He died of natural causes at home â€” that home happening to be a glamorous, Italianate apartment he kept backstage at his Drury Lane Theatre complex in Oakbrook Terrace, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Oakbrook Terrance is the only location left in an original empire that included Drury Lanes North, South, East and Water Tower. A new Water Tower theatre opened in 2005, into which Mr. De Santis sunk $7 million.
The splashy Oakbrook theatre, festooned with the garish Austrian chandeliers Mr. De Santis used in every one of his theatres, and supported by a dinner theatre format, has 24,000 subscribers and mainly caters to suburban audiences. It is known for lavish musicals and for attracting name stars to its productions. Among the stars, many faded film luminaries, who played at Mr. De Santis' venues were Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller, Walter Pidgeon, Debbie Reynolds, Nanette Fabray, Cesar Romero, David Janssen, Joseph Cotten, Bob Crane, Cyd Charisse, Eva Gabor, Dorothy Lamour, George Hamilton, Ray Milland, Robert Vaughn, Gig Young, Bob Cummings, Chuck Connors and Joey Bishop.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Anthony De Santis was a high school dropout. He saved $3,000 working for Sherwin Williams Paint during the days and as a bartender at nights. He used the money to open the first Drury Lane Theater in Evergreen Park, on Chicago's southwest side, located next to his restaurant, The Martinique. The Evergreen Park location closed in 2004.
"Well, I don't know anything about theatre per se, so it's fair to say that I'm not a theatre person," De Santis said in a later interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I am a very good businessman." One example of his business expertise: When the Drury Lane North was replaced by the Mariott Lincolnshire Theatre complex, Mr. De Santis retained ownership of the land underneath. He was also part owner of two Hilton Hotels in Oakbrook Terrace. A devout Catholic who gave to many Catholic charities, Mr. De Santis annually treated 1,000 nuns from the Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan area to a pre-Christmas dinner and the musical at his Oakbrook theatre. The tradition began in 1956.
He is survived by his wife, Lucille, his daughter, Diane, grandchildren Jason and Tom Van Lente and grandchildren Kyle, Abby and Drew De Santis, as well as brother Dante and sister in-law Kay. A funeral mass will be said June 11 at 10:30 AM at Holy Name Cathedral, 730 North Wabash, Chicago. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to Catholic Charities, c/o Tony De Santis, Dept. 1623, Box N, Chicago, IL 60690-3990.