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Arts & Life

Actor Gary Holcombe Dies at 66

Actor Gary Holcombe

Kansas City actor Gary Holcombe, known for his dramatic, comic, and musical performances on many professional stages, died on Monday at the age of 66. A veteran of Broadway musicals, like "Big River," "South Pacific," and "42nd Street," Holcombe also starred as Oliver Warbucks in the national tour of "Annie."

By Laura Spencer

Kansas City, Mo. – Gary Holcombe was raised in Kentucky. A move to New York to pursue a career as an opera singer turned into one in musical theatre, with roles in several Broadway musicals.

His signature role, Oliver Warbucks in "Annie" was reviewed in The New York Times on the national tour in 1982:

"As Oliver Warbucks, Gary Holcombe knows how to punctuate a line to telling effect, and he has one of the most memorable ones: 'You don't have to be nice on the way up if you're not comin' back down again.'"

And in The New York Times in 1983: "Gary Holcombe gives us a bullet-headed Oliver Warbucks."

According to The Kansas City Star, Holcombe estimated he'd performed the role 1500 times.

After nearly two decades in New York, Holcombe's wife, actor/director and Broadway veteran Donna Thomasen, encouraged the move in 1988 to Kansas City where she'd grown up.

Holcombe performed on many Kansas City stages, including more than 50 times at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in notable roles such as Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" in the early 1990s. In the 2009 production of "Winesburg, Ohio," he was cast as Wing Biddlebaum, a former schoolteacher with mysteriously flapping hands.

"The story of Wing Biddlebaum is the story of his hands," sang Holcombe during a rehearsal. "Incessantly, they beat like wings of a bird."

A founding member of the Kansas City Actors Theatre, Holcombe was a patriarch in "Talley and Son," and German conductor and composer Wilhelm Furtwangler, an alleged Nazi sympathizer, in "Taking Sides."

"If it leaves them thinking," said Holcombe. "Then we (as actors) have done our jobs."

Services are scheduled for Monday, October 17, 2011 at 10 a.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza. Read the obituary and sign the guest book here.

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