Union opens probe into veteran Broadway actor's suicide

July 16, 2018 - 3:08 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — A Broadway union is investigating a veteran actor's suicide, which happened about a week after his friends say he was subjected to a grueling, demoralizing rehearsal.

Actors' Equity said it has retained a lawyer to examine the events surrounding the June 29 death of Jeff Loeffelholz, who held the position of standby actor for the role of tabloid reporter Mary Sunshine in "Chicago" since the show's Broadway return in 1996.

In text messages and notes, the 57-year-old Loeffelholz said director Walter Bobbie asked him to sing Sunshine's signature song, "A Little Bit of Good," about five times during the June 22 rehearsal.

Bobbie was critical of the performance and stormed off at one point, according to Loeffelholz's notes. Loeffelholz said the director suggested he break the contract guaranteeing him the standby job for as long as "Chicago" remained on Broadway.

"He was upset. It was his dream job," said Loeffelholz's friend, Brian Rardin. "It kind of broke his heart."

Bobbie's agent didn't respond to a message.

"Chicago" music director Leslie Stifelman says she hopes to help "bring out the true circumstances of this tragedy."

The producers of "Chicago," Barry and Fran Weissler, had already hired their own lawyer for a separate investigation, which could wrap up by the end of the week. That lawyer, Judd Burstein, is interviewing cast and crew members and says he expects to have a report next week.

"In 22 years of production, we have not experienced the loss of a cast member while in our employ until June 29," the Weisslers said in a statement. "Our entire Chicago family is grieving and doing what we can to support each other in healing."

Loeffelholz's friend, Mark Newman, outlined the notes and text messages on a blog, "Justice for Jeff." A memorial service is scheduled for St. Malachy's, known as the Actors' Chapel, on Aug. 7.

Loeffelholz was a stalwart in a "Chicago" cast that has cycled through dozens of big stars, including Michelle Williams, Bebe Neuwirth and Patrick Swayze. Akin to a pinch hitter in baseball or an on-call doctor, he would step in and play Sunshine whenever the main performer couldn't take the stage, ensuring the show would always go on.

"If Jeff's legacy is anything, it's that no one should have to go through bullying or intimidation or harassment from management or anybody," Rardin said.

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