Rugby Theatre stalwart John Smith dies suddenly aged 61

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The much-loved artistic director of Rugby Theatre died suddenly last week after a short illness.

John Smith, 61, had entertained crowds in Rugby for decades and built a reputation as a prolific actor and director. Due to his popularity among friends, actors and theatre-goers, his death last Thursday led to Facebook being flooded with thoughts, anecdotes and tributes from those who knew him across the UK and beyond.

Originally from Gloucester, John studied at Westminster College, Oxford, where he was involved in the student theatre scene. He moved to Warwickshire in the 1970’s and appeared in several plays at the Criterion Theatre, Coventry, before joining Rugby Theatre where he became highly regarded across the region as an actor and director, as well as contributing to the running of the society.

As a director of everything from intimate dramas to large-scale musical productions, John was known for meticulous attention to detail and demanding the best from everyone. A statement from the society said: “Because of the high regard in which he was held, John’s opinion mattered greatly, and many actors found that a brief word of approval from John meant more than a gushing compliment from anyone else. His perfectionism was coupled with a warm and generous nature, an impish sense of fun and an almost paternal concern for those whose stage careers he nurtured, particularly younger members of the theatre.”

A Facebook group set up following the news of John’s death last Thursday rapidly gained over 200 members wishing to post personal tributes, photographs and reminiscences of John.

Rayner Wilson, Trustee of Rugby Theatre, added: “The standing ovations that greeted his performance as Albin in last year’s production of La Cage Aux Folles underline the extreme talent of John Smith as a performer, and he was equally skilled as a director. Behind the scenes and out of the limelight he drove the machinery of Rugby Theatre in so many ways.

“He was the heart of the theatre and his talent, passion and dedication have been an inspiration to all those fortunate enough to have seen him perform, worked with him and worked for him. Rugby Theatre owes John Smith an enormous debt of gratitude and we mourn his passing which will leave a huge void in our theatre family.”

He is survived by his partner, Michael Blore, two older sisters and their families. His funeral will take place at midday, Tuesday August 20 at St Andrews Church, Rugby.