Five years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason still can crack wise.
"I hope you enjoyed our film," he quipped from the Orpheum Theater stage Tuesday night, following the New Orleans premiere of his video diary-turned-feature-length-documentary, Gleason
. "I need some tequila."
The same might be said of the audience, which included a large contingent of current and former Saints players and many longtime supporters of Team Gleason
, which Gleason and his wife, Michel, founded in 2011 to raise awareness of ALS and provide cutting-edge technology, equipment, and services to those stricken with neuromuscular diseases.
An extraordinarily intimate portrait of a family facing terminal illness, Gleason
is nothing if not a tearjerker, and sniffles were audible throughout the screening.
"Everything is as raw and real as you could imagine," Saints quarterback and Gleason executive producer Drew Brees said in his introduction to the film. "I'm going to warn you right now, there will not be a dry eye in the house."
Tuesday night's event marked a homecoming of sorts for the film. First conceived as a message to Gleason's young son, Rivers, Gleason —
whittled down from more than 1,000 hours of footage by director and editor Clay Tweel — debuted to critical acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival. (Variety
called the film "an emotional powerhouse."
"It's an exciting thing to bring this movie back to the crowd that's supported [Steve and Michel] all these years," Tweel told Gambit
. "I think they're pretty nervous, but I'm thrilled."
With well wishes from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, restaurateur Leah Chase and others on the Team Gleason-labeled blue carpet, Gleason was as spirited as ever, poking fun at both his own heightened emotions and those of Saints head coach Sean Payton, who was visibly moved by his first viewing of the film.
As Payton choked up on stage, Gleason joked, "What a pussy" — leaving Brees, former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita and much of the audience in stitches.
"I'm a pussy," Payton relented, calling Gleason and his wife "one of the corniest, goofiest, most perfect couples in the world."
Gleason comes to The Theaters at Canal Place and the AMC Elmwood Palace on July 29, with a national theatrical rollout and streaming distribution by Amazon Video to follow.