Nathaniel Ayers: The Soloist (Photos, Video)

April 23, 2009

Meet Nathaniel Ayers, The Soloist. See photos, video and a biography here of the gifted, Julliard trained musician, variously known as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, whose life story is the basis of The Soloist movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

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The musician Nathaniel Ayers is variously known by his full name Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, and his remarkable story is in the news as it is the focus of the acclaimed movie, The Soloist, based on the friendship that grew between the L.A. columnist Steve Lopez who wrote a series of columns about the musician whom he met on the streets of L.A. where the musician was living, homeless and suffering from schizophrenia.

The columns Steve Lopez wrote about the gifted musician and the book, based on those columns, ‘The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music’ became the basis of the Soloist movie which stars Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers and Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez and is directed by Joe Wright and written by Susannah Grant. It opens in theaters on April 24, 2009.

As a biography, Nathaniel Ayers was born on January 22, 1951. His age is 58 years old. His full name is Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. He has a younger sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore.

While attending Cleveland Music School Settlement, he played double bass and displayed exceptional talent. One of his music teachers at the school, Harry Barnoff, reminisced about his great talent.

“He had a lot of innate talent. Many students of mine ended up becoming doctors or lawyers. But he loved music with a passion.”

Other faculty agreed he was wonderful. They all felt he’d be a member of a major orchestra.

Although offered a scholarship to attend music school at Ohio University, Ayers aspired to attend the Julliard School of Music in New York City and was accepted at the school on a scholarship as a double bassist. During his third year at the school, he suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized. L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez has speculated that Ayers felt undue pressure to prove himself, as one of the few black students in the highly competitive atmosphere of Julliard.

Nathaniel Ayers sister Jennifer Ayers-Moore, discussed the family’s shock at his deterioration.

“He was always neat, always well-groomed. And when we went to pick him up from Juilliard I was really shocked. That he had on an old tattered like sweater. And he just didn’t look like the brother that I saw leaving to go to New York.”

When he left Julliard, he returned to Cleveland and lived with his mother until her death in 2000. As the CBS 60 Minutes report, quoting his sister further reveals, their mother consented to allow him to undergo shock therapy.

“She felt like this was gonna be it. And I remember that when he came out, he had this look on his face. It was almost like a zombie. She expected him to go in and come out a different person. And it just didn’t work out that way.”

He eventually moved to Los Angeles, California. Still suffering from mental illness, he wound up being homeless and living on the streets of downtown L.A. He had a violin and cello, both in poor condition, but played diligently out of passion for music which was unabated despite his mental illness and his difficult life circumstances.

Steve Lopez, the 55-year-old L.A. Times reporter and columnist, met Nathaniel Anthony Ayers in Pershing Square in Los Angeles, an area that Lopez frequented to see the statue of Ludwig van Beethoven, and near L.A. Skid Row, which at that time covered the area, roughly fifty blocks, between the L.A. River and downtown L.A. Lopez tried to help Ayers and began writing about him as he got to know him.

The entire series of Steve Lopez Nathaniel Ayers columns can be seen here. The columns form the basis of The Soloist movie which chronicles both the life story of the Julliard musician and the friendship that developed between the two men; essentially Nathaniel Ayers pictures in words.

In recent years, Jennifer Ayers-Moore started The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation whose mission is to support artistically gifted people with mental illness. Tony Moore is CEO of the foundation.

Nathaniel Ayers The Soloist musician has been helped by a local charity, the LAMP community, with housing and he works part time as a custodian, cleaning the facility where he lives. He is also receiving some financial benefit from both the movie The Soloist and the Steve Lopez book.

Members of the artistic community including the L.A. Philharmonic, have also reached out to him in encouragement, including the LA Philharmonic first violinist, Robert Gupta, who has given him violin lessons.

More Nathaniel Ayers photos and Nathaniel Ayers the Soloist video are below.

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8 Responses to “Nathaniel Ayers: The Soloist (Photos, Video)”

  1. 1
    Ramona Daniel Says:

    The movie was so touching and very close to home I have a son that is very gifted that stays in jail then lives on the streets it really hurts I cried watching Soloist

  2. 2
    coolata Says:

    Though the movie was touching and made me more empathetic to those who suffer from mental illness, I felt it focused primarily on Lopez and his role as a savior. I would have liked to see more indepth coverage of Ayera, his life and what caused his mental illness and more about his family.

  3. 3
    MJ Says:

    This movie touched my heart. I have a mother that suffers from this horrible illness and it is so sad how the stories are all the same, no matter where you came from, no matter where you are, no matter what your gift is, these wonderful people are prisoners of thier own minds. There really needs to be a much better support system for these individuals as far as medical treatment, and ongoing care and support. I cried my eyes out in this movie!

  4. 4
    Janet Swenson Says:

    The “Soloist” has been, by far, the most compassionate movie we have seen, and given due to the rightful claim of the musically gifted in need of that compassion from others to help alleviate the mental illness that seems to overtake the mind. Love, unselfish committment, and watchful persistance, does wonders for doing the right thing. The movie was clearly a treat for the ear, the eye, and a open door for the mind. There are always new chapters in life for the power of good. Thank you. Much Aloha-

  5. 5
    Ferrand Chestnut Says:

    Although I throughly enjoyed the movie and was deeply moved, the movie should have focused far more on Mr. Ayers, his life/personal life, what caused his mental illness and, where he is today.

    This movie would not have been as moving or interesting without Jamie Foxx potraying N. Ayers.

    I hope this movie will bring the probelms of those who suffer from mental illeneses to the forefront and we as a society will do more to help them.

  6. 6
    Linda, USA Says:

    We just finished watching the movie and after reading some of the biography, I think the movie was very good but not focusing enough on mental illness and schizophrenia. I have some mental illness in the family and appreciate films that show how far-reaching this is and how many people suffer from it. They may get help and medication but once they stop, then they’re not forced to continue and the cycle of disease just continues on till death. It’s a sad commentary on the lives of people today and how we don’t seem to know what to do about mental illness or make it go away for them.

  7. 7
    Kelly Says:

    My son and I watched the movie last weekend on DVD. We were both very moved by the movie (and he is only 14!) I have since gone and purchased the book and am reading that now!

    My heart goes out to Mr. Ayers and is thankful to Mr. Lopez for bringing the story to light.

    We all need to realize…..”But for the grace of God……go I.”

  8. 8
    MJ Says:

    The movie is very touching indeed and portrays the struggles that individuals go through in this life…It also portrays the fact that having a friend, talking to someone is the greatest medicine to a lot of ails.My heart goes out to Mr eyers, hes the Hero…such talent couldnt have gone unnoticed..mental illness or not!