R.I.P. Melanie Sharp

For a brief window in the mid-1990s, the Mercury Theatre was the epicenter for a vibrant all-ages punk scene. Anyone who frequented the matinee performances then will remember Melanie Sharp, the ever-fashionable woman on the front row at every show. She wasn't a musician, but her presence was integral to the scene. An easy way to gauge whether a show was worth staying for was to look for Melanie.

"She had a very refined sense of style," says longtime friend Amber Leigh-Hayes. "Even when she was wearing jeans and Converse high-tops, she was beautiful. There was something otherworldly about her."

Melanie left Knoxville for the Midwest when she got married around 1999. She returned a couple of years ago after a divorce, only to be diagnosed with cancer within weeks. After a protracted illness, she succumbed on Thursday, March 8.

Those who knew Melanie will remember her for her abiding love of music, especially punk bands like the Mr. T Experience, Social Distortion, and the Ramones. "Melanie exposed me to new worlds of music," says Cara Helfer.

Her favorite performer was Henry Rollins. Through the years she often travelled to see him perform, and had hoped to attend his March 13 show at the Bijou. So when Melanie died, friends contacted Rollins.

"It was a shot in the dark, but I told Rollins how deeply she'd been touched by him, and how much it would mean to have him dedicate his show to her memory," Hayes says.

It turned out that Rollins had been corresponding with Melanie during her illness. He gave her a tribute at his show.

"Melanie didn't ask for much in life and I have to say that Henry's eulogy was the most fitting way to honor her," says Jean Houser-Cantley, a longtime friend who had also contacted Rollins. "After all, Melanie always called Henry her ‘secret husband.'"

During her illness, Melanie participated in online support communities and updated friends through Facebook, remaining upbeat through the ordeal. No matter how painful and terrifying her experience was, she put up a good front.

"Melanie was one of the most courageous people I've ever known," Houser-Cantley says. "She was always positive even in her sickest of days, handling her fate with grace and dignity."

Here's to you, Melanie. Dr. Frank perhaps put it best when he said, "I love you more than toast." For photographs and remembrances of Melanie, visit facebook.com/melaniesharp.