UPDATE 9:15 P.M. with more information.
Jack Hofsiss, an expert in human frailty who in 1979 became the youngest director to win the Tony Award for his staging of The Elephant Man and later helmed the Jill Clayburgh film I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can, died this morning at his Manhattan home. He was 65. His death was confirmed to Deadline by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, which gave no cause of death pending an autopsy.
“I knew him as an artist and even more so as an amazing, deeply kind person,” said producer James Freydberg, speaking via telephone from Los Angeles. “I was a very strong supporter of his. He cared about everyone. I would hear from him usually when he had something he wanted me to look at.”
While still in college, Hofsiss co-created and staged Senior Prom, a musical that by all accounts was Broadway bound, though it never completed the journey. Hofsiss was working for Joseph Papp at the Public Theater (he had a hand in casting A Chorus Line, according to a magazine profile by Don Shewey) when an up-and-coming producer named Richmond Crinkley sent him Bernard Pomerance’s script about John Merrick, a grotesquely deformed man who transitions from freak show act to social darling in Victorian London.
A minimalist production centered primarily on the physical grace of actor Philip Anglim opened in the Theater at St. Peter’s Church before moving to the intimate Booth Theatre in Shubert Alley. “My life changed overnight,” he told Shewey. Among the actors who would replace Anglim during the loing run were David Bowie and Mark Hamill; Bradley Cooper played Merrick in an acclaimed revival two seasons ago.
The show led to more assignments for Hofsiss in film and opera, including another story drawn from life about the addiction to Valium of filmmaker Barbara Gordon that became the basis of I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. Brooklyn born, educated by Jesuits and graduated from Georgetown University, Hofsiss was a gay Catholic who suffused his own spirituality as an outsider with the gift of profound insight, as those who knew him would attest.
In the summer of 1985, Hofsiss dove into the shallow end of a pool at his rented Fire Island, NY home, breaking his neck and spine. The injury left him paralyzed from the chest down; recovery took more than year. Hofsiss remained active, however, working off-Broadway and pursuing projects, notably Albert Innaurato’s play Doubtless, a skewering of John Patrick Shanley’s hit play Doubt that Hofsiss staged off-Broadway at 59E59 Theatres.
“I was greatly influenced by this idea that we should think about our faith and question it and make our peace with it,” Hofsiss told the New York Times, “as opposed to having it shoved down our throats, as it was for Albert.”