He spent the last three months of his career treading the boards with Chita Rivera. There are a helluva lot worse swan songs. "The Visit" closed on Broadway in June and Tony winner Roger Rees, who was leading man to Chita River in that strange but beautiful musical, died yesterday less than a month after closing night, though he had had to leave the musical early due to illness. He is survived by his husband.
I first became aware of him when I was a kid when PBS showed The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1982) miniseries in which he played the lead role and was Emmy nominated. I didn't know at the time that it was his signature role and he'd already won the Olivier and Tony for it.
I had the privilege of seeing him on stage twice. When I had just moved to NYC in 1999, I went to an Off Broadway play to see Uma Thurman (he was her leading man) and I caught The Visit early in previews. He was having a rough time with the score that night... and I wondered about his health. I kept shooing the thought away -- it was just the grim melodrama of the musical, I told myself, in which Chita keeps essentially presenting him with his own coffin.
Though Rees easily hopped around in all three actors mediums, and appeared in films like Star 80, Robin Hood Men in Tights, the Pfeiffer version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Prestige, and Frida, his most popular roles (aside from Nickleby) tended to be guest spots on television: West Wing and Cheers in particular. My favorite? My So Called Life (1994) in which he has a title role episode "The Substitute" wherein he played a rebel teacher who wakes Angela Chase up with his unorthodox instruction.
Do you have a favorite memory of his work?