Jay Marvin Talks About Life After Radio and Health Crisis, Outsider Art Show

Jay Marvin was once one of the biggest names in Denver talk radio thanks to stints at KHOW and AM-760.

But in 2009, he suffered a debilitating health crisis that continues to impact his life. He formally retired from radio in September 2010 and the following March, he tried to take his own life.

Marvin survived that attempt and the many challenges that followed with the help of his wife, Mary, who has serious medical issues of her own. She's currently battling breast cancer.

Now, Marvin is getting ready for what is arguably his biggest public event in Denver since he left his regular AM-760 gig more than six years ago: an outsider art show that opens on May 29 at the Niza Knoll Gallery and features the paintings that have become his main creative outlet. Get the details below.

He's looking forward to the show, in part because it marks the next step in an unlikely survival story. "It's not been easy," he acknowledges. "But I'm getting by."

In 1998, Westword published "Double Trouble," a feature-length profile of Marvin, during the height of his popularity as a KHOW afternoon-drive host. The following excerpt gives a hint of his unusual style.
He says he's been diagnosed as a "bipolar manic-depressive," and from 3 to 7 p.m. every weekday, he does his best to prove it. In his decade as a talk-show host, his routine, which has already served him well in other cities, has been powered by mood swings — and swing his moods do. In contrast to most other on-air yakkers, who present predictable viewpoints in predictable ways, Marvin hops from one extreme to another like a barefoot child on a hot sidewalk. The happy, stable, lovable Marvin venerates music, movies, animals, food, humor and dishing with co-workers and callers. But just when you think you've got him pegged as a pushover, up pops a Marvin who's belligerent, militant, capricious — a wild man with a mammoth chip on his shoulder. One minute he's mellow, the next he's as furious as a man in a straitjacket with an itch that won't go away.
Over the decade-plus that followed, Marvin moved from KHOW to AM-760, a sister station that employed a format dubbed "progressive talk" — an alternative to the conservative tenor of most talk radio. But in late February 2009, as we reported at the time, his health took a precipitous downturn. He initially thought he had a case of the flu, but after several days of suffering, he entered the hospital and had his gallbladder removed.

He was subsequently sent home, but his pain was so severe he was readmitted, and doctors discovered he was suffering from hepatitis — the kind associated with Budd-Chiari syndrome, a liver-related ailment generally caused by blocked veins.

Then, to make matters worse, Marvin's medical team discovered a large growth along his spine, in the vicinity of the T7 and T8 vertebrae. In an attempt to discover its makeup, they ordered a surgical biopsy that required them "to make incisions of three inches in front, three inches in back and an inch on his side," Mary told us a few months later. They also had to collapse one of his lungs, leading to an extended stay in intensive care. "Synchronizing lungs after one of them has been collapsed can sometimes be tricky," she explained.

Tests revealed that the mass was an anarobic infection — one capable of growing without oxygen. In addition, Marvin had "osteomyelitis and discitis, which means there was an infection between the bone and the disc and the spine," Mary said. "The T7 vertebrae crumbled or collapsed and was pushing on the spinal column at a 40 degree angle."

An operation to address these issues was delayed as a result of the infection, leaving Marvin in limbo, and by the time physicians were able to move forward, a great deal of permanent damage had been done. Well over a year after those early flu-like symptoms, he formally said goodbye to AM-760.

During the months that followed, Marvin's ongoing issues pushed him to the edge. "I found him unconscious," Mary wrote in an e-mail we quoted in a March 2011 post. "The paramedics couldn't get a blood pressure and his heart rate was 35. He was in critical condition for several days, but he's better now.

"He was so depressed because of his chronic pain and no longer being able to work, he took at least 170 1mg Xanax," she continued. "The doctors said the only reason he lived was because of the massive amounts of medicine he has had to take over the last two years. He hasn't had a good day since last November."

In a poignant note of his own, Marvin praised Mary and several doctors and staffers at Porter Adventist Hospital "for helping to save my life?"

Yes, the question mark above was part of his message.

He added, "No job after 36 years, chronic back pain, not knowing where I fit it in at 58 or what I'm supposed to do with my life, now that I can't work."

Painting was possible, however.

"I'd been laying around doing virtually nothing," he acknowledges today. "But I'd had art shows before, and Mary told me, 'You ought to try painting.' And I thought maybe I should do that again.

"I paint very slowly," he points out. "I'm pretty much housebound. I'm still on an oxygenator and I don't get out very much, don't see very many people.

"It's a matter of energy and it's difficult. There are a lot of days when I'm just flat-out depressed. Sometimes I get so depressed that I'm basically immobilized."

Fortunately, he was able to function at other times, and the work that resulted wound up in galleries across the country: "I'm one in Pittsburgh, one in San Diego, one in Florida," Marvin points out. "And I have an Etsy shop on the Internet. There's only one painting on it right now, but there'll be more after the show is over."

Indeed, he's produced a slew of pieces for the Niza Knoll Gallery event, which teams him with fellow artist Abbas Khajeaian. How did it come about? "I think at some point I must have sent the gallery some jpegs, and out of the blue, they sent me an e-mail and asked if I wanted to do a show. And I said, 'Oh, sure.'"

When asked to describe his aesthetic, he says, "I'm an outsider artist, so I'm untrained. I just deal with life and try to make people smile. I love dogs, so I paint a lot of dogs. I paint angels that reflect death. It's all about life and death."

Does he listen to the radio anymore? Definitely not.

"I probably haven't turned it on in five years," he says. "Talk radio once was an entertainment medium, and you could do anything and everything. But it turned harshly political and has become injurious to the country — so I'm glad I'm not a part of it anymore. Who'd want to do talk radio for four hours a day or night and only talk politics? I wouldn't."

Of course, Marvin was put in that position during his time on AM-760, and he doesn't look back on this period with fondness. "I liked it when you could make your show funny and enjoyable and entertaining, and not only bash people. It's boring."

Such an accusation was never hurled at him, which explains why he continues to hear from fans on his Facebook and Instagram pages and his Twitter account — and he invites them to stop by the opening reception, which takes place at the Knoll, 915 Santa Fe Drive, from 4-7 p.m. on the 29th, as well as at a salon gathering and discussion from 6-8 p.m. on June 10. "I just hope people come out," he says, "because I don't get out that often. But I'm going to make it then."

For more information about the show, click here.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

Latest Stories