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Philip Clark Wellford, 58, of Roeland Park, KS, passed away Friday, December 14, 2012. Our Sweet Juggler's long battle with early on-set dementia came to an end at 1:58 a.m., as he crossed over peacefully, surrounded by loving family, devoted friends, and amazing caregivers from Garden Terrace and Continua Hospice. Nancy Clark Wellford and the late Marion Wellford, welcomed Philip into the world on May 18, 1954, in Memphis, TN. "Flip," as his family and childhood friends affectionately called him, grew up happy-go-lucky in Sarasota, FL, spending a good portion of his days playing on Egmont Key and Siesta Key Beach with his three older sisters, Robin, Lin and Karen, his younger brother, Eric, and his best friend, Rick Miller. Philip graduated from Sarasota's Riverview High School in 1972, and earned his BA from the University of South Florida in 1977. He later moved to Berkeley, CA, and attended the Starr King School of Ministry, where he received a Master in Divinity in 1981. While at Starr King, Philip learned to juggle at the age of 24, and unwittingly sealed his destiny as an entertainer. He began infusing comedy into a juggling routine and soon became a MUST SEE act on famed Fisherman's Wharf at Pier 39. He then toured with The Royal Lichtenstein Circus, a small circus troupe run by a Jesuit priest, and traveled across the entire country performing the 1979-80 season. Philip then moved to Los Angeles and began opening for stars like Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Andy Gibb. He also shared comedy club stages with Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Howie Mandel. Philip was featured in national ad campaigns for IBM and Coors Light, and in 1985, won an individual Emmy-Award for his Adam & Eve routine on Comedy Tonight. Philip moved to Branson, MO, in 1992 as Andy Williams' opening act at Williams' new Moon River Theater. Then, in 1993, Philip joined magician Kirby VanBurch to co-headline the popular VanBurch & Wellford Show through 1998. Philip would eventually meet his wife, Susan Wunsch, in Branson. They married on January 11, 1997, at Big Cedar Lodge, where Susan's parents, Billy and Sally Wunsch, Susan's older brothers, Charles and Michael, and other family members were happy to welcome The Juggler into the family. Philip and Susan worked together in Philip's own Branson show in 2000, and saw the world together via cruise ship engagements. When Philip's health began to decline, the couple moved to Susan's hometown of Kansas City in 2005. The last 780 days of Philip's life were spent living in a life care center with his wife by his side much of the time. Laughing, hugging, strolling, holding hands and just enjoying each other were the activities of choice. Philip leaves behind many loved ones, including nieces, nephews, cousins and friends all over the globe. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to the in the name of JUGGLER LOVE. A public memorial will be held in Branson, MO, at the Pierce Arrow Theater on Friday, Feb. 8, at 11 a.m. Kansas City and Sarasota memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date. Fittingly, Philip left this earth on the night of the Geminid meteor shower, one more vibrant star in a beautiful, spectacular show. We love you, Sweet Juggler.
Published in Kansas City Star on Dec. 23, 2012
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