Student Leaves Legacy Of Performance, Wit
Dan Laidman
Columbia Daily Spectator
March 27, 2000

Brian Malmon, a student on leave from Columbia College who wowed audiences with his performances, enlightened readers with his journalism, and inspired friends with his wit, died last Friday at his home in Maryland. Police ruled the death a suicide. Malmon, 22, is survived by his mother, father, and younger sister.

Malmon arrived at Columbia in 1995 from Potomac, Md., a student whom friends remember as bright, kind, and above all uproariously witty. During his time at Columbia, Malmon sang with the a cappella group Uptown Vocal, performed in the Varsity Show, and served as Sports Editor at the Spectator, all the while maintaining a very high grade point average.

Malmon's dedication was extraordinary by any measure. He rose to leadership positions in three major campus activities, and left those he worked with in awe of his creativity and humor. His friends described him as "hilariously funny," "funny as hell," "dry and witty," and a "source of mirth." They also say that underneath the humor was a pain that he kept hidden from almost everyone around him.

Sky Spiegel, BC '01, listing all of Malmon's activities, asked, "How can one person do that?" Spiegel sang with Malmon in Uptown Vocal. "He was just always someone to look up to, was always selfless, was completely dedicated."

Malmon started singing for Uptown Vocal when he came to Columbia, and became president of the club at the beginning of his senior year. His colleagues there remember how he infused the group with humor, and enlivened rehearsals, performances, and group trips with his presence.

Amy Lin, CC '00, the current president of Uptown Vocal, was good friends with Malmon. She recounted one story from a performance at NYU, when Malmon spontaneously decided to stage a contest involving audience participation. He got the crowd to cheer for who they thought was prettier, the group's female "blond bombshell," or a male singer who stripped away his trenchcoat to reveal that he was in drag.

Beyond his sense of humor, Malmon set the tone for the entire group, Lin said.

"Everyone just respected him, when he was one of the first to goof off we'd all follow his lead and goof off, but once he said, `okay guys, be quiet,' we'd all follow his lead, because he commanded such a respect."

Malmon joined the Spectator staff as a sports writer during his first year at Columbia. He soon began penning the irreverent column "Homerically Speaking" (see back page), and in 1997 became Sports Editor on the newspaper's 121st Managing Board.

"I remember checking my schedule and hoping he would be on as an editor on my nights," said Sandie Angulo, CC '98, a friend of Malmon's who was Managing Editor of the Spectator that year. "I remember laughing the whole night long, even if it was until 5 a.m. He could make anyone laugh, even the most cynical person."

Malmon's sense of humor made a similarly striking impression on his peers at the Varsity Show. Maurice James, CC '01, was in the cast with Malmon, and remembers his talent for improvisation.

"The material that Brian came up with, you wouldn't expect it," James said. "It was always like he was in his own world, especially in terms of his comedy, and when you got glimpses into that world, you were just like, `wow, that's really funny.'"

Malmon's elaborate personal website shows off his varied interests and the dynamic humor that tied them all together. He devotes an equal amount of space to The Simpsons ("the greatest show on earth [no, not the circus]"), the band Weezer ("They kick some large ass -- El Scorcho is beautiful, it makes me weep gently every time I hear it."), and the Washington Bullets ("the greatest sports team on the planet -- Yes it is true that they've changed their name to the Wizards, but they'll always be the Boulez to me").

Andy Miara, CC '00, co-wrote that year's Varsity Show, and was partly responsible for Malmon being cast in the starring role as the `coolest kid in school.' Of course Malmon was the logical choice for a singing and dancing star."

Miara says that in spite of his creative sense of humor, Malmon could be counted on to provide down to earth advice.

"He was the guy I would call when I was having problems with the show," he said. "He became a sounding board for me to give the rational response to the craziness that we were going through."

James sometimes felt alienated as one of only a few first-years in the cast, and he remembers Malmon, a junior at the time, as one of the few upperclassmen who approached him and was actively friendly. "I always appreciated him for that."

Miara and James both remember a change in Malmon, though, as the performance drew nearer. They say he had always been good, but had struggled with his role, until days before the show when he seemed to get his character down perfectly. Strangely, though, this creative epiphany coincided with a social withdrawal that disturbed some of those around him.

"He went into this weird funk basically for the duration of the performances where he was very withdrawn from the cast and out there on his own," Miara said. "It was the first time I'd ever seen him not be just Brian Malmon who was together, who was on top of everything."

James remembers a Varsity Show cast party at which Malmon surprised everyone by composing and performing an original song about the behind the scenes wranglings of the Varsity Show.

"It was just like Brian because it was completely out of the blue to bring a guitar to the cast party and sing a song," James said. "And then right after it he got very sad and stoic, not letting people in with his feelings."

Malmon went on leave from Columbia in the fall term of 1998. He returned home to Maryland, where he kept in sporadic contact with his friends from Columbia. When Joe Rezek, CC '01, a member of Uptown Vocal, heard Malmon's message announcing that he would be leaving school, he thought it was a joke.

"It was a total surprise," he said. "In the group we totally chilled all the time, but I guess I couldn't have been that close to him. In a way none of us in the group were, we didn't know that he was that upset, he kept it hidden under his humor."

According to his friends, he spent much of his time off resting and coping with his problems, although at one point he took a job working for The Washington Post. Last summer, Uptown Vocal invited him to once again travel to London on the QE2 with them.

"He seemed much happier, he was laughing, he was telling jokes," said Uptown Vocal alumna Judy Kaplan, CC '99. "If he was feeling terrible, he did a really good job of hiding it, we saw the signs that he was recovering."

After the trip, though, he once again fell into a pattern of only occasionally speaking with friends from Columbia. Kaplan remembers several times when she would be with groups of his friends and they would call him and pass the phone around.

"He tried to give us good news whenever we talked to him," she said. "He said he was coming back to school in the spring, or in the fall."

Malmon told several friends over the phone or by e-mail that he would be returning to Columbia, and for many these correspondences from him were their last. He took his own life on Friday at his mother's house in Potomac. According to Joyce Barrows, Public Information Officer for the Montgomery County Police, Malmon died from a gunshot wound, and left behind a note.

Yesterday, friends and family gathered in his hometown to come together and celebrate his life. Members of Uptown Vocal past and present traveled together to Potomac to attend the funeral and comfort Malmon's family. At Malmon's mother's request, they sang several songs at her house after the ceremony.

On the way back to New York, members of Uptown Vocal reminisced about their lost friend and mentor. They kept on coming back to his amazing sense of humor, and they kept on pointing out obscure new talents that this individual of seemingly limitless gifts possessed.

"And he could draw," Lin said. "I would look through his notes, and his doodling would have taken me five hours to draw." They talked about how much he was able to achieve and how many people he was able to touch in spite of how much pain he must have been in.

"He really put so much toward caring for other people and dedicating himself to that that he tried to hide anything that was wrong with him," Spiegel said. James Brust, CC '97, an Uptown Vocal alumnus who is now at Columbia medical school, called Malmon "wiser and cooler than his years." Indeed it is difficult to imagine another individual who at 22 was so capable of serving so many different functions for so many different people, who was capable of playing so many different roles.

"He was always willing to learn from you as well as to teach you," Lin said.

"He was your friend, but at the same time he was your older brother -- and your younger brother."