Robert Alex Gonzalez had liked nothing better than to make people laugh. Even at his memorial service Sunday, three weeks after his violent death, accounts of the entertainer's antics filled the church with laughter rather than tears.
"Robert was about fun, and he would never let anyone forget that," Michael Angel, a friend, said at the service at Crescent Heights United Methodist Church in Hollywood.
Nearly 200 entertainers and educators came to pay tribute to Gonzalez, a dancer who also worked as a substitute teacher at Le Conte Junior High School in Hollywood. The upbeat service, with show tunes and wacky tales that had everyone in stitches, belied the horror of his death.
The dancer, 30, was gunned down by robbers in front of his Silver Lake residence earlier this month. He was one of 10 victims killed in the Northeast Police Division in August, the highest number of homicides in the district in a one-month period.
Gangs might have played a role in as many as seven of the slayings, said Detective Ron Whitt, head of the homicide unit. Detective Sam Sanchez said Gonzalez might have been killed by a trio of gang members who match descriptions given to police by victims in seven to 10 other robberies.
Police said Gonzalez was attacked by three men, two of whom were armed. The men stepped out of a van and demanded wallets from Gonzalez and his two friends, Sanchez said. The friends complied, but Gonzalez told the robbers he did not have his wallet but would go inside his house to get it, Sanchez said.
As Gonzalez turned, one of the robbers shot him in the back, Sanchez said. Gonzalez died at the hospital a short time later. Police have identified suspects in the shooting but no arrests have been made. Sanchez said. The family has offered a $40,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the attackers.
At Sunday's memorial service, Bill Bertrand, an actor and one of the friends who were robbed on the night of the killing, spoke of the fun moments preceding the violence.
He described Gonzalez as "dressed to the nines, as usual" and watching Twin Peaks when Bertrand and a friend came to visit Aug. 6. There was an electrical storm that night and Gonzalez turned off the lights so they could watch the lightning show.
"We were like three kids, sitting there watching the lightning," Bertrand said.
Other friends of Gonzalez, who knew him from shows they had performed in together or from working with him at Le Conte Junior High, shared stories of their own.
Samar Azar, secretary at Le Conte Junior High, said Gonzalez used to help her stave off late night cravings when she was on a diet. "All of a sudden, I would get a call from him telling me to stay away from the refrigerator," she said.
Gonzalez's concern for others and his infectious sense of humor endeared him to the students and teachers at Le Conte, Azar said later. The students, most of them from low-income Latino and Armenian families, scraped together about $100 to send a flowers to Gonzalez's family in Weslaco, Tex., she said.
Gonzalez, who had moved to Los Angeles from Texas five years ago, had been working at Le Conte for the past four years to support himself while trying to break into the entertainment business, Miller said.
At the time of his death, he was performing in a parody show called "Fiddler on the West Hollywood Roof," a comedy musical that highlights some of the trials gays face, said a friend, Bryan Miller. Proceeds from the show went to local AIDS hospices.
"Robert knew people and had friends who were sick and were dying," Miller said. One of Gonzalez's close friends died of AIDS just a month before the show opened, Miller said.
In the weeks before his death, Gonzalez had landed roles in three consecutive musical productions and was to join Actors Equity guild, which pays actors guild wages for performing, said Dawn-Leslie Allen, a friend of Gonzalez's.
Gonzalez's friends ended Sunday's memorial service with an allusion to the musical, which was the dancer's last show. They gathered on the church steps and shouted "L'Chaime!", a Yiddish word meaning "to life" as they released dozens of multicolored ballons.
"It was such a tragedy for us that it was nice to walk away feeling good," said his friend Jane Finstrom said.