Barnard Hughes, Tony-Winning Actor of Da and Prelude to a Kiss, Dead at 90

Obituaries   Barnard Hughes, Tony-Winning Actor of Da and Prelude to a Kiss, Dead at 90 Barnard Hughes, the Tony Award-winning actor who starred in Da on Broadway, and began his professional career in 1934, died July 11 at New York Presbyterian Hospital after a brief illness, his family announced.
Barnard Hughes
Barnard Hughes

Mr. Hughes, a Bedford Hills, NY, native, was 90. He was born July 16, 1915, the son of Owen and Madge Hughes.

The kind-eyed actor, who seemed to slide inside the skin of any of the various characters he played, might be best remembered for his humane performance as an Irish father in Hugh Leonard's Da (1978).

For his turn as the curmudgeonly father — "da," for short — haunting the memory of his playwright son, he won the Best Actor Tony Award and Outstanding Actor Drama Desk Award. He later played the role in the film version.

Mr. Hughes held jobs as a dock checker in New York harbor, a Macy's salesman and a Wall Street copyreader before auditioning for the stage on a dare from a friend. His career, which began in 1934 with one line in the Shakespeare Fellowship Repertory Company production of The Taming of the Shrew, spanned seven decades and over 400 roles on Broadway, and in television and films, appearing opposite such varied stars as Richard Burton, Robert Preston, George C. Scott, Alfred Drake, Lillian Gish, Christopher Plummer, Lauren Bacall, Alec Baldwin, Nicol Williamson, Bill Murray, Glenn Close, Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Rosemary Harris, Walter Matthau and Whoopi Goldberg.

Mr. Hughes made his Broadway debut in 1935 in Herself Mrs. Patrick Crowley. Until 1942 he toured the United States performing in stock theatrical shows. In 1945, he resumed his stage career after serving in the Army during World War II. While performing in a veteran's hospital show, he met actress Helen Stenborg, his wife of 56 years, whom he married in 1950. The couple acted on Broadway together as late as 2000 in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings. He was 85 at the time. That year, he and Stenborg, who survives him, received a Drama Desk Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1995, he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Also among his survivors is his son, Doug Hughes, the Tony Award-winning director known for Doubt.

Mr. Hughes also received a Tony nomination in 1973 for his performance as Dogberry in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of Much Ado About Nothing. His major Broadway credits included Advise and Consent, Nobody Loves an Albatross, Hamlet, How Now Dow Jones, Uncle Vanya, The Good Doctor, Angels Fall, End of the World, The Iceman Cometh and Prelude to a Kiss.

In 1989, he performed the role of Grandpa in the Abbey Theatre of Dublin's production of You Can't Take It with You. He returned to Dublin in 1991 to perform Da in that city's Olympia Theatre.

His film credits include "Hamlet" with Richard Burton, "Midnight Cowboy," "The Hospital," "Cold Turkey," "Where's Poppa?," "First Monday in October," "Oh, God!," "Tron," "Maxie," "The Lost Boys," "Doc Hollywood," "Sister Act 2" and "Cradle Will Rock."

His career included guest star roles on "All in the Family," "The Bob Newhart Show" and his 1977 Emmy Award-winning performance on "Lou Grant." Other TV credits included "Playhouse 90," Kraft Theatre," "Armstrong Circle Theatre," "The Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns." He starred in the television series "Doc," "Mr. Merlin" and "The Cavanaughs," and played a recurring role on the series "Blossom."

Mr. Hughes served for over a decade as President of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild and for many years on the council of The Actors’ Fund. In 1992, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Manhattan College, the school he'd dropped out of to become an actor.

His last public appearance was on June 1, 2006 at the Shubert Theatre, where in celebration of 60 years of the Tony Awards, he was photographed with 110 Best Actor and Best Actress Tony Award winners, including Natasha Richardson, Brian Dennehy, Glenn Close, Philip Bosco, Marian Seldes and Ralph Fiennes.

He is also survived by daughter Laura Hughes and a grandson, Samuel Hughes Rubin.

The funeral service will be private. Plans for a memorial gathering will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to The Actors' Fund.