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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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I just heard of Phil's passing, and have been struck by grief more than I can say. A wonderful soul. He will be missed. My condolences to his friends and family.

I went to middle school and high school with Philip and just learned of his passing. It's been 20 years since I've seen him but I will always remember how sweet and funny he was. He wrote in my year book, "Have a summer!" When I asked him about it, he said "Everyone writes have a nice summer. I didn't want to be like everyone else. Besides, what if you didn't want to have a good summer?"


I really don't know what to say. Phillip moved away from the bay area a few years ago and I lost touch with him since then. I'm embarrassed to say that 15 minutes ago I searched for his name to see how he was doing and I was struck by the news. I'm sorry that 7 months had to go by before I found out the news and now I sit here...melancholy at the thought of our lives going on while his story ends much too soon. I used to hire him for corporate gigs that I produced for my small agency, NIA Creative (formerly Critical Mass Media):

Apathetic Phone Operator - Call Phillip

Xgames Kayaker - Call Phillip

The Apprentice "spoof" Contestant - Call Phllip

Star Trek "spoof" Crew member - Call Phillip

Audience Heckler - Call Phillip

Cheezy Salesperson - Call Phillip

And several more. I often wrote scripts with Phillip in mind and I have to say that he always brought to every production more than I could afford to pay for. The best lines and funniest physical comedy I have ever seen came from his improv during shooting and never in what we planned for. He and his work will be missed.

Chris Finetti
Creative Director
NIA Creative

Chris, thank you so much for your note. Man, I would love to see some of those videos :)

Seconded. Please, if there's any way for us to see more Newby, please share if you can. We all miss him terribly.

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