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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Talk Softly
Book cover for Talk SoftlyBook cover for Talk Softly

Actress and model Cynthia O'Neal was living her dream life—married to the famous stage and screen actor Patrick O’Neal, the mother of two young sons, resident of the Dakota downstairs from John Lennon, owner of the successful Ginger Man restaurant, and frequent guest at dinner parties with Leonard Bernstein and Rudolf Nureyev.

Then she changed course suddenly, surprisingly, and completely. The AIDS epidemic hit the arts community hard, and after seeing the multitude of people facing an unfamiliar and stigmatized disease completely alone, Cynthia walked into the fray. With the support of longtime friend Mike Nichols, she founded Friends in Deed and soon found herself spending her days in hospitals, cramped rooms, and dirty apartments, anywhere a patient needed a hug, a hand held, or confidence boosted. And when Patrick himself became ill and passed away in 1994, Cynthia had to work through her own grief instead of someone else’s and found her life transformed again.

Talk Softly is the story of a life well-lived—with passion and compassion, in celebration of the joy of each moment, and with the ability to surprise yourself when you least expect.

Book cover for Talk Softly
Book cover for Talk SoftlyBook cover for Talk Softly

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“Offers an almost microscopic look at a group of people suffering from the virus as well as those around them … Talk Softly is and will remain a captivating story of both forfeiture and triumph.”

Talk Softly is the story of how compassion can take over a life … One cannot read this book without wanting, in the most gentle way, to do better, live better, and be better. Her story has stayed very much with me, a fine spirit to have around.”

Talk Softly is a beautifully written memoir of a 'noisy life,' intricately structured, heartbreaking as well as joyous, and tense as a thriller. With its wide cast of characters—from cultural icons to the even more wondrous portraits of Archie and Brazilian John and Pamela and many others (people seldom, if ever, written about)—it is a deeply moving portrait of our time. I keep thinking that this is what civilization means.”

“Cynthia O'Neal has written an amazing memoir. On one level it's about her bittersweet marriage to the charismatic actor Patrick O'Neal. On another its how beautiful, gallant Cynthia went from being an enabler to a truly exceptional healer at Friends In Deed, the AIDS crisis center in New York … This is a book about kindness, compassion and patience. As Cynthia says, 'Were all here just doing the best we can with the predicament that is life.'”

“This utterly winning book seems to sweep up the most devastating years of the AIDS epidemic and simply hold them, as if Cynthia O'Neals embrace is so capacious that she can somehow contain the suffering of every man and woman during those murderous times, the terrible erasures and also the unforgettable instances of courage and tenderness and loyalty. Nothing has escaped her gaze, and nothing seems outside her enormous, indelible compassion.”

Cynthia O'Neal

Born in Los Angeles, Cynthia O’Neal has modeled and appeared in several major motion pictures, including Carnal Knowledge and Primary Colors. In 1991 she founded Friends in Deed: The Crisis Center for Life-Threatening Illness, which has helped transform many thousands of lives by providing emotional and spiritual support for anyone diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening physical illnesses—all free of charge. O'Neal currently lives in New York City.