In Memoriam: Playbill.com Remembers Those We Lost in 2008

By Kenneth Jones
05 Jan 2009

(clockwise from top left) Eartha Kitt, Harold Pinter, Clive Barnes and Gerald Schoenfeld
(clockwise from top left) Eartha Kitt, Harold Pinter, Clive Barnes and Gerald Schoenfeld

A Nobel Prize-winning playwright. A major Broadway theatre owner and producer. A longtime New York City theatre critic. A sultry cabaret star who sexily purred songs into her eighties.

Respectively, Harold Pinter, Gerald Schoenfeld, Clive Barnes and Eartha Kitt were among theatre people we lost in 2008. As 2009 dawns, Playbill.com now looks back to reflect on the contributions of theatre folk who died in the past calendar year.

Some names you know, some had no international profile. They all made an impact. Whether their contributions were felt locally, regionally, nationally or around the world, the writers, producers, advocates, actors, composers, musicians, lyricists, directors, technicians and designers of the following list contributed to the welfare of the art form.

This necrology was culled from the 2008 pages of Playbill.com, with most reporting by Robert Simonson. This is not meant to be a complete list of the countless theatre people who left us — and left us inspired — in the past 12 months.

Full stories are archived in Playbill.com's Obituaries section.



Joseph Shaw, 87, an actor, director and teacher who spent 24 seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, Jan. 9 in Stratford, ON.

Jim Posante, 59, a Michigan director, actor, teacher and choreographer who was a beloved fixture in the Ann Arbor theatre community, Jan. 13 following a sudden stroke.

Lois Nettleton, 80, a career stage actress whose many roles included a turn as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, Jan. 18 in Woodland Hills, CA.

Suzanne Pleshette
Suzanne Pleshette, 70, actress of stage, film and television best known for playing Emily on TV's "The Bob Newhart Show," Jan. 19 at her home in Los Angeles.

Bill Hart, 70, a director whose largely Off-Broadway-focused work led to collaborations with the likes of Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin and Joseph Papp, Jan. 20 of complications of pancreatic cancer.

Roberto Gari, 87, an actor with several Broadway credits who also had a career as an artist, and who was known for his late-career role as the stricken father on TV's "Strangers With Candy," Jan. 22 of a heart attack in Manhattan.

Michael Abbott, 81, who produced the first New York staging of the war drama Stalag 17 when he was only 21 and was about to serve the same role for a coming Broadway revival, Jan. 24 at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.

Arthur Kramer, 81, the lawyer brother of playwright Larry Kramer who became known to theatregoers through a character based on him in the play The Normal Heart, Jan. 26 of a stroke in Stamford, CT.

Robert R. Oliver, 68, actor who played Mortimer in the current Off-Broadway revival of the musical The Fantasticks, Feb. 4 of a heart attack.

Augusta Dabney, 89, an actress whose stage, film and television credits stretched over six decades, and included many soap operas, Feb. 4.

Kirk Browning, 86, the longtime director of "Live From Lincoln Center" and a longtime hand at creating televised theatre, Feb. 10 of cardiac arrest in Manhattan.

Dennis Letts, 73, the patrician actor who created the role of Beverly Weston, the father who goes missing in his son Tracy Letts' acclaimed Broadway play, August: Osage County, Feb. 22 in Oklahoma after a battle with cancer.

Joan Marlowe, 88, co-publisher of the Theatre Information Bulletin and the former wife of Broadway critic Ward Morehouse, March 6.

Roy Scheider, 75, the character actor who in the 1970s found an unlikely career as a leading man in "Jaws" and "All That Jazz," March 9 in Little Rock, AR.

Ivan Dixon, 76, the Broadway, film and TV actor with credits as diverse as A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway and "Hogan's Heroes" on television, March 16 of complications from kidney failure in Charlotte, NC.

Anthony Minghella, 54, director who won an Academy Award for his direction of "The English Patient" and recently made a big splash in opera with his production of Madame Butterfly, March 18.

Paul Scofield, 86, Tony Award-winning actor (A Man for All Seasons) whose sonorous voice, commanding presence and mournfully dignified mien made him one of the leading players of the London and international stage during the latter half of the twentieth century, March 19 of leukemia.

