Gary Austin
1941 - 2017
Gary Austin, the founder of the influential improvisational theater group the Groundlings, died Saturday, April 1, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 75.

The cause of death was cancer, said Vanessa Richardson, a spokeswoman for his family.

The Groundlings changed the shape of American comedy in the 1970s and launched the careers of many notable performers including Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Lisa Kudrow, and Phil Hartman.

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Austin, who was born Oct. 18, 1941, in Duncan, Oklahoma, received his bachelor's degree in theater from San Francisco State University in 1964. He was a performer in the San Francisco improvisation group the Committee. Austin moved to Los Angeles and started the Gary Austin Workshops for actors. He then decided the players in his workshop should perform in public, and he launched the Groundlings in 1974. He served as the troupe's artistic director.

The Groundlings' cutting-edge comedy began to create a buzz in Hollywood and was noticed by many in the entertainment industry. Lorne Michaels attended many of the early performances by the group. He asked Austin to come to New York City and direct the cast of his new late-night comedy skit show, “Saturday Night Live.” Austin declined, however, because he wanted to continue his work with the Groundlings.

Groundlings member Laraine Newman was chosen for the first cast of SNL.

"The Groundlings has meant everything to my career," Newman told the Los Angeles Times. "The relationship between the Groundlings and 'Saturday Night Live' was so entwined, I believe, because the emphasis on character-driven scenes are the most enduring ones for 'SNL,' and characters are emblematic of the Groundlings' style."

Many memorable characters were created through the Groundlings. Paul Reuben’s Pee-wee Herman, Cassandra Peterson’s sexy vampire host Elvira, and the annoyingly enthusiastic cheerleaders that Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri played in skits. The cheerleaders became popular when both actors played the characters on “Saturday Night Live.”

Austin stepped down as artistic director of the Groundlings in 1979. He would return to the improv group periodically to teach, and he also ran his own workshops.

Actors took to social media to pay tribute to Austin.

The Groundlings Theater: “A vision, an inspiration, a father to us all, thank you.”

Wendi McLenon-Covey: “RIP Gary Austin, founder of the groundlings! But kudos on a life well-lived!”

Chris Kattan: “I don't know what my dad or I would have ever become without you. So grateful for your teachings.”

Jon Lovitz: “The founder of the Groundlings, the LA improv troupe where I & so many others on SNL, started their career, has passed. RIP Gary Austin.”

Austin's survivors include his wife, Wendy McKenzie, and a daughter, Audrey Moore.

Published by San Francisco Chronicle on Apr. 4, 2017.
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32 Entries
I first met Gary in Nashville in 2002 and found my love of improv taking his classes. He was tough but fair. I am late finding out about his death but because I was afraid I would know what I would find. I will never forget him.
A. Lazo
November 27, 2020
The days ahead will be difficult, but the comfort from our heavenly father, friends and relatives can help ease the pain and sorrow you are experiencing. My deepest sympathy for your loss.
May 4, 2017
michelle plakas-kaiser
April 15, 2017
Sending my sincere sympathy, my hearts goes out to you at this time of great sadness. Please know that God care about you, how you feel and invites you to let him help you. Jeremiah 29:12
April 12, 2017
To the AUSTIN FAMILY in their time of grief, may 'God' give you peace at this most difficult time. -Romans 15:13
April 10, 2017
Matthew McGuire
April 7, 2017
Gary Austin Family, Sorry for your loss. Please accept my deepest condolences to all. May the memories that you have made together bring you comfort and strength in the days ahead, and may they last a lifetime
Cealia C
April 6, 2017
Sorry for the death of your dear love one,i know how hard that can be to loss love one in death so please find comfort in the words Matthew 5:5 Dumas,Ark
April 6, 2017
May God Jehov
GGresilda Varona
April 6, 2017
Condolences to the family, friends and fans who lost their loved one to death. This great man will not be forgotten. God will comfort and sustain you during this difficult time because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6,7)
April 6, 2017
My condolences to the family during this difficult time now and days ahead.
April 6, 2017
Wendy Austin and family my condolences.
May you find comfort at this difficult time
in the words Jesus spoke at John 6:44 .
April 5, 2017
Thoughts and condolences are with the family at this difficult time. May you be comforted by kind words, sincere deeds, and precious memories. May the God who comforts be with your family as well.
April 5, 2017
Gary Austin Family, So sorry for your loss. May the memories of him bring you all comfort and strength at this most difficult time Prayers to God for strength and peace during this difficult time.
Mary C
April 5, 2017
May it comfort you to know that God as well as others care about your loss.

April 5, 2017
Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. Remembering you and your loved one today and always.
April 5, 2017
God bless you and your loved ones ~ Rest in peace.
Jane Dowling
April 5, 2017
May the God of tender mercies bring comfort to the family at this time. Psalms 83:18.
April 5, 2017
Valenda Newell
April 5, 2017
Deepest condolences to his entire family. Thoughts and many prayers to his loved ones. Gary will be missed sadly. Romans 15:4
Ypsilanti, Michigan
April 5, 2017
So sorry for your loss, may the family find comfort @ Issiah 25:8,AJ
April 5, 2017
It's nice to have so many friends who love and care about you. May the Creator of the heavens and earth be with and take care of Gary's family. God love and care for you.
April 5, 2017
I'm sorry for the family's and the comedy/improv's loss. His influence in many comics' beginnings is very obvious from the outpouring of comments. There's nothing we can personally do about losing someone we love. The Bible gives so much hope to see all of our loved ones again. That's a hope to which all can look forward.
Mrs. K. Jackson
April 5, 2017
Truly saddened to hear about Gary Austin's passing. His fine legacy will surely be remembered. May he forever be in our hearts and in God's book of life.
April 5, 2017
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
April 5, 2017
We'll miss you !
Adrian Barnette
April 4, 2017
To the family and friends of Gary Austin.
I am so sorry for your loss.
May the God of all comfort strengthen you at this time.
April 4, 2017
To the family and friends, so sorry about your loss. May The God Of All Comfort continue to give you strength and peace during this most difficult time
April 4, 2017
My deepest sympathies to the family of Gary. There are no words that can ease the pain of losing someone so beloved. May you find comfort and peace in knowing that your loved one is in God's memory because those who pass on are precious in his eyes.
Psalm 116:15
April 4, 2017
May the God of all peace bring comfort to the Austin family and friends at this difficult time.
April 4, 2017
We'll miss you !
Adrian Barnette
April 4, 2017
My condolences to the many friends and family of this talented funny man. May you all derive comfort from each other and from God during this difficult time.
April 4, 2017
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