In Memoriam

Jerry Russell, Stage West founder and father of Sen. Wendy Davis, dies

Jerry Russell, Stage West founder and father of Sen. Wendy Davis, dies

Jerry Russell as Clarence Darrow at Stage West
Jerry Russell's most recent onstage appearance was in the one-man show Clarence Darrow that played Stage West in April, a role he was reprising for the third time. Photo courtesy of Stage West

Jerry Russell, founder of Fort Worth theater company Stage West and father of Sen. Wendy Davis, passed away peacefully this morning at Harris Methodist Hospital. He had been hospitalized for several weeks following complications from abdominal surgery. He was 77.

Friends and family began reporting on his condition two weeks ago on Facebook, and a page on the website Caring Bridge was created to keep well-wishers informed of his status. Early this morning, Davis posted on her Facebook page that her father had passed away, surrounded by his wife and children:

During his time in the hospital, there was never a moment that one of us wasn't by his side. We, and the community, will forever be grateful for the significant impact he made on our lives. He and his warm, sparkling brown eyes will be deeply missed. My family and I thank you for surrounding us with your prayers and comfort during this time.

Russell had retired (for the second time) from Stage West last year, ending a tenure that began when he founded the company in 1979. Appearing not just with Stage West but also Dallas Theater Center, Casa Manana and others, Russell was a beloved member of the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community.

His most recent onstage appearance was in the one-man show Clarence Darrow that played Stage West in April, a role he was reprising for the third time. He was slated to star in The Sunshine Boys at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas later this month.

Russell was in the third week of directing Stage West's season-closing show, Thank You, Jeeves, when he became ill in August and was admitted to the hospital. There's no word yet on how Russell's death might affect the theater's upcoming 35th season.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but there has been an outpouring of online support from both the local arts community and Davis' supporters. Kevin Moriarty, artistic director at the Dallas Theater Center, released a statement about Russell's death. It reads in part:

Jerry was a beloved figure in the theater community for his unerring truthfulness on stage, his deeply collaborative creative process, his glorious sense of humor, his colorful storytelling and his deep, abiding love of theater. Jerry acted in six productions at Dallas Theater Center over the years, including those directed by DTC's former artistic director, Richard Hamburger, and myself. His last appearance on our stage was as Gonzalo in The Tempest in 2011.

I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Jerry on that production. I was in awe of his ability to bring Shakespeare's words to life on stage with such beauty and grace, and I was equally enthralled offstage by his stories of a lifetime of creating theater. I was fortunate to see much of his work at Stage West over the years and to count him as a trusted colleague and friend. It's hard to imagine theater in North Texas without Jerry Russell. All of us are grieving and share our condolences with his family.