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Joe York

Joe York On Tuesday, August 14, 2007, with his partner Graham Murray beside him and his beloved dog Buddy nearby, Joe York succumbed to liver cancer and passed away in his sleep. Diagnosed only a little over four months ago, Joe's sudden and sad departure comes just eight months after his triumphant return to the stage and Austin to star in The Rocky Horror Show. Joe and Graham had planned to relocate to Austin to return to his friends and family; tragically his illness prevented this move. Born to an Air Force family in Japan on the Fourth of July in 1957, Joe attended St. Edward's University, where director Bil Pfuderer was his mentor and helped to develop Joe's extraordinary theatrical talent. Blessed with matinee-idol good looks, a caressing baritone, astonishing charisma, and a mischievous sense of humor, Joe was the undisputed star of Austin theatre for over 20 years. From the Zilker Hillside Theatre where he played the lead in summer musicals ranging from Camelot to Oklahoma , to Live Oak Theatre, Hyde Park Theatre, and Zachary Scott Theatre, Joe appeared in dozens of plays and musicals. He also performed in cabaret settings and released a recording of his music titled My Favorite Year in 1997. The obvious choice as the romantic lead in any given musical, Joe wasn't content to rest on his McDreamy laurels. He played villains, losers, and dimwits brilliantly, and he made it look effortless. He triumphed and relished the outlandish, too, camping it up in drag as Sylvia St. Croix in Ruthless! The Musical . Sylvia became an alter ego for Joe, and "Sylvia's" cabaret performances are the stuff of legend for those fortunate to have witnessed them. Perhaps Joe's most memorable performance was his turn as the sweet transvestite Frank N. Furter in Zachary Scott Theatre Center's production of The Rocky Horror Show , which played in 1999 and 2000 and was revived this past October when Joe returned from New York to wow Austin audiences again. Joe was a gifted and prodigious director and designer, too, tackling scripts from The Bad Seed to The House of Blue Leaves . His keen visual sense was in evidence in his props design (most recently Plaid Tidings at ZACH) and the set designs of shows such as Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Thurber Carnival . In this vein, Joe and Graham created Lookit Design, a website design firm for small businesses. Joe's kindness was as legendary as his talent. The hundreds of people who were privileged to work in shows with Joe also came to be his friend, so generous was he with his affection. The affection was returned in part recently when his friends in Austin collected funds to help offset the costs of Joe's treatment. Donations are still being accepted to erase the debt incurred by Joe's illness and to cover final expenses. Contributions can made out to Zachary Scott Theatre Center with Joe York in the memo line. Mail to Love Train to Brooklyn, c/o Zachary Scott Theatre Center, 1510 Toomey Road, Austin, TX 78704. Joe's survivors include his mother Katherine; brothers Tim, Mike, and Pat; scores of loving friends and awestruck fans; and his partner Graham Murray, whom Joe described as ".....my Rock. He embodies all that is good and gentle and kind. He gives selflessly and freely, so intuitively that for me, there is no other explanation but divine grace. Our souls intersect. I love him." Joe will be remembered and honored on Saturday, September 8 at 8:00 p.m. at the Beverly Sheffield Hillside Theatre in Zilker Park. All of his family, friends, fans, and admirers are invited.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Aug. 26, 2007
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