Tony Award winning Broadway and Hollywood actor Dick Latessa died December 19 in his Manhattan home as the result of heart failure at the age of 87.
Fellow Broadway star Harvey Feinstein noted that Latessa had the timing of a Swiss watch.
He earned his Tony Award as the Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as the father and husband Wilbur Turnblad in the original production of “Hairspray” with fello Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein in drag as his wife Edna. The role also earned him the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
Latessa also earned an Obie Award for his leading role in the Off Broadway production of the musical “Philemon”.
In the most recent airing of “Hairspray Live” on television, a storefront named “Crazy Dickie’s” is a tribute to Latessa.
Dick Latessa was 38 when he made his Broadway debut in 1968 as Giovanni Pastora in the original musical production of “The Education of “H*Y*M*A*N*K*A*P*L*A*N”. He also appeared in the original productions of “Follies”, “Chapter Two”, “Ought to Be in Pictures”, “Passione”, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “Rags”, “Broadway Bound”, “Rumors”, “The Will Rogers Follies”, “Proposals”, “Hairspray”, and “The Lyons.
Latessa also performed in the revivals of “Awake and Sing!”, “Damn Yankees”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “Cabaret”, and “Promises, Promises”.
He made his Hollywood debut in 1956 in an episode of the daytime drama “The Edge of Night”. From there he went on to appear in dozens of productions including the daytime drama “One Life to Live”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Ironside”, the movie production of “Philemon”, “Spencer: For Hire”, 12 episodes of “True Blue”, the TV Movie version of “The Will Rogers Follies”, “Young Indiana Jones”, “Stigmata”, “The Sopranos”, “Law & Order”, Father Dufelt in “The Black Donnelleys”, “The Good Wife”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, and his final role in 2015 in “Odd Mom Out”.
He was born Richard Robert Latessa on September 16, 1929 in Cleveland, Ohio the sixth of seven children to a shoemaker father. After a stint in the US Army, he returned to his native Cleveland to begin his acting career before moving to New York City to pursue his acting career.
He is survived by his daughters Gabrielle, Rachel, and Gina; a granddaughter; siblings Antionette, Donald, and Gerald; wife Shirley (from whom he is separated); and partner Jonathan Hilton.
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