Richard Widmark, 93, actor whose six-decade film career was sparked by a memorable portrayal as a cackling hood, March 24 at his home in Roxbury, CT.

James Anthony Church, 77, a British actor who spent three decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company before taking a post at the Denver Center Theatre Company, March 25 in London.

Jerry Kravat, 72, manager of the careers of a wide array of musical theatre and cabaret artists, including Barbara Cook, March 31 after cancer surgery.

Sherry Britton, 89, a five-foot-three, raven-haired beauty with an hourglass figure who was one of the last great stars of the burlesque stage, April 1 at her home in Manhattan.

Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston, 84, actor who played monumental historical figures from Moses to Michelangelo on the big screen and, despite a limited acting range, forged one of the longest careers in American movie history, April 5 at his home in Beverly Hills.

Madeline Gilford, 84, a performer and producer who was married to actor Jack Gilford for 40 years, and was blacklisted with him in the 1950s, April 14 in her Greenwich Village apartment.

Peter Howard, 80, arranger and conductor who worked on many Broadway shows in numerous capacities, but most commonly as either music director or dance arranger, April 18.

Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, 91, the only daughter of legendary Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld and actress Billie Burke, April 11 of congestive heart failure at her home in Los Angeles.

Oni Faida Lampley, 49, the award-winning playwright of The Dark Kalamazoo, Mixed Babies and her personal illness-inspired Tough Titty, April 28 after a battle with breast cancer.

Alvin Colt, 92, Broadway costume designer who won a Tony Award for the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream, May 4 in Manhattan.

John F. Altieri, 38, actor who most recently performed the role of Bob Crewe in the first national tour of Jersey Boys, May 5 of pneumonia in Las Vegas, NV.

Jimmy Slyde, 80, dancer who began tap dancing during the Big Band era and maintained an elegant, seemingly effortless standard throughout the rest of his long career, May 16 at his home in Hanson, MA.

Huntington Hartford, 97, the grandson of one of the founders of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company whose wealth occasionally led him into the world of theatre — including, in 1954, the conversion of an old movie house into the only legit stage in Hollywood at the time — May 19 at his home in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas.

Sydney Pollack, 73, a former stage actor who rose to direct a series of highly commercial and star-laden pictures, including "Tootsie" and "The Way We Were" in the 1970s and 1980s, May 27 at his home in Los Angeles.

Paul Sills, 80, one of the founders of the famous Chicago-based improvisational comedy group known as The Second City, June 2 of pneumonia at his home in Baileys Harbor, WI.

Peter Murray Kapetan, 51, an actor, singer and dancer who most recently appeared on Broadway in The Wedding Singer, June 4 in New York City.

Gene Persson, 74, a theatre producer responsible for such diverse productions as LeRoi Jones' tense racial drama, Dutchman, and the musical, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, June 6 of a heart attack at a Times Square pizzeria.

Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse, 87, the MGM star who made a late-in-life Broadway debut in the musical Grand Hotel, but is best known for her leggy, sensuous work in the films "The Band Wagon," "Silk Stockings" and "Brigadoon," June 17 of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hospital.

Dody Goodman, 94, actress whose ditzy comic persona was well known to patrons of theatre, film and television from the 1950s on, June 22 at the Actors Fund Home in New Jersey.

Patti McKenny, 57, a Chicago playwright, librettist and lyricist who was a vocal advocate of the development of homegrown musicals (via Chicago Musical Theatre Works, which she co-founded), June 28 of a heart ailment in her Northside Chicago apartment.

Keith Charles, 74, a veteran New York City actor with credits on Broadway (Applause) and Off-Broadway (Night and Her Stars, The Fantasticks), July 1 of lung cancer at his home in New York City.

Rosemary Ingham, 71, a costume designer and teacher who was there at the founding of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN, July 14 of a stroke at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, NY.

Larry Haines, 89, a stage and television actor who gave a Tony Award-nominated performance as the humane Dr. Dreyfuss in Promises, Promises, July 17 in Delray Beach, FL.

Gladys Nederlander, 83, a theatre producer and member of the powerful theatrical family that owns and operates theatres across the United States, July 21 of heart failure in New York City.

