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A Great Artist, Gone Too Soon

Philipnewbybrownshirt Last week, I lost a friend and the world lost a phenomenal performer, when actor Philip Newby passed away.

When all the information is in, I’ll post a proper obituary with an expanded biography and information on any services. For now, as so many people who were touched by Phil’s presence grieve, I wanted to put forth a simple ode to his genius and also to the community that loves and mourns him.

Phil was, without hyperbole, one of the funniest actors to ever set foot on stage. With impeccable timing and delivery, he could turn even the most benign of lines into comic gold. Many of L.A.’s best writers and directors clamored to work with him, often writing roles specifically for his offbeat sensibilities.

Whether playing a hyperactive half-bunny/half-beaver in last year’s new musical Beaverquest! or a put-upon hunchback in the award-winning LaBete or even just playing himself in his self-penned “The Prisoner” homage The Captive, Phil was always a scene-stealer. His characters were never trite, simplistic fools. Rather, they were always imbued with humanity and grace—it was not uncommon to hear a chorus of “awwws” through the laughter.  Off stage, he was equally warm and hilarious. I can remember the first time Phil made me laugh, simply by referring to his beat-up car as the “pussy wagon”—complete with air quotes. He was a generous performer, universally beloved by his peers and respected as an artist.

Phil's onscreen work included roles in Pirates of the Carribbean II and III and the upcoming thrillers The Poughkeespsie Tapes and Alien Raiders.  Phil was vital to the L.A. theatre scene, where he regularly performed with Sacred Fools and Theatre of NOTE.  On Friday night, as word spread over the course of a couple hours, I watched the theatre community do what it does best and come forward to support each other. Over 30 people gathered at Beaverquest! author and Sacred Fools Board Member Padraic Duffy’s home to share their grief.  The decision was made to cancel the following night’s popular late-night series, Serial Killers, in which Phil was a regular contributor. Though many of us felt Phil would have wanted the show to go on, it was simply impossible, and the choice was made to instead open the theatre doors to all of Phil’s grieving friends.

The theatre community is a funny thing. We can be petty. We can engage in heated arguments over the value of Neil Simon or the validity of some critic’s review. There may be infighting and healthy competition. But at the end of the day, this city of artists is always there for each other with open arms and loving hearts. I was reminded how proud I am to be a member of this community as I stood in the lobby of the Sacred Fools Theatre Saturday night and watched so many people from different walks of life comforting each other, reaching out to each other, and sharing memories of all the times Phil had made them laugh. Tears would give way to laughter as people began recalling some of their favorite “Newby moments” both onstage and off. And it soon became apparent how many lives he had touched so irrevocably. It’s this community of artists that I know will continue to keep Phil’s memory and spirit alive, so that a great artist and a great man will never truly be gone.

-- Jenelle Riley

Now at this time I’d like to turn to a better writer than me; Robert Frost:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 

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this is a beautiful blog, Jenelle. Thank you for writing and sharing this. You described his brilliant stage presence impeccably...

Beautiful article--so right. Peace be with you, Philip.

That was a beautiful tribute. Thank you so much for writing this.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Philip was truly one of the beautiful people. I will carry the beauty and spark of his presence with me in my heart always.

Thank you Jenelle for putting into words what so many of us have been thinking and feeling over the past few days.

Thanks for writing this, it is a very fitting tribute.

This was beautifully written and very moving. I will truly miss him. Nothing I can say will express what I'm feeling right now but what you wrote comes close. Thank you. And thank you Mr. Newby for making us smile laugh and "awwww."

I'll miss seeing him around. I got to know him best on Ben's film Alien Raiders, and was looking forward to the EXTRA features where I interviewed him as a character...

Now, I don't know if I want to see that footage...

Jenelle this is so lovely. Phil was loved by so many. I am lucky to have shared the stage with him. My heart goes out to the entire Sacred Fools Family. Big Hugs.

Thank you Jenelle for your beautiful words about such a beautiful person.

Beautifully written, Jenelle.
Philip Newby was a one of a kind. He was one of my all-time favs to watch on stage - any stage - anywhere - any time.

Thank you, Jenelle. Although, I'd finally stopped crying and now I'm at it again...

Thank you, Jenelle.

I am stunned and saddened by this loss. It's difficult to describe how much I enjoyed watching Phil on stage. I was lucky enough to share it a few times. He will be missed for the joy he brought to so many people. Thank you Jenelle for writing this.

What to say? You have said it all so eloquently. Thank you for tributing him so beautifully.
It is a huge loss. I was lucky enough to know his smile and have him create mine many times.

Very well said, Jenelle. Saturday night at the Fools was terribly sad, but also, so affirming that so many could come together to support each other in such a moment. I consider myself blessed to have worked with Phil at all, and as so many have expressed, I, too, considered him the funniest person I have ever seen on a stage and one of the sweetest people I've known off it. He will be missed and the world last lost a truly extraordinary human being. RIP Phil.

Jenelle, YOUR talent shines thru in this moving tribute to a wonderful performer. I never got to know Phil very closely, but he was always so polite to me and at the last SERIAL KILLERS I was in before I moved, he mentioned to me that he liked what I had done that night-and it meant the world to me to hear someone of his talent say that. I loved Phils' performance in La Bete, and especially in Kabuki. I only wish I could have been there Friday night to offer what comfort I could have to his friends. What a terrible loss.

Phil was an incredible talent- he gave so much laughter and joy to all who saw his work.
I didn't know him very well, what I did know of him was a kind and gentle soul, always humble in accepting praise of his brilliant performances. It was heartening to see on Saturday that he was still making people laugh even through their tears.

Well done, thank you for such a thoughtful tribute.

Thanks, Jenelle. "...how many lives he had touched so irrevocably"--yes. Quietly, and simply, yes.

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