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David Dukes

Photo by I.C. Rapoport

The heart attack that, earlier this month, claimed the life of actor David Dukes at age 55 was a jolt that stunned theater watchers across the country, leaving a painful void. After training at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in the late ’60s, Dukes could be seen onstage through the decades, from here to Broadway, dazzling audiences as time-tripping Henry Carr in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at the Mark Taper Forum (1977), receiving acclaim for his 1979 Broadway portrayal of a gay prisoner en route to a German concentration camp in Martin Sherman’s Bent (1979), and helping found the Matrix Theater Company, where he was a mainstay in that troupe’s distinguished rotating repertories.

He excelled in clown roles, his most recent being the exuberant yet droll Lucio in Sir Peter Hall’s production of Measure for Measure last year at the Ahmanson, and a definitive interpretation of Vladimir in Waiting for Godot earlier this year at the Matrix — both parts demonstrating his craftsmanship and emotional depth.

“He was an actor of great confidence and energy,” says Frank Ottiwell, among Dukes’ instructors at ACT. “He played leading roles right away, and he had a wonderful sense of humor. I once walked onstage to deliver a line to him, but I forgot the line, so he simply smiled and crossed his arms, as if to say, ‘Okay, you get yourself out of this one.’”

Dukes’ film and TV credits are voluminous and include The Winds of War, HBO’s The Josephine Baker Story, which garnered him an Emmy nomination, and the Oscar-winning Gods and Monsters.

He is survived by his wife, Carol Muske-Dukes, his son, Shawn, and daughter, Annie. He will be missed.


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