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, 71, Drama Desk Award-winning actress who founded the National Black Theatre Inc., July 21.

Estelle Getty
Estelle Getty, 84, the actress who spent decades struggling in obscurity before becoming an overnight star as a salty, back-talking grandmother in the hit sitcom "Golden Girls," July 22 after suffering from advanced dementia, at her home in Los Angeles.

Bruce Adler, 63, the scion of a Yiddish theatre family who went on to have much success on the Broadway stage (1979's Oklahoma!), winning two Tony Award nominations, July 25 after a battle with liver cancer.

Stuart W. Little, 86, writer and critic who for three decades covered the New York theatre, including a stint at the New York Herald Tribune, July 27 of heart failure in Canaan, CT.

Luther Davis, 91, librettist who won a Tony Award for his book to the musical Kismet, July 29 in the Bronx.

Peter Kass, 85, an acting teacher whose many celebrated pupils included Faye Dunaway and Maureen Stapleton, Aug. 4.

Simon Gray
Simon Gray, 71, the British playwright who for four decades chronicled with sardonic wit and a cerebral style the mores of English literary and academic circles (in Butley and The Common Pursuit, for example), Aug. 7 after a battle with lung cancer.

Eleanore Reznikoff, 57, a theatre producer who worked with such companies as the Long Wharf Theatre, Lincoln Center, Yale Repertory Theater and Circle in the Square, and later became a film marketing and advertising executive, Aug. 9 in Los Angeles.

Terence Rigby, 71, the British actor adept at playing villains, and who embodied ambiguous menace in several plays by Harold Pinter, including Broadway's The Homecoming in 1967, Aug. 10 of lung cancer.

George Furth, 75, a playwright and actor who made his lasting contribution to the American theatre through two collaborations with composer Stephen Sondheim, the musicals Company and Merrily We Roll Along, Aug. 10 in Santa Monica, CA.

Jack Zink, 61, a major voice in South Florida entertainment coverage for more than three decades, most recently as the theatre and classical music critic and cultural affairs writer for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Aug. 18 from cancer.

Tad Mosel, 86, who adapted James Agee's novel "A Death in the Family" into the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play All the Way Home, Aug. 24 in Concord, NH.

Richard Monette, 64, the longest-serving artistic director in the history of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival — 14 seasons, from 1994 to 2007 — Sept. 10 of a pulmonary embolus in a hospital in London, ON.

John E. Booth, 89, author of the books "The Critic, Power, and the Performing Arts" (1991) and "Actors Talk About Acting" (with Lewis B. Funke, 1963) and the first chairman of Theatre Development Fund, Sept. 10 of natural causes in his home in New Mexico.

David Jones, 74, the respected if undersung English director who forged career relationships with major stage figures such as playwright Harold Pinter and actors Patrick Stewart and Ben Kingsley, and helped rehabilitate the reputation of Gorky as a playwright, Sept. 18 in Rockport, ME.

Michael D. Mitchell, 68, artistic director of the Fulton Theatre, the resident Equity company operating at the historic Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, PA, Sept. 22 at his Lancaster home after a battle with cancer.

Irene Dailey, 88, the actress who created the role of the unhappily married wife in The Subject Was Roses on Broadway, and later found success in soap operas, Sept. 24 of colon cancer in Santa Rosa, CA.

Paul Newman
Paul Newman, 83, the sensitive and handsome stage and film actor who proved to be the most versatile and durable artist of the soul-searching, Method-informed generation of anti-heroes that burst on the screen in the 1950s, Sept. 26 after battling cancer.

Philip Thomas "Tom" Roland, 79, an actor, director and educator who worked in the Chicago area and beyond, including Wagon Wheel Theatre in Indiana and Northwestern University, Sept. 26 at Manor Care in Highland Park, IL.

Rob Guest, 57, a star of the musical stage in Australia (in Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables), Oct. 1 in Melbourne following a stroke.

Eileen Herlie, 90, a stage and television actress who was nominated for a Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award in 1960 for Take Me Along, and also starred in All American and in soaps, Oct. 8 in Manhattan.

