We have compiled a list of 10 individuals connected to the American professional theatre who passed away in 2014. They will all be missed greatly.
Nicholas was a consummate director who first hit it big on Broadway by winning the Tony for best direction three straight years. Hw won the award in 1963 for his first Broadway directorial effort, Barefoot in the Park, and another in 1964 for his direction Murray Schisgal’s of Luv. He won his third Tony in 1965 for his staging of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Over the course of his career, he won a Grammy, four Emmys, seven Oscars, and nine Tonys. Additional honors included the Lincoln Center Gala Tribute in 1999, the National Medal of Arts in 2001, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, and the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2010. He died on November 19th at the age of 83 of a heart attack.
Marian Seldes acted for seven decades. Her venues included She stage, TV, film, and radio/recording. She had an amazing run in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap on Broadway appearing in every one of the 1,809 performances the popular thriller. Nominated five times for a Tony, she won her first time out in 1967 for Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. From 1967- 1991, Seldes taught at the Julliard School. Some of those who learned about acting from her were Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, Kelsey Grammer, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Patti LuPone, Val Kilmer, and Kevin Spacey. At the 2010 Tonys, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award, noting that “All I’ve done is live my life in the theater and loved it.” She added, “If you can get an award for being happy, that’s what I’ve got.” She passed at the age of 86 on October 6th after a long illness.
Geoffrey Holder was known to many Americans as the “uncola” 7-Up man. In the 1970s and 80s, Holder’s charmingly big personality encouraged people to go with the fresh, clean taste of 7-Up. But Holder was also a renowned director, choreographer, costume designer, and painter. He won two Tonys in 1967 for The Wiz, which her designed costumes for and directed. He choreographed and designed costumes for numerous dance companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.. Holder died on October 5th at the age of 84 from complications associated with pneumonia.
Robin Williams, who was originally theatre trained, first became known for his standup comedy act and his portrayal of Mork, the outer space alien on Mork and Mindy. After becoming a film star, he played in Mike Nichols’ production of Waiting for Godot in 1988, which also featured Steve Martin, F. Murray Abraham, and Bill Irwin, and in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in 2011. Although Williams, who won plaudits for his movie acting in such films as Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), and Good Will Hunting (1997), he did not garner great reviews on Broadway. Amongst those in the theatre, he was known to be a hard-working, collaborative, and all-inclusive cast member. He never played the star with his fellow cast mates and is remembered by those who worked with him as one of the most giving and kind people in the world. His wit was unrivaled and his energy unbounded. In an act that shocked millions, Williams committed suicide on August 11th at the age of 61.
Lauren Bacall was sexy, sultry, and mysterious. She had a long and successful film career, and, also, a few good runs on The Great White Way. Bacall won two Tonys. Both were for musicals. The first win occurred in 1970 when she was selected as Best Actress in a Musical for Applause. She returned to Broadway in 1981, winning the same award once again. This time it was for Woman of the Year. Although Bacall was known as being a fine film actress, she never won an Oscar. She did receive a 2009 Academy Honorary Award. Bacall could command the stage, camera, or any environment she was in with her penetrating look, rich voice, and poised angular frame. Commanding in everyway, and yet, amazingly vulnerable, she was the real thing. In 1997 she received the Kennedy Center Honors. Bacall died one day after Robin Williams on August 12th from a stroke. She was 89.
Eli Wallach’s career spanned six decades. Wallach studied acting under Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg. Known for his versatility and ability to bring life to supporting roles, he acted on 90-plus movies. But the theatre vwas his first love. Early in his career, he turned down numerous film roles, saying, “What do I need a movie for? The stage is on a higher level in every way, and a more satisfying medium. Movies, by comparison, are like calendar art next to great paintings. You can’t really do very much in movies or in television, but the stage is such an anarchistic medium.” He and wife, actress Anne Jackson, were one of America’s most cherished acting couples. Wallach passed on at the age of 98 on June 24th of natural causes. He is survived by Jackson, to whom he was married for 65 years, and three children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild, survive him.
Amiri Baraka was an African-American who was deeply invested in defining African-Americans and ensuring that they receive justice and equal rights. He wrote poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism, and he was a stage director and producer, and teacher. From 1964 to 1978, Baraka wrote eight plays. His first, Dutchman (1964), is still read and studied today. Dutchman, which was initially staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village in March 1964, received an Obie Award. It is a violent political allegory about black, white relations in the 1960s. It condemns African-Americans who simply allow the status quo to exist and exposes the need for African-Americans to revolt in order to have change. Although it is 50 years old, it is still edgy, frightening, and brutal. Baraka died on January 9th at the age of 79.
As an actress, Ruby Dee appeared in over 30 stage productions. She played Ruth Younger in 1959 groundbreaking Broadway premiere of Loraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. A versatile performer, her credits included South Pacific (1943), Purlie Victorious (1961), and King Lear (1965). Her last Broadway appearance was in 1988, starring in Checkmates. In film she starred in the movie version of A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and also had major roles in Do the Right Thing (1989) and American Gangster (2007). She received an Oscar nomination for the latter film. Her honors included Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards. She was also awarded with National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. She had an honest and charismatic quality and a wide range, that went from being ultra vulnerable to overpowering. She was married to actor Ossie Davis until his death in 2005. Dee died on June 11th of natural causes. She was 91.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was an actor, director, and producer, earned a solid reputation as a film actor when he appeared in numerous movies in the 1990s. His performances in Scent of a Woman (1992), Twister (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Magnolia (1999) caught the attention of many. In 2005, he won the Academy Award for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote in the film Capote. In 2000, he earned critical acclaim in the revival of Sam Shepard’s True West, in which he starred with John C. Reilly. Throughout the run Hoffman and Reilly switched roles, with each playing Austin and Lee. He also played James Tyrone, Jr. in Long Day’s Journey into Night (2003), and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (2012). For each of those productions, he was nominated for a Tony. Hoffman, who had battled drug addiction as a young adult and been clean for many years, relapsed in 2013. On February 2nd he died of combined drug intoxication. Hoffman was 46.
Elaine Stritch was closely identified with the Sondheim song “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company). She spent close to nine decades on the stage. A well-known Broadway actress, she began acting in 1944, made her Broadway debut in 1946, and last appeared on The Great White Way in 2011 in the revival of A Little Night Music. She played in 19 Broadway shows. In 1971, the brassy actress won the Tony for Company. She also received a Tony in 2001 for her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, where she intimately chronicled her life, including her close relationship with alcohol. Stritch was a dynamic performer who won acclaim in both musicals and straight plays, receiving Tony nominations for her work in Bus Stop (1955) and in the 1996 revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Elaine Stritch was a unique performer who loved Broadway. She died in her sleep on July 17th at the age of 89 while fighting stomach cancer. She was also suffering from diabetes.
We will miss each of these 10 artists. They gave their insight, passion, and creativity to the stage. We were lucky to have been amongst them. RIP.