You may not recognize the name Karen Walsh, but the theatre community at large has been mourning the passing of the actor, who died of Stage IV colon cancer May 30. Broadway's American Airlines Theatre will dim its lights in memory of the actor June 8.
Boasting seven Broadway credits, Ms. Walsh most often covered the roles regularly played by big-name stars—Law & Order’s Annie Parisse in Prelude to a Kiss, Claire Danes in Pygmalion, Carla Gugino in The Road to Mecca, and, most recently, Mary Louise Parker in Heisenberg. A supporting player in every sense of the word, Ms. Walsh called on her own support when she was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2015.
During her chemo treatments, Ms. Walsh asked friends to accompany her and snap a photo during treatment to document her journey. But when her friend, choreographer Sam Pinkleton (now a Tony nominee for The Great Comet) visited, the photos took on a new life.
On the one-year anniversary of her treatments, Ms. Walsh told Playbill: “I said, ‘You know you’re going to have to do a picture with me,’ and he said, ‘Well, if we’re going to do a picture, we may as well make it interesting.’ A lá Sam— he can do anything, which is why I love working with him so much—he got me up on the ledge.”
Therein began an inspirational Instagram photo series, showing Ms. Walsh’s strength and resilience throughout her chemotherapy. Some photos included famous friends, like Gugino and Blythe Danner, others just goofy riffs on pop culture, but all emphasized Ms. Walsh’s inner light and radiant joy.
As written by her cousin, Suzanne Guilette, in her obituary:
“Karen Beth Walsh Rullman was born on August 28, 1975 in Concord, Massachusetts. She died on May 30, 2017 in New York City, 20 months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. In the 41 years that she lived so fully, she was an incredible storyteller, doer, memory-maker, connector, and friend. She was a powerhouse in every way, including as a singer, actor, wife, mother, daughter, and sister. At her core, Karen was hilarious and helpful, often at the same time. She was petite in stature, but enormous in spirit.
“Her parents, Ann and Robert Walsh, taught her the value of being a good person—warm-hearted, compassionate, and thoughtful. Throughout her formative years in Littleton, Massachusetts, and Northboro, Massachusetts, Bob and Ann’s strong ties with family and friends made an indelible impression on Karen: that deep and meaningful relationships were the highest form of currency. Laughter and witty one-liners were pretty worthwhile, too.”
Ms. Walsh dedicated her time offstage to her husband, Todd, and her two children, Zoe and Tate, and to raising awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society—even before her own diagnosis. Named a 2016 Mother of the Year by the American Cancer Society, Ms. Walsh served as an Ambassador for the “80% by 2018” initiative to get 80 percent of the eligible population screened by 2018.
Ms. Walsh is also survived by two brothers, Michael Walsh of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Matthew Walsh of Needham, Massachusetts; Lisa Manganiello and Ivy Walsh, her sisters-in-law; her niece and nephews, Finna, Awley, and Bryce Walsh; and many loving aunts, uncles, and cousins.