Local artist and art community advocate Steve Crohn, formerly of Malden on Hudson, died Friday, August 23 in Manhattan. He was 66. The cause of death was confirmed as suicide by his sister, Amy Crohn Santagata.
Crohn’s place in history as “the man who can’t catch AIDS”—he had a rare genetic anomaly that prevented him from being infected with the HIV virus — has been the focus of all the media attention drawn to his passing in the last few days since the news of his death was released into the mainstream. But to his family and many friends in this region, it’s not the NOVA documentary he was featured in on the subject or his participation in medical studies that they’re thinking of now; Steve Crohn is being remembered by those who knew him as a witty and intelligent man with a lively personality; a caring man with indefatigable energy who helped many other people — as a good friend, a supporter of the local arts community, a volunteer at local nonprofits like the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center and a loving uncle and brother who knew the words to every Beatles song.
“Most of all,” said his sister, Amy, by email, “I think he would want readers to know that while he was blessed by and proud of the miraculous gift of being able to provide a key to unlocking the mystery of AIDS, it was tempered by his extreme sadness over the loss of so, so many that he loved. His ‘fame’ during that time of discovery in the 1990s was appreciated for the help it could provide for research, not for any personal acclaim. My family and I got to visit his hologram likeness at EPCOT in 1998 when they had an exhibit about AIDS research. It was a proud moment for me to see my brother talking about the potential of a cure for AIDS.”
Crohn’s contribution to AIDS research was a part of his life, but only a part of it, says Jamie Fine, a close friend and former neighbor. “Of those of us who knew him up here, some probably didn’t even know that about him,” she says. “We knew him as a neighbor and a friend, an animal lover, and that’s the Steve I knew. He was part of our Malden community for a number of years, and he will be missed.”
Fine remembers how one winter when her husband was away and her 90-pound dog had bone cancer and couldn’t walk easily, Crohn came over every night to carry her dog outside. “I’ll never forget that,” she says. “He was a unique individual and had a really big heart. When you met him, you couldn’t forget him.”
Stephen Lyon Crohn was the son of Richard Crohn and the former Janet Goren, and great-nephew to Burrill Bernard Crohn, the gastroenterologist who discovered Crohn’s disease. He was born September 5, 1946 in Manhattan and grew up in Dumont, New Jersey. He attended the University of Wisconsin for one year, then graduated from The Cooper Union in New York City. Later in life he earned a master’s degree in social work from New York University and worked in that field as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). In recent years, he moderated support groups at Mt. Sinai Hospital in that capacity, and worked as a freelance editor for Fodor’s Travel, among other publications.
Crohn was elected to the Saugerties Public Library Board of Trustees in 2006. His interest in joining the board, he said at the time, was to be a part of building the new library. Crohn founded the Arts & Exhibits Committee and arranged to have the art works owned by the library appraised and restored. Although he vacated his seat on the board in 2012, Crohn remained the chair of the Arts & Exhibits Committee and continued to curate and organize the art shows at the library.