Don Chastain, the tall, strong-voiced actor who distinguished himself in the musicals Floyd Collins and Parade, and many TV roles, died Aug. 9 at a Los Angeles hospital after a battle with colon cancer, according to his wife, Jill.
Mr. Chastain, 66, whose career over the years took him from handsome leading-man roles (a love interest for Lois Lane in Broadway's It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman) to grizzled character parts (Judge Roan and the Old Soldier in Parade), fought his disease valiantly, his wife said.
"Don did not die of failure," she said. "He fought and it never slowed him down. He believed every moment he would beat it: It was the way he lived his life. He would say he was a lucky man. He never lost his battle — he became too tired. It was the way he lived that was important."
The Chastains split their time between L.A. and New York, but considered themselves New Yorkers. Mr. Chastain was working in recent months, and had recently appeared on TV's "Scrubs" and "As the World Turns." His varied career over the years also included writing for soap operas, including "Search for Tomorrow." He wrote the screenplay of the 1978 film, "The Mafu Cage," an offbeat drama about an orangutan, murder and revenge, starring Lee Grant and Carol Kane.
The 6-foot-3-inch Oklahoma City native made his way to Los Angeles years ago and studied acting, landing choice roles as a leading man, notably playing Debbie Reynolds' husband in "The Debbie Reynolds Show." He was Emmy-nominated for an appearance on "Gunsmoke" and acted on "Rhoda" and "The Cosby Mysteries," among many other TV shows. "Murder in Small Town X" was another recent TV job for Mr. Chastain. Musical theatre buffs, who treasure their character actors, remember Chastain for recently playing the defiant Old Soldier and the regret-tinged Judge in Harold Prince's staging of Parade, about the notorious murder of Mary Phagan near Atlanta. Some 30 years earlier he was a quirky suitor in Prince's staging of Strouse and Adams's comic musical, It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman. He is heard on the cast albums of both shows, and as papa Collins on the disc of Floyd Collins, the Adam Guettel musical about a man trapped in a Kentucky cave.
His Broadway appearances also include No Strings and Dance a Little Closer and a stint as Julian Marsh in the original run of 42nd Street. He is also heard on the two disc first-ever full recording of the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band. He was also part of the development process of the new musical, The Ballad of Little Jo.
Did he have a favorite role?
"Given who Don was," his wife told Playbill On-Line, "the role at hand as his favorite role. I think his two favorite projects were Floyd Collins, it had a tremendous amount of meaning to him; and Parade, because of the subject matter — he was a person who abhorred any kind of racism or classism. People would remember Don not so much for his work but that he was an incredibly generous performer. He loved all kinds of people."
Survivors also include a son, Colin Chastain. A memorial in New York will be planned.