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Dick Latessa, Prolific Broadway Vet and Hairspray Tony Winner, Dies at 87

Latessa received his Tony Award at the age of 74.

Dick Latessa has died at the age of 87.
(© Tristan Fuge)

Dick Latessa, a Broadway stalwart whose credits included the original productions of Follies, The Will Rogers Follies, and Hairspray, has died at the age of 87.

"Hairspray (and Broadway) has lost a huge piece of its heart," Tony-winning Hairspray songwriter Marc Shaiman wrote on Facebook. "RIP to the glorious, loving and much loved Dick Latessa. This was a man who defined Pro, with the timing of a Swiss watch and a voice, a smile and sweet soul that made you feel special just to know him. We were lucky to have him in our lives, he was, truly, timeless. Love to my Hairspray OBC family tonight."

Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad and Dick Latessa as Wilbur Turnblad at an event in 2003.
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Born Richard Robert Latessa on September 15, 1929, the Cleveland native began his Broadway career in 1968, when he appeared in the short-lived musical The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.

In the realm of musicals, he originated the roles of the Major-Domo in Follies and Clem Rogers in The Will Rogers Follies, and later played Van Buren in Damn Yankees (1994), Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Herr Schultz in Cabaret (1999), and Dr. Dreyfuss in Promises, Promises (2010).

Promises, Promises was one of Latessa's many shows created by the prolific playwright Neil Simon. He also appeared in Simon's non-musical plays Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, Chapter Two, I Ought to Be in Pictures, Rumors, and Proposals.

But it is his performance as Wilbur Turnblad in the original Broadway production of Hairspray that Latessa will perhaps forever be known. At the age of 74, he took home both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his work. Latessa's last Broadway role came in 2012, when he starred opposite Linda Lavin in Nicky Silver's The Lyons.

On screen, Latessa appeared in various episodes of the television shows The Black Donnellys, Law & Order, True Blue, and The Sopranos, among others.

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