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Over the course of 11 months, Kit Cowan, the husband of TVLine founder (and EW alum) Michael Ausiello, was diagnosed with and died from a rare and brutal form of cancer. In his heartbreaking memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies (out now) Ausiello recounts Kit’s experience — and how it brought them closer.
Below, he tells EW what the writing experience was like, and how a love for TV and movies remained a part of their relationship through it all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to write this book?
MICHAEL AUSIELLO: An editor at Simon & Schuster had been reading my Facebook updates about Kit’s illness during the year that he was sick, and a few months after Kit passed, he approached me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book about him. About us.
And even though the thought of re-immersing myself in the worst year of my life seemed masochistic in a way, it also was just an incredible opportunity to introduce the world to Kit, and let people meet this person that I was lucky enough to spend 13-and-a-half years with.
Was it an immediate “yes”?
No. It absolutely was not immediate. It was, “Let me go home and think about this and see if I have it in me to do this.” Because the worst thing that I could do is say, “Yes, I’ll do it,” and then not do it. I needed to know before I said yes that I was committed to seeing it through to the end. And I took a couple weeks just to sort of think it through in my head, and I talked to my therapist about it — am I strong enough? But deep down, even with the doubts that I had, there was just this feeling that I had to do it. I had to do it.
I think part of it is, as difficult as it was going to be, Kit said something about a month before his death that still haunts to me to this day. He was talking to his best friend Jen, and she later told me this. He whispered to her, “Please don’t forget me.”
Oh my God.
I know. When she told me that, it just f—ing crushed me. Just devastating to hear. The idea that he said that to her, that he thought that… That memory was a really good motivator for me to finish it.
I really liked that you didn’t look back on the relationship with rose-colored glasses. Why was it important to you to be that honest?
I felt like if I was going to do the story justice — if I was going to be honest about our relationship — I needed to not hold anything back. If I painted it as this fairy tale, it would have undercut the whole story. It was not an easy 13 years. We had ups and downs, and we fought to be together. And thank God we did.
It makes it more hopeful in a way. Your relationship was a hard-won thing.
Yeah. And every relationship has their problems. No one’s relationship is perfect, and to try to portray our relationship as being perfect — no one would have bought it. To hide that stuff just didn’t really seem like an option.
When you wrote about your cat Mister Scooch climbing onto the bed as Kit was dying, you said you would have canceled your season pass to a show if that scene had been on TV because it seemed so unrealistic. Are you more aware of avoiding clichés because you’ve been immersed in TV and fictional storytelling for your whole career?
You mean in the writing of the book?
Yeah. Are you thinking, “Okay, if this sounds cliché, no one will believe it — so I’m going to tell the truth”?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s the Brokeback Mountain thing in there where I was just standing in Kit’s closet with his wardrobe. [Ausiello writes about breaking down while cleaning out Kit’s closet after his death.] I could not not think about Brokeback Mountain, and I had to sort of chuckle at how cheesy it was to be in this same situation. But by calling it out, by acknowledging its cheesiness, I think I just had some fun with it. But you know, pop culture, television, all that stuff is so immersed in my consciousness that absolutely it was the filter through which I wrote a lot of this book.
How did you balance the book’s fun TV references with the gravity of Kit’s illness?
Where it was organic, I included it. The reality is, television played a big part in my relationship with Kit, even when he was sick. We spent a lot of time watching television. We spent a lot of time fighting over television. I talk about how RuPaul’s Drag Race got us through some really tough months of chemotherapy. I talk about the Planet of the Apes movie which Kit so much was looking forward to, and how Matt Reeves arranged for us to have a private screening of the movie in our home because Kit couldn’t sit comfortably in a movie theater chair. These were bright spots in a really dark year for us, and I’m incredibly grateful that we have them.
Do you still watch Drag Race now?
I don’t. I can’t. That’s the one thing I can’t do. That’s the one thing I can’t bring myself to do. It’s just too painful — that was something that was too special for us. And I’m not ready to go there yet.
Was there any aspect of writing the book that was easier than you expected?
I was surprised at how easy it was to remember the early days of our relationship because it was 16 years ago. I was worried about how much recall I would have about our first meeting, about the first months of our relationship, because that plays a big part in the book, too.
How did things come back to you? Were you a journal keeper?
I was not a journal keeper, however, I was an artifact and memento keeper — as was Kit. Oh, and also Kit was a big photographer. So all of those things became critical in jogging my memory, and little things from that time that I absolutely would have forgotten, had it not been for a photo that Kit took, or a receipt that I hung onto.
What aspect of the book are you proudest of?
I’m really proud of the title.
When did that come to you?
A couple months into the writing process. I did not have a title in mind when I started the process, and I sort of just trusted that it would come organically. And sure enough, a couple months into it, I was meeting with my book coach and I off-handedly cracked as a joke to him, “Spoiler alert: The hero dies in the end.” And even before the words even left my mouth, I was like, “Holy sh–, that’s the title of the book.”
I knew the title needed to be a little cheeky, a little inappropriate, but it also needed to be somewhat tragic. It needed to be a little bit of a bait-and-switch, which would mirror the book itself. And I feel like the title just sort of captured all of that.
It’s great — it’s a nod to your job and life.
Right, and the added layer of “spoiler alert” plays into my job. On so many levels, it worked. There never was another title that was considered.
What do you hope that readers are left with after they finish the book?
I hope that if they’re lucky enough to have found someone they love, that they are inspired to stick it out and to work on the relationship through its ups and downs, because I’m extremely grateful that Kit and I didn’t give up when the chips were down and we were ready to throw in the towel. We worked through it, and we fought through it. And again… thank God we did. I really want people to not take their relationships for granted. It’s cheesy to say, but hold their loved ones closer and cherish the relationships. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, familial relationship, a friendship, whatever it is: Just don’t take them for granted.
That’s exactly how I felt reading it.
Oh good, I’m glad. And also, don’t underestimate the power of humor in getting you through a really shitty ordeal. Humor played a big part in our relationship, humor played a big part in his illness, and it was just was incredibly instrumental in getting us through, and in getting me through, that year.