I originally posted this on March 15, 2011 in tribute to my funny, talented, and dear friend, Thommie Walsh.
This is a very personal post for me, and so I share this each year to celebrate his beautiful spirit.
Today would have been Thommie’s 72nd birthday.
Thommie Walsh was a 2-time Tony Award winner, an original cast member of the ground-breaking Broadway musical A Chorus Line, and my dear wonderful friend.
Thommie came into my life in so many ways.
As a young actor and dancer, I was forever changed by his performance in A Chorus Line. The boy who grew up near Buffalo but “couldn’t remember the name of the town” because he’d blocked it out.
His work on Broadway was the stuff wide-eyed young actors or dancers like me only dreamed about. He danced in several Broadway shows – including A Chorus Line – and then graduated to director/choreographer.
As Tommy Tune’s partner, he won two Tony Awards (A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine; My One And Only).
Thommie’s accomplishments and honors were many, too numerous to mention them all.
But my favorite memory of Thommie was as my friend.
In 2002, Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie was asked to perform her then-developing one-woman show “Inside The Music” in Los Angeles. Thommie was her director and choreographer. The theater was a small theater on a budget, so Donna asked if Thommie could stay with me.
Every day was a holiday with Thommie in the house. Having consulted on some of Donna’s earlier shows, I accompanied Thommie to rehearsals and assisted when I could. But just being around Thommie made life better and funnier and more wonderful. We became very fast friends.
Thommie was immensely supportive of my work as a director and/or choreographer. Some years later, when I was choreographing a show off-Broadway, he insisted he come to see the show. Then he made a point of taking me to dinner at Joe Allens (famous Broadway restaurant) to talk about it. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he sat down, smiled, and simply said to me “you did good – I loved it.”
His sense of humor, his directness in any situation, everything about Thommie worked for me. My wonderful, funny, talented friend.
In late 2006, however, he stopped returning phone calls. I worried something was wrong.
I reached out to everyone I could. At one point, on Christmas eve, I stood outside a holiday dinner in the freezing cold on the phone with a close friend of Thommie’s. The news was not good. I was distraught. I frantically asked the friend to keep me informed as his health deteriorated.
News was very slow to come over the next several months. I did all I could to stay in the loop from across the country.
Then, on a hot summer night – June 16, 2007 – this boy-wonder of Broadway was gone.
I was riding in a car in Las Vegas when a friend called: “Did you hear about Thommie?”
I held my breath in silence. I didn’t want to know.
Several heartbeats went by.
I’m dramatic – surely I’m wrong. Please let me be wrong.
I wasn’t. My friend on the other end of the call was sad and silent. But, the news had come.
But never forgotten. I remember Thommie’s birthday every year. March 15th – the Ides of March. From Julius Caesar – “Beware the Ides of March.” Beware indeed. He used his own birthday onstage in A Chorus Line as “Bobby” or “Robert Charles Joseph Henry Mills, III” as his introduction went. Just so dang funny.
I would play his role in A Chorus Line several times, and I always thought of Thommie when I did.
Near the end of his character’s monologue, he had a line that read, “I just wanted to see if anyone would notice me.”
Boy, did the world notice Thommie Walsh.
I miss Thommie often. His laugh, his humor, his talent, his friendship… all of it boundless.
I’d love to regale you with some stories I lived with him, but they may not be suitable for this post. If you knew him, you know what I mean. If you don’t, then please know I hope someday you know someone like him so you will.
Except there will never be another Thommie Walsh. Ever. And my eyes tear up with joy and sadness every time I know that.
Thommie – how very lucky am I to have known you. I miss you. I always will.
Thommie once advised me if you were going to steal, steal from the best.
So, as Thommie would close his letters, from me to the fabulous Thommie Walsh: “Love you madly – always.”