In Memoriam: A Talented and Fearless Friend

If you’d been an active member of the fandom in the early aughts, you might have heard of Tonya Durdel, may have read her stories, may have even had a chance to chat with her. She was certainly an author that drew me to the Gaslight Hotel site. Tonya was well known and well liked by anyone and everyone who had encountered her and, I am glad to say, I’ve had the privilege of having some wonderful conversations with her myself. Gaslight would like to memorialize her here, in the hopes of celebrating her talent and how much she meant to us; indeed, to the RC fandom community. We commissioned artwork to express what her loss means to the alternate universe of the Point. We also hope you will take the time to visit the artist’s page at Crossroads. We feel he captured the emotions of SID quite well.  

Words and pictures will never wholly express the enormity of grief, but we do not forget her. At Gaslight, Tonya will forever be a special part of us. 

~ Sharon

In Memoriam : Tonya Durdel

by Tina

A few months ago, I attempted to find a travel-related saying to print on several prizes I’d be giving away during a gathering on my cruise. I wanted something simple, but meaningful, and I decided on this as it highlighted what I wanted to express: 


There are friendships I have made from traveling, but there are those I’ve made through the things that – at some point in my life – were impactful: my career, times of happiness and sorrow, my love of movies, my love of writing and the desire to share my words. I had no idea when I discovered an online group called “Crowe’s Nest”  during a search of all things Russell Crowe-related following Gladiator, that it would lead to not only being able to return to writing but to making friends, among them a person we all knew as Tawny. 

We became more than fans needing to express our admiration for a talented actor, one who immersed himself in each character with such totality, each was distinctly different. We wrote of the characters we found the most interesting, the ones who fascinated us on a level beyond what each movie presented. 

For Tawny, it was one of the most unlikely. Not Maximus or Bud White, the better-known roles at the time, but SID 6.7, the antagonist of Virtuosity, starring the popular Academy Award winner Denzel Washington. Outside of Crowe fans, Washington fans, or science-fiction fans, it’s doubtful the public knew of its existence. Virtuosity was not only a box office bomb but negatively reviewed. However, Tawny knew it; gravitated toward it and I think I understood. After all, there are times none of us are certain on what level a movie will affect us, whether in the positive or the negative and in a manner others may not comprehend.  

A few of us asked ‘Why SID?’ because he wasn’t the hero, but a confusing, complex villain in this equally insane mess of a virtual reality/simulated reality movie from early in Crowe’s American career. One could barely make heads or tails of it, no matter the number of viewings. 

Tawny did. 

She managed in a way not even the screenwriter did, peeling away what gives a character an amount of depth a play or movie often cannot capture for whatever reason: time restraints, screenplay rewritings, or studio interference. Her story, Mirrorball became a favorite among our readers, not only on the old Crowe’s Nest site but the Gaslight Hotel website as well. It struck a nerve with those who wished to better understand SID, whether they empathized, sympathized or despised him. It’s been said that playing a villain is more difficult; you might hate them, but you have to ‘get them’ or they come off as a mustache-twirling stereotype tying maidens to railroad tracks, or they’re so unbelievably over-the-top, all you can do is laugh every time they open their mouths. 

Tawny took SID, showed his evil, stripped him bare, and in the world of what was called ‘Crowe’s Point’ gave him purpose so that he and her protagonist discovered a mystifying harmony whenever they played off one another. SID might still be a troublemaker within the Point world, but around the protagonist of Mirrorball, he revealed another, previously unseen side. The story could be a hard read, but good stories often are. Mirrorball is definitely that. 

It’s a testament to what an excellent contributor the real Tawny was to the Gaslight Hotel site. 

I had the privilege to meet her on several occasions. I think when I first met her, having read Mirrorball, I was prepared for a cross between Mary Shelley and one of the Bronte sisters, but instead of intense and melancholy, I got someone who tickled my funny bone.

The first occasion was in my hometown when a group of us from the Gaslight site got together for a girls weekend filled with food, drink, sightseeing and binging Russell Crowe movies (although at the time we called it marathoning). Tawny kept us laughing, no matter where we were or what we were doing. 

I met her again when Crowe and his band, TOFOG, performed in Chicago in August of 2001, and we fans came literally from around the world to see him as he came fresh off his triumph in Gladiator, the movie that made him a true star. Hundreds of us filled the floor of The House of Blues to watch, and in-between waiting and waiting, those of us who knew each other would converse to pass the time. I already knew how funny Tawny was, with an amazing and slightly warped sense of humor that – once you were in tune with her – couldn’t help but make you laugh. She knew how to make you smile. No matter someone’s background, she found a way to connect so you always felt at ease. 

Even when the zenith of the Crowe days was behind us, Tawny and I stayed in touch through emails. The occasional “how are you doing” or “Merry Christmas” was shared. When The Gaslight Hotel website was revamped and we sought out the permission of many of our writers as far as republishing their stories, Tawny was at the top of the list of contacts as Mirrorball remained one of the most popular of our stories. She agreed. I would have expected nothing less of someone like her, although I think she remained surprised at how many loved her story. 

And it is with regret that I write all of this because she is gone. 

It is always difficult writing an eulogy no matter how close we are to an individual. I wanted to share with all you what Tawny meant to those of us at Gaslight, both as a friend and a writer. Her words in Mirrorball live on, and as is often said, as long as we think of them, a person is never forgotten. I hope you will take time to read Mirrorball, for the first time or as part of a rereading. You won’t regret it.

Thanks, Tawny!    

One thought on “In Memoriam: A Talented and Fearless Friend

  1. Sharon, Tina,

    I read this with a mist in my eyes. Tonya was and is my sister. Thank you for such a moving memorial to her. I remember hearing about meeting up with women from her group. I could tell how much this group meant to her.

    Sissy was very private. Even our Brother and I were never pledged to know the depths of her. She never was confident of herself and her talents. I am an artist as is my brother, but she never acknowledged her writing as art. We would tell her that she had great talent. As much as we did, her own inner demons kept telling her different. I have never read any of her stories. She hid those away from us. As much as I wanted to be able to share in those, if she had wanted to allow me in, she would have done so. I

    We took a class together and had to write an interpretive study of a film in class in a small group. We did it together. We chose the film ‘Highlander’. We loved that movie and immersed ourselves in it. We always enjoyed the antagonists. A good one had such depth, such creativity, mystery. I believe that came out prior to ‘Virtuosity’. That was such a gem. We watched that over and over. Crowe’s Sid stood out amongst all the other characters. I am not surprised she wanted to take him further.

    Those of you that knew her may not be surprised that her memorial was more of a roast than a regular service. The funeral home was filled with some of her science fiction collections and her t-shits. We had a life sized cut out of Jason Mamoa, next to collectables and a picture of her and our niece, Anna with Jason Mamoa. Anna, was 12 at the time and has autism. She got up and told stories of her Aunt Tawny and how Tonya had touched his butt and said he smelled of lemons.

    We displayed her ashes in a Tardis on a table in front of a five-foot pink flamingos donned with Mardi Head beads. I wish we had been of the mind to take pictures. We had a dinner after that ran out of food and we filled the adjacent bar after for toasts and karaoke! Our 90 year-old Aunt had a beear, took to the dance floor with her walker and stayed past midnight. I think we made her proud.

    Again, thank you! I will look for her stories and see her in them. God bless you all!

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