Harry S. Gold, 50, executive director of business and legal affairs for Disney Theatrical Productions, Oct. 10 after a long battle with cancer in New York City.

Edie Adams, 81, a multi-talented actress who put her shapely figure, comic instincts, and clear, Juilliard-trained singing voice to good use by creating the roles of Eileen Sherwood in Wonderful Town and Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner, Oct. 15 of pneumonia and cancer in the West Hills section of Los Angeles.

Milton Katselas, 75, a respected Tony Award-nominated director, acting teacher, author, painter and founder of the Beverly Hills Playhouse acting school, Oct. 24 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Studs Terkel, 96, the Chicago journalist and radio host who used interviews with ordinary people to explore some of the central tenets of the American character, and whose books inspired stage shows including Working and The Good War, Oct. 31 at his Chicago home.

Yma Sumac, 86, the improbable singing star of the 1950s who claimed to possess a five-octave vocal range and ancestors who could be traced back to the Incas, and whose bizarre sound is heard on the cast recording of the musical Flahooley, Nov. 1 at an assisted-living home in Los Angeles after an eight-month bout with colon cancer.

Robin Farquhar, 59, the executive director of the Flat Rock Playhouse, the Equity theatre in the North Carolina mountains south of Asheville, Nov. 3 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Flat Rock.

Alee Ralph, 45, production supervisor and casting agent who worked on the national tours of many hit Broadway musicals, Nov. 3.

Michael Higgins, 88, who performed on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages from the 1940s to the 1980s, winning two Obie Awards (for The Crucible and Reunion) in the process, Nov. 5 in Manhattan.

Clive Barnes, 81, who covered the New York theatre and dance worlds for four decades, first as a critic for The New York Times and then for the New York Post, Nov. 19.

Gerald Schoenfeld, 84, the longtime Chairman of the theatre-owning powerhouse known as the Shubert Organization and a man routinely referred to as the most powerful man on Broadway, Nov. 25 at his home in Manhattan.

William Gibson, 94, playwright who wrote the Broadway hit Two for the Seesaw and won a Tony Award for The Miracle Worker, his dramatic telling of the relationship between Helen Keller and her determined teacher Annie Sullivan, Nov. 25.

Patricia Marand, 74, actress who was nominated for a 1966 Tony Award for her portrayal of Lois Lane in the Broadway musical It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman, Nov. 27 of brain cancer in her Manhattan home.

Paul Benedict
Paul Benedict, 70, actor who gained fame as the quirky English neighbor of the family in the TV sitcom "The Jeffersons," but remained faithful to the stage throughout his long career, Dec. 1 on Martha's Vineyard.

Nina Foch, 84, a Dutch-born actress of stage and screen, who often played worldly women of cool, controlling instincts (see M-G-M's "An American in Paris"), Dec. 5 at her home in Los Angeles.

Robert Prosky, 77, Tony-nominated actor (A Walk in the Woods, Glengarry Glen Ross) who etched a long series of wise, lived-in portrayals in film, television and on the stage over a 50-year career, Dec. 8 at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.

Van Johnson, 92, the handsome and affable screen star (with Broadway and stock credits) who reached such heights of popularity during the 1940s that he was called "The Voiceless Sinatra," Dec. 12 at an assisted living center in Nyack, NY.

Dorothy Sarnoff, 94, an actress who made an impression on Broadway as Lady Thiang in the original run of The King and I, and also worked in opera before embarking on an influential career as an image consultant, Dec. 20 at her home in Manhattan.

Dale Wasserman
Dale Wasserman, 94, librettist who penned the book for the 1966 Tony Award-winning musical Man of La Mancha, and the stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dec. 21 of heart failure in Arizona.

Harold Pinter, 78, the one-time British actor who tried his hand at writing in the 1950s only to become one of the most prominent and influential playwrights of the second half of the 20th century, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Dec. 24 after a long illness.

Eartha Kitt, 81, cabaret and concert singer and Tony-nominated Broadway actress (Timbuktu!, The Wild Party) whose exotic, sex-kitten persona and sultry, purring vocal delivery were unlike anything that had come before her, though she has been much imitated since, Dec. 25 of colon cancer.