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Cinema

Tony-Nominated Broadway Star Rebecca Luker Dies at 59

December 24, 2020

LOS ANGELES — Soprano Rebecca Luker, a three-time Tony nominated actor who starred in some of the biggest Broadway hits of the past three decades, died Wednesday. She was 59.

Her death was announced by her husband, veteran Broadway actor Danny Burstein, who said in a statement "our family is devastated. I have no words at this moment because I'm numb." Luker went public in 2020 saying she had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, also called ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Luker was a best actress Tony nominee in 1995 playing Magnolia in "Showboat," a best actress nominee in 2000 for playing Marian in "The Music Man" opposite Craig Bierko, and a best featured actress nominee in 2007 as Winifred Banks in "Mary Poppins." 

Tributes flooded social media, including from Broadway stars like Laura Benanti, who called Luker "humble, loving and kind" with a "golden voice" that would "wrap you in peace." Seth Rudetsky said it was "a great loss for Broadway and the world." Kristin Chenoweth tweeted that Luker was "one of the main reasons I wanted to be a soprano" and Bernadette Peters called her "one of the most beautiful voices on Broadway and a lovely person." 

Luker was known for staying with shows for extended runs. "Yes, I'm the queen of long runs," she told the Connecticut Post in 2011. "I don't know if I'm lucky or if it's a curse. But it's just how things have happened for me and it is mostly a good thing."

In 2013 she appeared in an off-Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Passion." In addition to many stage credits, Luker appeared on TV in "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Good Wife" and in the 2012 film "Not Fade Away." Her other off-Broadway credits include "Death Takes a Holiday," "Indian Blood" and "The Vagina Monologues."

Broadway stars Stephanie J. Block called Luker an "angel-faced and angel-spirited" and LaChanze took to Twitter to call Luker's death "a huge loss for the American theater." Tony-winner Michael Cerveris said: "There was no one more humble, more unexpectedly funny or more glorious when she sang."

Luker and her husband starred in an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," in which they played the parents of a transgender youngster killed in an accident after being bullied.

Luker was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and received a bachelor's in music from the University of Montevallo, where she later was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Luker made her Broadway debut in 1988 in "The Phantom of the Opera" first as an understudy to Sarah Brightman and then playing Christine opposite the legendary Michael Crawford. "I'll never forget it. It was an out-of-body experience. He was so kind, though, and I'll never forget that," she told Playbill in 2016.

She had Broadway roles in the "The Sound of Music" and as the original Lily in "The Secret Garden." She was a replacement in "Nine" in 2003 opposite Antonio Banderas, "Fun Home" in 2016 and in "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" in 2013-14. 

Her albums include "Greenwich Time," "Leaving Home," "Anything Goes: Rebecca Luker Sings Cole Porter" and "I Got Love: Songs of Jerome Kern," featuring 14 classics ranging from "Bill/Can't Help Loving That Man" to "My Husband's First Wife." She also paid tribute to the legendary Barbara Cook at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors.

Her final stage role was playing a small-town minister's narrow-minded wife in a 2019 Kennedy Center production of "Footloose." Her last performance was in June in a Zoom benefit performance, "At Home With Rebecca Luker."

In addition to her husband, Luker is survived by two stepsons, Alex and Zach. 

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