kind of heartbreak and departure from which good people do not soon recover. Hoping the way becomes easier.

  • Gene Michael Barrera

    She really was a force. I guess after 10 years of being robbed of it, she finally is again, forever.

  • Miss Gail Crawford

    A beautiful testament to a brilliant actress, singer, dancer and author.
    Jill was a great friend to you and I’m positive that Jill thought of you as a great friend. Friendship is a very special thing.
    Jill is now at peace, and no more suffering.
    But Jill has left a great legacy, and will be missed by many people including me, I have been a big fan of Jill for many years because she was such a strong actress and her characters were so believable, and that takes great acting. I so wish I had met Jill but I have a large collection of Jill’s work, which I can watch over and over again. And I have all 3 of Jill’s books which I have read several times and never get fed up with them. It was partly down to reading Jill’s books that got me interested in writing a book on The Jill Gascoine Story, at the moment I’m on the research stage, but when I finish the book and hopefully get a publisher I want to donate the proceeds to Alzheimer’s Society in the hope that a cure can be found for this cruel disease.
    I’m sure that Jill loved you as her special friend, you seemed to have a great relationship. Jill I’m sure is still with us in sprit.

  • Nancy Jeris

    Dear Colette: What a beautiful l tribute to a most amazing, beautiful and talented woman. I have such lovely memories of being with her and you. Tho lunches together, the Monday eve meetings. The work we all did together in the theatre. She was special. You said it all.
    thank you.


    Dear Debbie (ok, Colette), Your words are beautiful – I feel like I have a glimpse into how special Jill was. There really aren’t words I can offer you; wounds to our hearts simply don’t ever fully heal. I lost my best friend and chosen sister almost 2 years ago after a years-long battle with cancer. Jill lives on through you and everyone who knew and loved her. I can see you have friends, and of course your family to love and support you. Take good care of yourself and allow those nearest you to support you.

    • Allison Marich

      Dearest Colette,

      You have captured Jill’s spirit so beautifully and honored her so well! What a dear friend you were to her. In the time we wotked together, Jill was always incredibly kind, encouraging and supportive of me. I feel so lucky to have known her. Please give my love to Adam and Fred. I never had the pleasure of meeting her other son. Take care of yourself, sweet Colette. Allison Marich

  • Ellen B.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My mom is going through the same thing and rapidly on the dementia side if things. I don’t think I’ve seen my real mom since Christmas 2018.

    love you – ellen

  • Milla Nova

    Indeed, Jill was one of a kind! May she rest in peace!

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