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Remembering Alan Davidson

The wellness expert and teacher died last month on Easter Day.

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Alan Davidson (courtesy photos)

Alan Davidson, a longtime Houston resident, author, teacher, and internationally known specialist in the area of mind/body wellness, died unexpectedly on Easter Day, at age 62. Davidson is survived by his husband of 19 years, Jim Giulian, several family members, and a worldwide cadre of individuals from his numerous endeavors in entertainment, massage, wellness and, most recently, strategic online marketing.

Davidson was born in the small ranching community of Refugio, Texas, on December 31, 1958. “Alan’s father was in the Navy, so the family moved several times,” Giulian remembers. “Alan lived there until age 16, left home, and eventually moved to Houston.”

Davidson lived on his own throughout the ’70s, working and eventually graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in psychology. Early in his life, he received support from many in the gay community, and in the early ’80s became “Bartender to the Fabulous” by working at the Montrose Mining Company and then, most famously, at Rich’s disco. While there, the notoriously charismatic Davidson began to develop a following.

One of Davidson’s close friends, Gary Archer, remembers those early days. “Alan and I met in 1983 while we were working to open Rich’s. I was a member of the technical staff and Alan had been recruited to manage the bar.”

From 1983 to 1986, Rich’s was a cornerstone of Houston’s gay nightlife. “The club and its ‘family’ of employees were important to our patrons,” Archer recalls. “By today’s standards this may seem odd, but at that time, a club-centered social life was the norm in the LGBT community.”

Like many of Davidson’s friends, Archer remembers their first meeting vividly. “In walks this big man with a big personality.” Davidson had been hired to recruit patrons to populate Rich’s then-iconic upstairs bar, and to make the space his own. It quickly became the off-the-dance-floor destination for everyone who visited the disco.

Alan Davidson and Jim Giulian

“Alan was so warm and welcoming, he just took people in,” Archer says. “If you didn’t know who Alan was when you walked in, within a matter of seconds you wanted to.”

Davidson’s outsized persona enabled people to experience that warehouse-sized space and still have a connection to someone on a personal level.

Teacher and mentor Helen Terry met Davidson around that same time. “Alan was part of a very small nucleus I call family,” she remembers. “We met at the old downtown YMCA where I had started to teach. Alan took the Saturday-morning class that was offered just before mine, which he described as being filled with ‘all those badass people.’ He would hang around, wondering what we were doing [in my Nia sensory-based movement and healing class] and what music we were listening to. He eventually grew interested enough to take classes with me, and that’s how we began to know each other.”

Terry and Davidson quickly realized their potential for creative synergy. “We would be in a conversation, something would ‘spark,’ and we’d just riff off of it,” Terry recalls. “Alan would come up with these off-the-wall ideas, stretching the boundaries of what had been done previously. Suddenly we were both creating something interesting out of nothing.

“One of the first things Alan and I did was rent out Rich’s and offer a chakra-centered meditation training utilizing the club’s lighting and disco balls,” Terry explains. It was the first of many unique joint endeavors.

“Alan was magnetic in his ability to attract people. His friends were simultaneously eclectic and connected. He also had very long ‘coattails,’ having stayed in contact with everyone from his various careers. He drew all of them to every new venture he created. If Alan Davidson was going to do something, people knew that it was worth showing up for.”

As Davidson transitioned professionally away from the club scene, Terry and her studio became an anchor in his life. He continued to meet others in the wellness community and develop a collective of friends and associates. Eventually, he taught and hosted events on his own at her studio.

Both the Montrose Counseling Center and Body Positive Wellness Center provided Davidson with his entrée into professional wellness leadership. While at the Counseling Center, he helped with their crisis hotline and, at Body Positive, began to work with HIV-positive individuals.

Archer remembers the parallels between Davidson’s contrasting careers: “Your hairstylist, bartender, and massage therapist are all ‘listeners,’ performing essentially the same function at different venues. Alan was a trusted counselor to me and many others, always providing advice, friendship, and unconditional love.”

A watershed moment in Davidson’s life occurred in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, when he received a negative HIV test. Taking this as a prompt from the universe to transform, he altered his life’s trajectory away from the entertainment industry and toward the field of wellness.

According to his husband, “Alan became a licensed massage therapist who was interested in mind/body work—an area where his impact and expertise is still internationally recognized. He eventually became an award-winning author who penned books, short pieces, and essays—some of which were published in OutSmart magazine.”

Giulian recounts their early days together: “When we met 19 years ago, I was widowed after 25 years of marriage. I had retired from the Navy and had a teenage daughter. I often traveled between Corpus Christi and Houston for work. A friend of mine in Houston invited me to dinner, and suggested we meet at his gym. He neglected to tell me it was a gay gym full of men. I had been the senior enlisted naval officer on five different submarines, so seeing naked men was no big deal.

“Alan was there, and we struck up a conversation and went to dinner. I enjoyed his company and experienced happiness [with Alan] for the first time since my wife’s sudden death.”

Their courtship lasted two years. “I had a young daughter still at home [to consider]. She got married, and at that point I knew that Alan and I could be together. I moved to Houston in 2004.”

In stark contrast to Davidson, Giulian is pragmatic and introverted. “At first, it was a bit overwhelming being with him,” he recalls. “However, our core values—those things we wanted to do as a couple—coincided. Alan introduced me to an entirely different way of life, and a new group of people.

“Even though we shared everything, our professional lives were completely different. Alan was heavily involved in mind/body work—his domain at that time. Our professional lives were completely different. During our partnership, he had the freedom to expand his knowledge and finish the book that he had been trying to complete. Body Brilliance: Mastering Your Five Body Intelligences was published in 2010.”

Though their lives were completely enmeshed, the naval officer and the mystic healer didn’t always mesh. Giulian, reportedly a homebody, nonetheless supported Davidson completely. Together, they hosted and entertained numerous personalities from around the country. “I wasn’t part of his ‘woo-woo’ world, [laughs] but all of his friends accepted and tolerated me,” Giulian says.

“Most people assumed that Alan was always outgoing and gregarious. In reality, our life together was much quieter. With me, he didn’t have a persona. He used our domestic calm to recharge.” 

The community’s response to the news of Davidson’s death has been profound. Several Zoom tributes have taken place, each with hundreds of friends and colleagues from around the world. A group of his closest collaborators has agreed to finish the second book Alan was working on at the time of his death. “I have a real appreciation of his impact on others, as does Alan’s family,” Giulian notes. “Everyone has supported me wonderfully since his death.”

Mentor Helen Terry sums up Alan’s life: “He was humorous, speaking truth in a lighthearted way. He was a visionary, but entirely without ego. He was generous, but without intent or expectation.”

This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Rich Arenschieldt

Rich has written for OutSmart for more than 25 years, chronicling various events impacting Houston’s queer community. His areas of interest and influence include all aspects of HIV treatment and education as well as the milieu of creative endeavors Houston affords its citizenry, including the performing, visual and fine arts. Rich loves interviewing and discovering people, be they living, or, in his capacity as a member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, deceased.
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