Amir Fryszer Guttman had the kind of career few in Israel could even dream of at the time. In a country where even the best known entertainers still led more or less ordinary lives, he became something new and unfamiliar: a full blown celebrity. It was 1996, and Guttman, having just finished his mandatory military service, was plucked from his job at an Eilat hotel and recruited to High Five, Israel’s first boy band.
Success came instantly. With most Israeli performers at the time taking the stage in jeans and sneakers, the High Five boys had sleek wardrobes, carefully choreographed dance moves, and songs that caught the ears and the hearts of anyone younger then 30. Even amid all that glitter, Guttman stood out, his talent and his charm evident.
The band broke up in 2000, but Guttman’s fame did not diminish. He released albums, wrote songs for others, hosted TV shows, and directed musicals. Always ahead of the curve, he also became one of Israel’s first celebrities to come out of the closet, eventually marrying his long-time partner, Yanay Fryszer, and taking on his name. It was Israel’s first high-profile same sex wedding, and it made Guttman an icon of the struggle for civil rights in the Jewish state.
Soon, sadly, his attention was claimed by another, far grimmer fight: in 2013, he was diagnosed with T Cell lymphoma and received an aggressive chemotherapeutical treatment. Three months later, his body ravaged, he sought a second opinion and learned that he had been misdiagnosed—he suffered not from cancer but from Kikuchi’s Disease, a far less serious inflammatory condition.
Guttman was horrified but also overjoyed. He declared the day he got the good news, July 22, his new birthday, and celebrated it each year with his closest friends. He also returned to his activism: when the Israeli government announced earlier this month that it would prioritize straight couples seeking to adopt children, effectively making adoption an impossibility for same-sex couples, Guttman argued eloquently that the decision was an insult to couples like himself and his husband, the proud and dedicated parents of a young boy.
This weekend, Guttman took a break from politics to celebrate the annual anniversary of being cancer-free. He was lounging on the beach in Atlit with his family and his friends. Going in for a swim with his niece, he noticed the waves getting unusually strong. His niece, he could tell, was struggling to keep her head above the water. Guttman didn’t hesitate: he grabbed the child and lifted her in the air, himself battered by the waves. When they were pulled out of the water a short while later, the niece was fine but Guttman was not breathing. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors struggled to save his life. His family, his fans, and dozens of reporters gathered outside his room, hoping for another medical miracle. A few hours later, the hospital’s director emerged with the news that Guttman had passed away.
The bitter irony of his death wasn’t lost on anyone. A gay rights activist who had spent the week arguing that gay Israelis were capable of giving their children just as much love and protection as straight parents do died sacrificing his own life to save that of a child he loved. May his memory be a blessing.