Veteran KC, Broadway actor Gary Holcombe dies

Gary Holcombe, a Broadway veteran and one of Kansas City's most respected actors, died Monday. He was 66.

Holcombe was a versatile performer who was equally at home with drama, comedy and musicals. He possessed a warm and flexible baritone voice, which he put to good use in a wide range of shows. His signature role was Daddy Warbucks in "Annie," a role he played in the Broadway production’s fourth national tour. It was on that tour that he met his wife, actress/director Donna Thomason, who played Grace Farrell in the show. They married in 1984.

Holcombe also performed in three productions of "Annie" at Starlight Theater between 1994 and 2004. The latter production was directed by Thomason. Holcombe once estimated that he had performed the role 1,500 times and even owned his own costume.

Beginning in 1992, Holcombe for several years played Ebenezer Scrooge in the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" at what was then Missouri Repertory Theatre. Holcombe had worked at most of the professional theaters in Kansas City, including the Rep, the American Heartland Theatre, the New Theatre, Starlight and the old Tiffany's Attic Dinner Playhouse.

Significant roles Holcombe played in Kansas City included the dashing El Gallo in "The Fantasticks," a Cockney soldier from the underworld in "Saint Joan," Pap Finn in "Big River," Pharaoh in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and a mentally damaged war veteran who uncovers family secrets in the Canadian drama "The Drawer Boy."

Holcombe was a founding member of Kansas City Actors Theatre, and it was with that group that he performed some of his strongest dramatic roles, including a southern Missouri patriarch in "Talley & Son," an eccentric island gossip in "The Cripple of Inishmaan" and German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler in "Taking Sides,"

Holcombe was born in Decatur, Ga., and raised on a dairy farm near Bardstown, Ky. He attended Morehead State University and Indiana State University. In 1969 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded. He temporarily lost hearing in one ear when a piece of shrapnel entered his ear canal. His legs were so badly injured that doctors told him he might never walk without a limp, but he proved them wrong.

He moved to New York with the idea of becoming an opera singer, but he found it easier to land jobs in musical theater. In 1988 Holcombe and Thomason decided to get out of New York. They moved to Kansas City, where Thomason had grown up.

For several years Holcombe taught acting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and directed student productions. Holcombe played guitar and banjo, talents he acquired after being cast in two of the sequels to "Smoke on the Mountain." He was a bicycling enthusiast, an outdoorsman and an avid hunter.

Services are scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday at Unity Temple on the Plaza. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Gary Holcombe “Dare to Risk” Scholarship Fund at the Country Club Bank, PO Box 410889, Kansas City, MO, 64141. The fund was to become active Oct. 13.

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