Vince Bruce, The Wizard of Whips and Ropes, died at the age of 56 from pancreatic cancer in his home in New Berlin, Wisconsin on September 24th, 2011. Vince was a legendary circus, variety and rodeo performer, widely considered the best trick roper of this generation.
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Born in Chipping Norton, near Oxford in England, Vince learned to spin ropes at an early age from his father, who had befriended Tex McLeod, an American Wild West star who had settled in England in 1914. Tex was an inspiration for Vince and under the watchful eye of his father, Vince, left handed by birth, became ambidextrous with the ropes. At a very young age he began to perform his rope act at Billy Smarts Children's Circus and in local clubs. At the age of 16, Vince went to France to portray the comic strip character Lucky Luke in a western themed amusement park. He continued working in circuses and by 19 had branched out to the international variety and nightclub circuit.
He first came to the United States in 1983 as a halftime act with the Harlem Globetrotters. That year he also won the International Trick and Fancy Roper Association Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. He continued to be featured in circuses here, both with Circus Flora and the Big Apple Circus in 1989. When he heard that Tommy Tune was directing The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway he wrote to him, offering his services, as Will Rogers was perhaps the most well known roper of all time. Tune met with him and, after witnessing his act, created a part for him as the Roper. The show won numerous Tony Awards. In 1991, he also set the Guinness Book of World Records for Texas Skips with 4,011.
During that period Vince met his wife, Annie Dubats, a singer in New York City's downtown art and music scene. Moving eventually to Wisconsin, and while continuing to perform around the world, they trained two horses for a new rope act on horseback that they performed for many years in rodeos across the U.S. and Canada.
Tall, thin, with a weather beaten face and an English accent, Vince's high energy act, a mixture of skill and comedy, was beloved by all. Vince was featured on countless television shows around the world. After being diagnosed with cancer last year, Vince continued to work, performing with Circus Flora and the St. Louis Symphony in January and with James Taylor at Carnegie Hall in April. His last performance was at a rodeo in Texas in June.
Vince is survived by his wife Annie, his mother Penny, a brother Andy, two nephews and a niece, his horses and two dogs. He will be missed by his many close friends and the legions of those who worked with and learned from him. They will never forget his generosity, his incredible talent, his fine-tuned sense of humor, and his unparalleled verve for an energetic and committed life.
Published on NYTimes.com from October 26 to October 27, 2011