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Terry Teachout, Playwright and Wall Street Journal Drama Critic, Dies at 65

Teachout reviewed theater across the country and authored his own play, Satchmo at the Waldorf.

Terry Teachout
(© Terry Teachout/Wikimedia Commons)

Playwright, biographer, and longtime Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout died unexpectedly on Thursday, January 13. He was 65.

The Missouri native began his journalism career in the 1970s writing about classical music and jazz for the Kansas City Star. He would relocate to New York City in the 1980s to work for Harper's and the New York Daily News, where he served as the classical music and dance critic from 1993 to 2000. He took on the role of weekly theater critic for the Wall Street Journal in 2003 and held the position until his death.

Teachout worked on the other side of the curtain as well, both as a musician (he was a jazz bassist) and theater practitioner. He wrote the libretti for three operas by Paul Moravec, including The Letter, which premiered in 2009, Danse Russe (2011), and The King's Man (2013), and the cantata Music, Awake! (2016). In addition, he authored the acclaimed solo drama Satchmo at the Waldorf, which ran off-Broadway in 2014 and starred John Douglas Thompson, and the 2017 play Billy and Me, which explored the friendship between William Inge and Tennessee Williams.

His memoir, City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy was published in 1991. He followed that up with the biographies All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine (2004), Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (2009), and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (2013).

A prolific presence on Twitter, Teachout's feed was filled with film, theater, and music recommendations. A true lover of the performing arts, he was one of the last — if not the last — major national theater critic, frequently traveling to review productions at regional theaters across the country. He was still attending theater in the weeks leading up to his passing; his final review, published January 7, was of The Streets of New York at a theater he regularly championed, off-Broadway's Irish Rep.

Teachout was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2005 and subsequently recovered. He wrote about that illness, as well as the illness and passing of his late wife, Hilary, with uncommon honesty. She died in March 2020 after receiving a double-lung transplant to help stave off a decades-long battle with pulmonary hypertension.

In recent months, Teachout had fallen in love with a new life companion, Cheril Mulligan. She survives him, as does his brother.

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