Friends mourn the loss of a Mesa alumnus

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Jeff Wells graduated from Mesa's drama program in 2005.

Erica Arvizu

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The dark room and soft lighting of Mesa’s Apolliad Theater set the appropriate scene for friends and family of Jeffery Wells, an alumnus of Mesa’s drama department, to memorialize their friend and loved one and to say goodbye.

The blue velvet-like stadium seats of the theater filled up with local friends of all ages, ethnicities and personalities. Many were dressed in black suits and dresses and others in jeans and hoodies. Friends embraced each other as they mourned the loss of their friend, and signed goodbyes on a white poster with a picture of Wells at the entrance of the theater.

Wells died on Feb. 2 after taking his own life in his New York apartment. He was in New York pursing his budding acting career.

“He didn’t seem like the kind of person who would do this to himself,” said Paul Champy, one of Wells’ closest friends and fellow alumnus of Mesa’s drama dept. “He was always cheerful, very active and very loving.”

Wells’ family held formal services for the 26-year-old in St. Louis, but the students who were in the Mesa Theatre Company with Wells and his brother Frank Wells, who attends City College, wanted to do something locally to honor him and to celebrate his life.

“Jeff had many passions in life,” Cat Sharp, a former girlfriend of Jeff’s, wrote in a tribute. ” He had a passion for knowledge, culture and the arts, a passion for poetry, adventure and fun, a passion for travel, spirituality and laughter, a passion for friends and family.”

Frank Wells arrived early to set the Apolliad Theater’s stage with collages of pictures marking different events in Jeff’s life. These pictures showed an energetic and adventurous Jeff doing things such as skydiving, snowboarding, performing in plays, and cliff jumping in Hawaii. It also showed an array of friends posing with Wells during after parties and events. Jeff’s charismatic, bright smile, sparkling eyes, and even olive complexion were consistent throughout the collages.

As friends viewed the collages, they chuckled at the memories the pictures held, and whispered anecdotes of times they had shared with Wells, or “Wellsy” as many of them referred to him.

“He was the typical prankster,” Champy said.

As the surge of guests entering the theater died down, Frank Wells addressed everyone with the assurance that they were not only here to say goodbye, but to celebrate Jeff and his life.

“This isn’t going to be a sad two hours,” Frank Wells said. “Wait ’til I show you a video of Jeff in high pink shorts.”

The crowd laughed and relaxed in their seats a bit.

Frank, dressed in slacks and a grey dress shirt, commenced the tribute. He shared some things about Jeff that many of his friends were surprised to know. He recalled that Jeff was once a nuclear electrical engineer for the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Jefferson. He also shared his surprise at the fact that his brother could break dance, a talent that he had not known about until recently.

Many of Wells’ friends were trying to grasp the reality of his decision. They remembered him as outgoing, and happy-go-lucky; as someone with an abundance of time to devote to making others happy and welcome.

Frank addressed Jeff’s suicide, and said that he had spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why Jeff did what he did. Jeff had lost a girlfriend in a car accident, and then lost two of his best friends soon after; one who died in Africa, and another who died during a motorcycle ride that Jeff was present on. Frank said that Jeff held his emotions about these incidents in.

“Jeff suppressed it, and didn’t get help,” Frank said. “There was no shortage of people who could have helped.”

The lights in the theater dimmed, and audio of a ukulele playing Iz’s cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cued a video slideshow on a screen above the stage. Friends laughed and sobbed as they watched the pictures roll by. The music stopped, and video played of Wells on stage acting in several local plays along with a compilation of scenes from a weekly comedy cable show called “The House,” that Wells participated in form 2005-06.

After the video was finished, Frank opened up the floor for friends to share memories of Wells. The stories went on for over an hour. Some were comical, including one about shooting toy cap guns and fireworks at cops in Tijuana, and many illustrated the inspiration that Jeff had brought to the lives of his friends.

Champy said that he and Jeff always dreamed of being actors in Hollywood, and decided that whoever made it first would bring the other along with him.

“”He always pushed me to succeed, and was the person who made me realize what I wanted to do,” Champy said. “Jeff will here me in my dreams and my prayers, and when I do make it, he’ll be there with me because he’s my inspiration.”

Wells is scheduled to appear in this summer’s “Sex and The City” movie, in which he plays a bartender.

Wells was cremated, and his ashes will be spread in Hawaii.

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