Prizes and prejudice.
With the Fassis and EST to support him, John finally began realising his potential on an international stage in 1976. He won the European Figure Skating Championship, with a performance which all nine judges gave 5.9 for artistic expression. He did not reach the same peak for his technical expertise, but avoided any major errors – unlike the reigning champion, Russia's Vladimir Kovalev, who fell during his routine, unnerved by Curry's new-found fluency. Encouraged by the Fassis, John incorporated passages of classical ballet into his routine, including dances associated with Rudolf Nureyev. He followed this triumph by taking gold at the Winter Olympics and winning the World Figure Skating Championship.
John was now a celebrity. However, the price of fame was press interest in his private life. While John had never denied being gay, he feared that public prejudice could jeopardise his ice dance project. Attending the annual sports writers' dinner after being voted 1976 Sports Personality of the Year, he experienced bigotry on a more immediate level. After-dinner comedian Roger de Courcey's mocking reference to John as a 'fairy' was offensive enough; what was worse, the assembled journalists appeared to endorse it, their laughter humiliating John just as his career peaked. John's dealings with the press grew guarded, and he gained a reputation for aloofness and hostility.
Company on the ice.
Now retired from competition, John pursued his vision of ice dance. With a company of six skaters, he booked a West End theatre and put on Theatre of Skating, featuring ice dance pieces by established ballet choreographers. At its climax, he and a partner skated to Debussy's L'Après-midi d'un Faune, an adaptation of a ballet piece danced by the legendary Nijinsky. John's daring paid off: his artistry was recognised by ballet critics and the show sold out. However, plans to tour it came to nothing. Discouraged by what he perceived as the British attitude to his work and his sexuality – exemplified by an unprovoked assault in the street around this time – John decided to return to the US. Settled in New York, where he found an active and supportive gay community, John brought his show to Broadway in 1978 under the name of Ice Dancing. The show was a hit, but once again touring engagements were limited. In the early 1980s John finally put together the balletic ice dance company of which he had dreamt. The company toured the world, drawing critical acclaim and appreciative audiences. John's return to London in 1984, using a rink hastily created for the occasion in the Albert Hall, was a critical and commercial triumph. However, what drew the audiences were not necessarily the artistic qualities hailed by the critics: more used to watching ice skating as a sport, audiences tended to applaud the most difficult or spectacular moves. As the novelty of ice dance wore off, the new form could not draw the large audiences which John's company needed to make it viable. Finally, after two years of solid touring, John sacked his producers in 1985, effectively closing the company.
Hanging up his skates.
John turned his back on the ice and focused on dance. One critic described John, with his life partner Anthony Dowell and Natalia Makarova, on stage at the Metropolitan Opera performing a soft-shoe routine. He never looked happier, not even on skates, recalled Octavio Roca in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1987 John was diagnosed as HIV positive. He developed AIDS in 1990 and returned to Britain to live with his mother. In 1992, facing media inquiries with unflinching honesty, he went public about his condition. In April 1994, weakened by AIDS, he died of a heart attack. He was 44. John Curry transformed ice skating. His problems were those faced by many pioneers: incomprehension from most, prejudice from many, active support from too few. His tragedy is that his life was cut short before he could overcome them.