Actor Keene Curtis, who won a Tony Award in 1971 for playing four roles in the original Broadway production of the Bock and Harnick musical The Rothschilds and who was familiar to TV viewers for his recurring appearances on Cheers and The Pretender, died on October 13 at after several years of battling Alzheimer's disease. Though the Internet Broadway Database gives Curtis's date of birth as February 15, 1925, his age at the time of his death was said to have been 79 by Bill Schelble, one of Curtis's close friends.
"I think Keene was one of the most loved actors in Broadway plays, Broadway musicals, and television," said Schelble, a former press agent and current Tony Award nominator. "Everyone seemed to be very fond of him. When I lived out at his house in L.A. with him for a bit, people would always come over -- people like Peter Marshall and Harry Groener." Schelble told TheaterMania that Curtis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1999.
Curtis played Albin opposite Peter Marshall as Georges in the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles on Broadway and on tour. He also was a replacement Daddy Warbucks in Annie and, prior to that, he had a role in the flop Galt MacDermot-Christopher Gore musical Via Galactica (1972). A founding member of the APA-Phoenix Repertory Company, his other stage credits in and outside of New York included productions of such classics as The Wild Duck, The School for Scandal, The Misanthrope, The Cherry Orchard, and Hamlet. Off-Broadway, he was in A.R. Gurney's The Cocktail Hour with Nancy Marchand and in Colette with Zoe Caldwell.
Curtis's talents were captured on film in the Orson Welles version of Macbeth (1948) and the Warren Beatty version of Heaven Can Wait (1978). He also appeared as Mr. Kringelein in the 1993 TV movie adaptation of Gypsy that starred Bette Midler. His role on Cheers was that of John Hill, the perpetually annoyed owner of the restaurant situated above the Cheers bar. On The Pretender, he played Mr. Fenigor.
Prior to the burgeoning of his acting career in the 1960s, Curtis worked as a stage manager for dance and theater productions. He lived in Hollywood for many years and died near Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was born.