Veteran Actor Collapses Onstage, Dies

Oct 06 4:45 PM US/Eastern

Twenty minutes into the performance of "The Best Man" at a Chicago theater, veteran stage actor Gene Janson, onstage with fellow performer David Darlow, unexpectedly put his head in his hands.  When Darlow asked Janson if he was OK, "He replied that he was not," said James Bohnen, artistic director of the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, which is producing the play.

Darlow rushed off the stage to get help, and a nurse in the matinee audience came to Janson's aid. Janson, 72, was taken Wednesday to Lincoln Park Hospital, where he died shortly after of a heart attack, said his son, Christopher Janson.

"There is a certain poetic irony to his death," Christopher Janson said. "He died doing what he loved, which was being on the stage and in a play he was so proud of."

In the Gore Vidal drama, Janson portrayed a fictional former U.S. president who dies unexpectedly. Bohnen said the role was one of Janson's finest in a 50-year career.

"He brought so much to his character," Bohnen said. "He was having the time of his life with this part."

Janson worked mainly on the stage, although his film credits included "The Blues Brothers," "While You Were Sleeping," and "My Best Friend's Wedding." He also appeared in TV shows and commercials.

Janson was familiar to Chicagoans as a pledge drive spokesman for public station WTTW-TV, a job he held for more than 20 years.

Remy Bumppo planned to resume "The Best Man" with an understudy in Janson's role, a spokesman said Friday. The company has dedicated the rest of the play's run at Chicago's Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater to his memory.

Besides his son, Janson is survived by a wife, two daughters and four grandchildren.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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About Lance Baker

An actor and director in Chicago and on the road.

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