From Joyce Hill Stoner: I'm sorry to note that our musical star Rusty Thacker died December 7, 2012 from cancer.
Susan Johnson (Penny)
So so sad to hear about Rusty. I still vividly remember the first time I heard him sing. We were about 14 at the time and I had no idea he was so talented. He and Joyce made a great duo. I too did some shows with Rusty and loved every minute of it. Even as a kid he had dedication and committment. But mostly he was just a lovely guy and I'm glad I knew him.
Susan Johnson Penny
Joyce Hill (Stoner)
I remember you as a great talent and a good friend. In the time between our graduation and your death, I tracked the success of your career. Congratulations on a life well lived. You were always a special angel.
I will always remember Rusty for his great talent and wonderful smile. He had an open, happy heart, and brightened all our lives. I know he is missed by many.
Russ (Rusty) Thacker (1946-2012)
Rusty Thacker and Bernadette Peters were two of the actors listed in the May 30, 1968 New York Times report of Theatre World’s award for “most promising actors.” Thacker starred in the pop-rock musical Your Own Thing (based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) in 1968. Walter Kerr noted: “Rusty Thacker (a real find) sings with a blend of show-biz vibrato and on-the-level simplicity that pulls a couple of worlds together quite effortlessly.” Clive Barnes reviewed the show twice, noting: “Rusty Thacker, grinning as if he had just discovered the world, is equally as charming [as Leland Palmer].” Thacker then went on to star in a record number of Broadway shows in the 1970s and ‘80s that closed in a week or less: Heathen, Dear Oscar, Home Sweet Homer (with Yul Brynner as Odysseus), The Grass Harp (with Barbara Cook), Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up, and Me Jack, You Jill. Several of these are available as cast recordings. In 1983 and ‘84, Thacker and Allen Hill devised and performed a cabaret review Olio, mentioning these short runs; and John Wilson of the NYT noted “he has made the best of this tribulation by using it as the basis for one of the numbers.” Wilson also noted Thacker’s many skills: “He sings while juggling a glass ball in a way that brings the ball alive. He plays the guitar and the concertina. He gets dressed and undressed and crawls in and out of a trunk, and in the midst of all this he manages to show off his strong, vibrant tenor voice with great effect.” (NYT Sept. 18 1983). Thacker (book and lyrics) and Bert Draesel (music) wrote several musical theatre works that were performed in cabarets and workshops: Bouncing Back, Everyman, Gallery, and Step into the Light.
Thacker toured as Barnum, George M, Pippin, and Will Rogers, and over his career also starred alongside Gene Kelly, Vincent Price, Georgia Engel, Priscilla Lopez, Judith Ivey, Debbie Boone, Sandy Duncan, Shirley Booth, Donna McKechnie, and many other theatre luminaries.
Thacker played a long-running character in Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967) and had to be written out of the show (his character “went to Canada to avoid the draft”) in order to appear in live theatre in NYC. He said it was a challenge to act in a soap opera—his father had been murdered and he hadn’t seen the future scripts to know whether he had done it or not! He also appeared in Goodtime Girls and FBI on television in the 1960s and in the movies: Parades, Savages, and A.W.O.L in the 1970s.
Aubrey (Russ/Rusty) Thacker was born on June 23, 1946 in Washington, DC. Thacker attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and played leading roles in shows there; shortly after graduation, he and Georgia Engel (from nearby Walter Johnson High School and later of the Mary Tyler Moore Show) starred in Earnest in Love at the Washington Theatre Club and by 1978 in Tip-Toes at the Goodspeed Opera House. He attended Montgomery College and made his Broadway debut in 1967 in the revival of Life with Father. (Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney dyed their hair to match Thacker’s natural red hair.)
Playing a character that has a stroke, Thacker ironically had a stroke onstage; this was the beginning of a number of health crises that ended in his death from cancer on December 7, 2012. He is survived by his partner of 18 years, John Olund, a singer in NYC; Jeffrey Thacker of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Billie Saunders of Silver Spring, Maryland.
His B-CC classmates have set up a fund in Thacker’s name to help projects in the Drama Department: online at www.bccedfoundation.org or send a check payable to the B-CC HS Educational Foundation, at P.O. Box 31209, Bethesda, MD 20824-1209. Whether donating online or by check, donors should be sure to note that the contribution is in memory of Rusty Thacker, for the B-CC Drama Dept.
The above is an obit I wrote for the WaPo and the NYT and neither would publish because he hadn't spent enough of his life in DC or was no longer "famous enough." He did all these wonderful things, but in the end was known for being in a record number of short-lived shows, and that put a shadow across his getting parts in future shows. I think this really bothered him.
Rusty was one of my best friends from 1957 when we met behind "Doc's" drug store on Brookville Road until his death in 2012. In the summers, the Bethespians put on SEVENTEEN (1961); FORTY FIVE MINUTES FROM BROADWAY (1962); FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1963); and BABES IN ARMS (1964). He also directed some shows for talent nights at B-CC; I remember one event for which he simply told about 24 girls to make themselves costumes-- blouses and full skirts white on the front and black on the back (amazingly they just all DID this) and he put fluorescent paint designs on the white side-- then they backed out in a line and turned around one-by-one in UV lighting-- I think Cathy Ikenberry was one of the group. It was a remarkable effect. Then I went to William and Mary and he went to Broadway. But we kept up, and many of us went backstage to see him in Odyssey, Your Own Thing, Earnest in Love, etc.
I think he attended only one reunion-- the 20th in 1984. He said he didn't feel up to coming when he couldn't say that he was doing something really fantastic, which is sad because we all loved seeing him, talking to him, and remembering him in West Side Story and so many other shows.
I am very sad that he will not be with us for the 50th.
Irene Kovakas (Creed)
Rusty Thacker...my heart breaks...how I loved him and his gentle ways. He was so very kind and I recall when rehearsing for a show...maybe West Side or some other...we were practising a song and I was having some trouble with my voice (not much of a voice but which left me totally years later after thyroid surgery) ... he was so encouraging and gave me the little extra I needed to blossom in the song. His passing leaves the world a little darker. Joyce, when I think of you...I think of Rusty and vice versa. You must have been devastated when he died. For me, I look at the night sky and see Rusty shining down from a star ...his star....for always.
Michelle Hochman (Schuster)
I was always so entranced Rusty and his wonderful gifts in performance. I think I still have the record album of our production of "Once Upon A Mattress." Even though the quality of the recording wasn't great, I played it often just to hear Rusty's beautiful solos! Even my children were raised on those songs.
We did go to see him in The Odyssey when it came to the Kennedy Center. Even for those of us who didn't know him personally, he will always shine as such a special part of our B-CC memories. Wish he knew that he will always be out star.