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Obituaries

Ron Taylor, 49; Versatile Singer and Actor

January 25, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ron Taylor, an actor-singer who co-created and starred in the Tony-nominated musical revue "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues" on Broadway, has died. He was 49.

Taylor died Jan. 16 of an apparent heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. He had suffered a mild stroke in 1999 during the run of "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues" at Lincoln Center in New York City but was back on stage five weeks later.

Described by one critic as a big man with an even bigger voice, Taylor played the voracious, man-eating plant ("Feed me, Seymour!") in off-Broadway's "Little Shop of Horrors" in the 1980s.

The versatile Taylor worked steadily in film and television. He had a recurring role in "City of Angels" and appeared in more than 30 other shows, including "Ally McBeal" and "The Simpsons," for which he supplied the voice for saxophonist "Bleeding Gums" Murphy. He also appeared in more than 20 films, including "Trading Places," "A Rage in Harlem" and "Rush Hour, Part II."

As a vocalist, Taylor performed with Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Etta James, Sheila E., Slash and others. His blues band "The Nervis Bros." played at clubs and other venues across the country. His greatest triumph was "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues." The show, which traces the history of blues music from its African roots to American pop, debuted at the Denver Center in 1995.

Taylor suffered his 1999 stroke just a few days after the televised Tony Awards ceremonies in which "It Ain't Nothing but the Blues" was up for four awards, including best new musical and Taylor for best featured actor in a musical.

The revue didn't win any awards, but it generated an uproar in the theater community when CBS bumped a scheduled four-minute "Blues" production number on the nationally televised awards show because the program was running too long.

The live broadcast included performances of the four other nominated musicals and the omission generated criticism of racism, favoritism and just plain bad planning. But Taylor and his fellow cast members received even greater national exposure two days later when they were invited to perform on David Letterman's CBS late-night show.

Born in Galveston, Texas, Taylor was a football player at Wharton College in Texas when he joined the school choir after its director heard his booming voice during an impromptu imitation of the Temptations with some friends in a hallway.

Taylor also became active in the college's theater department and later attended the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

He met his wife, DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, in 1977 when he portrayed the Lion and she was the understudy for Dorothy in the national touring company of "The Wiz." In addition to his wife, Taylor is survived by a son, Adamah; parents, Mario and Robert "Bruno" Taylor; and two sisters, all of Galveston.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the New Christ Memorial Church of God and Christ, 13333 Vaughn St., San Fernando.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Adamah Taylor Education Fund, c/o the law firm of Ivie, McNeil & Wyatt, 201 N. Figueroa St., No. 1150, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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