Some sad news for O.G. Real Housewives of New York City fans, as well as connoisseurs of a particular kind of Jewish masculinity: Bobby Zarin, the undisputed Fabric King of the Lower East Side and husband to former RHONY star Jill Zarin, died this weekend after a long battle with metastatic thyroid cancer. He was 71.
Bobby Zarin holds the distinction of being perhaps the only character in the history of any Housewives franchise to deserve the title of “Universally Beloved.” While Jill, a status-conscious redhead with socialite aspirations and a Lawng Island accent so thick you could spread it on your first bagel at break-the-fast, vacillated from overbearing but warm Jewish mother to full-on reality show villain, Bobby, a constant presence at her side in the tinted sunglasses and dignified Mob boss fashions he favored, was always calm, always pleasant, always a person even Jill’s enemies seemed happy to see. “This has nothing to do with you, you know I adore you,” was the general preface Bobby would received from Jill’s victims and antagonists, from the legendary Bethenny Frankel (who, whatever her current feelings about her former bestie Jill, tweeted a sweet tribute to Bobby on Sunday, something Jill, many of whose grievances revolved around which of her acquaintances had failed to sufficiently support her on social media, must have appreciated) on down. On a show, or series of shows in which nearly every husband or partner has been dragged into the drama and found wanting (or, in some cases, guilty of much more serious crimes), Bobby somehow transcended it all. Nobody blamed him for Jill’s behavior, or so much as told him, at least not with any real aggression to “stay out of it.”
It almost made you wonder what Bobby had on them, but more likely, it had to do with who he was. Bobby Zarin, for better of for worse, was the last of a dying breed of Jewish husbands: Friendly, financially indulgent, and mostly silent. He didn’t blink at, say, chartering a $30,000 private jet flight so Jill could fly to the Caribbean to confront Bethenny and Ramona about not being included on their “girl’s trip” (which being a girl who is friend with girls, I’ve never been convinced is actually a thing, but maybe all my girlfriends are secretly traveling without them in which case I’d better go convince my husband to sell some stock so I don’t have to fly commercial when I appear out of nowhere to scream at them poolside at an AirBnB), but he never seemed particularly eager to appear on camera or be seduced by the fame. If it made his wife happy, or threw a few more customers to his family business (the century-old Zarin Fabrics, still unpretentiously located in its original expanded storefront on Orchard Street – who knew there was so much money in discount upholstery?), then great, but Bobby didn’t seem to see his sudden fame as a jumping off point to bigger and better things. He already was who he was: A businessman, a family man, and a mensch. There aren’t a lot of guys like that on reality television, or even in reality. May his memory be a blessing.
Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.