Obituary: David Healy
Tuesday 31 October 1995
Agreeably rotund, his features always ready with a friendly grin, David Healy was a versatile character actor who could play military men or gangsters with equal conviction. But he was most effective in comedies and musicals, and it was in the latter genre that he won particular acclaim, notably with his memorable National Theatre portrayal of the Runyonland gambler turned revivalist in Guys and Dolls.
Reared in New York and Texas by an Australian father and a Texan mother, Healy majored in drama at Texas University. One of his close friends was Larry Hagman - they both played small roles at the Dallas auditorium run by Margo Jones, who pioneered arena-style staging. When posted to England with the US Air Force (as a Second Lieutenant) he found that Hagman, already stationed there, had arranged for both of them to be part of a touring Air Force information show written by John R. Briley (later to win an Oscar for Gandhi).
Leaving the military in 1964, Healy pursued his theatrical career in England. He had married an English girl and settled in Richmond, Surrey, where his wife opened a polo stable and where Healy could indulge his love of horses. With his American accent, affable personality and versatility, he was soon in demand for both stage and television plus occasional films.
He made his London debut in Jules Feiffer's Crawling Arnold at the Arts Theatre. In 1967 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in Julius Caesar, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Feiffer's Little Murders both at Stratford and in London. A period with the National Theatre in 1973 included Equus, The Cherry Orchard and a memorably comic slow-witted cop in the hit revival of The Front Page. He returned to Dallas in 1975 to play a notable Falstaff at their Shakespeare Festival, and repeated the role in London with the RSC the following year. In 1993, his performance in Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee was very well received.
He occasionally returned to America, where he appeared in the superb television series Washington: Behind Closed Doors as well as Charlie's Angels and Dallas. His films included Diamonds are Forever (and several other "Bonds"), Patton, Twilight's Last Gleaming and, most recently, Chaplin (1992). His countless television appearances in Britain included Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Laurence Olivier, who had directed him on stage in Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Death of a Salesman with Rod Steiger.
His first musical was Anne of Green Gables (1969). Ten years later he starred in Songbook, a pastiche biography of a fictitious composer, Mooney Shapiro, played by Healy. Each night he stopped the show with his rendition of "Nazi Party Pooper".
In 1982 he again stopped the show nightly in Richard Eyre's acclaimed revival of Guys and Dolls. As "Nicely-Nicely Johnson" Healy bounced his way joyously through "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" with infectious elan and deservedly won him the Olivier Award as the year's Best Supporting Actor.
Five years later he was Buddy, one of the four main characters in Sondheim's Follies, and his pleasing tenor blended felicitously with the tones of his co-star Daniel Massey when they duetted "Waiting Around for the Girls Upstairs". His association with classic musicals continued with his appearances in the present Radio 2 series of broadcast shows - over the past year he has been heard in Kismet, Finian's Rainbow, Call Me Madam, The Music Man and One Touch of Venus.
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