Theater critic Howard Kissel dies at 69

Howard Kissel, a well-known theater critic and writer whose final blog entry for The Huffington Post ran a mere three days before his death, died Feb. 24 at 69.

His last entry, posted three days before his death, was about a trip last summer that included a high school reunion: “I wish I were one of those people who, as the years go by, continue looking forward,” he wrote. “Alas, I’m not. I thank you for your indulgence.”

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Kissel was chief drama critic for the NY Daily News from 1986 to 2008, wrote a biography of Hollywood impresario David Merrick, edited a collection of lectures by legendary acting teacher Stella Adler, and “New York Theater Walks.”

Kissel was raised in Milwaukee, where his father was editor of The Milwaukee Sentinel. He received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a master’s from Northwestern University. Kissel was an arts editor of Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine. He was chairman of both the New York Film Critics Circle and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.

In 1980, he did a widely noticed cameo in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories,” as the filmmaker’s manager. He argues against the Allen character’s plan to make dark dramas instead of comedies: “Human suffering doesn’t sell tickets in Kansas City.” the manager says.

"The mane of silver curls that crowned his bespectacled face was a regular fixture around the Manhattan theater district. His demeanor balanced kindliness and droll bemusement with intellectual seriousness, giving him the air less of a hawk-eyed critic than a ruminative old-world philosopher, as if he were immersed in the world of the show even before it began," the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

“Howard was a person of true intelligence,” said his long-time friend and fellow critic John Simon. “But even more important, of great warmth. He seemed to care about all the right things, and these very much comprised his friendships. The comforting thing was how well one could share one’s interests and one’s abominations with him, and how even serious disagreements could not in the least affect our friendship.”

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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