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Obituary: Richard Hornby

Traveler, theater actor, director, teacher, writer, critic

Richard Hornby, who fought Parkinson’s disease for many years, died peacefully just after midnight this past February 11 due to a brain hemorrhage. He had a sweet half-smile on his face to the end, reported his wife Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei. He was 79.

He was born October 25, 1938 in Paterson, New Jersey, to Herbert and Roma Berry Hornby. While a math major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he discovered his true love and calling: the theater. His “Damascus Moment” came when he literally turned back en route to a job interview for NASA’s nascent space program. “Neil Armstrong was going to have to make his giant step for mankind without me,” he later said.

Mr. Hornby went on to earn a PhD in theater at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was one of a group of young innovators called “The Tulane Mafia,” who helped transform American university theater education. 

He was an accomplished actor, director, theater critic and teacher who taught at universities in Canada and the US for 50 years, most recently at the University of California, Riverside, where he was professor emeritus, and also served for a time as chair of the theater department. 

For more than 30 years—until 2016—he wrote four yearly “Theatre Chronicles” for New York’s prestigious Hudson Review. He was the author of five books: The End of Acting; Script into Performance; Patterns in Ibsen’s Middle Plays; Drama, Metadrama and Perception (which was also translated into Korean); and Mad About Theatre. 

If you asked him about any play, chances are he’d either acted in it, directed it, or had seen the original production, his family shared, adding that he loved to tell stories about the theater, and he loved jokes. As a young man, he performed with Faye Dunaway.

Listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Gershwin, jazz and Broadway show tunes were also lifelong pleasures. He was fascinated by history (especially World War II and American history) and devoured biographies.

He was passionate about chess (his online name was “Machiavel”) and loved bridge, crime thrillers (especially by Lee Child and Michael Connolly), television shows Downton Abbey, Antiques Roadshow, House of Cards and Law and Order: SVU, his favorite musical, Singin’ in the Rain, and watching golf.

He and Carol were together for 26 years, and married in 2013. They traveled extensively, searching out great theater, great friends, great food, great art and architecture, and the wonders of the world. Some of their favorite places include New York, London, Edinburgh, Paris, Berlin, Kyoto, Bali, Venice and Santorini. One of their greatest pleasures was hosting dinners for dear friends in their Claremont home.

In addition to his wife Carol, Richard leaves behind (by his first marriage) his son Steven and daughter Sarah; brother David and sister-in-law Mary; niece Christina O’Gara (Terry); nephew Mark (Brittany); great-niece Leigh and countless students, colleagues and friends.  

A jazz funeral/commemoration of his life was held February 17. His ashes are interred at Claremont’s Oak Park Cemetery.

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