It caught me by surprise the first two or three years. Once I even thought it was a telemarketer, calling on my birthday and getting my name wrong. But it wasn’t a solicitor. It was Andy Boothby, who shared his birthday with Harry Belafonte, Dinah Shore, and me.
Every March 1 for the past 25 years or so, Andy would call. When I answered, he’d say “Dinah!” in a perfectly convincing Jamaica-tinged rasp. I’d say “Harry!” and we’d exchange our best wishes for a happy day. That was it. A birthday ritual between me, Andy, Harry, and Dinah. Well, Harry and Dinah didn’t know about it. But I expect they would have approved.
Andy was well-respected in Richmond’s theatre community. An incredibly versatile actor, the characters he portrayed included fathers and sons, wise men and fools, a mailman, a magician, a reverend, George Washington, and Santa Claus. (That’s just on local stages, he also worked in TV and film.)
He was a career actor, trained, experienced, and focused. He was loved for his generous spirit, onstage and off. But if you spent more than a few minutes with him, you know he was equally loved for his sourpuss crusty take on things, that delightful irreverence that let you know he didn’t take things THAT seriously.
As local actors struggle to make sense of Andy’s unexpected death earlier this week, there have been countless posts celebrating Andy with photos and stories. I am struck over and over by the authenticity and open-heartedness with which Andy Boothby lived his life, and by the number of people who have some form of their own “Harry and Dinah” story:
“He brought us hoppin'jon every year.” - Laine Satterfield
“Andy Boothby, you forced your DVD copy of 'Casablanca' into my hands the day after you found out I’d never seen it. You told me it was homework with a wink. When I returned it you hugged me hard and said we could be friends again.” - Chelsea Burke
“Every year, he calls me on my birthday and leaves me the most wonderful, ridiculous voicemail where he just says ‘Who's your daddy?’ 8,000 times and then hangs up (He played my dad for a week of the Melissa Arctic run).” - Molly Hood
“He wore his kilt to Shakespeare at Agecroft every summer.” - Jan Powell
“He always treated me like family even if it had been forever since we’d seen each other. People like that are rare. Those who treat people with such kindness and follow it with an absolutely filthy joke.” - Chris Stewart
“Everyone has been talking about how much Andy liked to play Santa - well during Gypsy he was my secret Santa. Like all secret Santas there was a stated budget. Andy promptly ignored it. I was spoiled completely - giant boxes of chocolate covered pretzels. A bottle of Baileys. But for the final reveal night he got something that I really treasure: He commissioned a painting of me. It sits on my dresser. I see it every day. It's probably one of the most personal gifts I've ever received.” – Rachel Marrs
He exited this stage unexpectedly, and scores of his fans are left mourning. But the reviews keep on coming. Andy Boothby is forever a star.