Jerry Russell, the founder of Fort Worth’s Stage West and father of state Sen. Wendy Davis, died Sept. 5 at a local hospital after complications from abdominal surgery. He was 77. Davis posted her father’s death on her Facebook page. She had planned to announce whether she would run for Texas governor in 2014 but postponed those plans while Russell was hospitalized the past few weeks.
“He was surrounded by his children and his wife, our stepmom, Suzi [McLaughlin],” Davis wrote. “During his time in the hospital, there was never moment that one of us wasn’t by his side. We, and the community, will forever be grateful for the significant impact he made on our lives. He and his warm, sparkling brown eyes will be deeply missed. My family and I thank you for surrounding us with your prayers and comfort during this time.”
Davis says her father died peacefully surrounded by family and she’s “heartbroken” at the loss.
Russell, a renowned actor, director and mentor, was in the third week of directing the current show at Stage West, Thank You, Jeeves, when he became ill. Russell’s last appearance onstage was in the one-man show Clarence Darrow in April. Russell started his theater company, originally named Stage Door Deli, in a Fort Worth sandwich shop in 1978. He retired from the company in 2003 and again in 2012 but remained a driving force at the theater and within the North Texas arts community. Among his favorite roles were George in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and the Grave Digger in Hamlet. Russell performed with Stage West, Casa Manana, Dallas Theater Center and Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Funeral arrangements are pending