Richard Leslie Farmer
A fixture at Kansas City’s AIDS Walk for nearly two decades, Rixter the Clown didn’t attend this year’s event. An AIDS survivor for more than 25 years, Rixter, a.k.a. Richard Leslie Farmer, died March 23, 2013, at the place he called home for 10 years, Kansas City’s skilled nursing facility for AIDS patients, Hope Care Center.
Rixter was a beacon of hope, dispelling fear, myth and stigma along the way. Making bouquets of balloon flowers, animals, light sabers, rubberized crowns and other assorted oddities, Rixter nearly always won the hearts of even the most hardened skeptics. As he pumped air into balloons or played the straight man to an irreverent puppet, Rixter embodied profound joy.
In the early years of what was then known as the Walk for Life, Rixter would appear, unannounced and undeterred, at one of the bends along the walk, handing out balloon creations and AIDS information. He lavished welcome comic relief upon those fundraising efforts, while also suffering from AIDS himself.
As the years wore on, so too did the disease. Rixter suffered from confusion and the memory loss of AIDS dementia complex; osteoporosis so severe his spine broke from simply turning over in bed; throat muscles that refused to work, forcing a feeding tube to become his lifeline. Yet each year, donning his dramatic cowboy clown garb, brightly painting his face, putting on his nose, draping a wig across his head, reveling in the entertainment he provided, Rixter appeared at the Kansas City AIDS Walk.
Rixter would pin a large button to the hind side of his rainbow suspenders that read, “AIDS is nothing to clown around about!” There was no clowning around about AIDS at this year’s walk.
And that’s a shame.