Born in Lake Charles, LA, he directed in Europe and Africa before moving to Pittsburgh in the 1960s, where met Wilson, then a young poet. In 1975, Mr. Purdy moved to the Twin Cities to direct The Great White Hope. He stayed, becoming a major figure in the Minneapolis-St. Paul theatre community. He soon encouraged his friend to join him. Mr. Purdy ultimately gave Wilson his first professional production at Penumbra, staging a play called Black Bart and the Sacred Hills in 1981.
The director stuck by Wilson through the years as the writer's stature grew, staging many of the playwright's works in theatres across the nation. In 1984, he mounted Penumbra's production of Wilson's Jitney, which would become part of Wilson's ten-play cycle about the black experience in America during the 20th century. He acted in a 2000 revival of the work. Mr. Purdy's last show at Penumbra was Joe Turner's Come and Gone, in 2002.
"These plays and their ideas are so large ... they can be done 100 years from now," Mr. Purdy told the Star Tribune in 1990. "You are always finding something new in them."
In New York, Mr. Purdy directed at the New Federal Theatre.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a sister, Jackie Purdy, of Los Angeles, and two sons.