Memphis, TN – Barry Fuller was the personification of a smile. His soul beamed light and his gait was carefree. Barry passed away yesterday, December 27, 2023, from heart failure at 5:59pm. The world does seem sadder, darker and heavier, but Barry would tell us to push that aside and move on. Never one to complain about anything … anything … he would be burdened to think that his passing was anything but a celebration of life. His presence in this world made everyone better.
A consummate professional on and off the stage, Barry’s influence as an actor, director, story-teller, confessor, confidante, friend and chosen family member was immense. Barry set standards in the Memphis Theatre community and he did it effortlessly. You learned from Barry by being next to Barry. By watching Barry. By thinking about Barry. He was that influential. He emitted confidence and that encouraged many to be the best they could be.
Barry’s journey from his home Australia is a story in itself. Memphis was the benefactor of his landing here. With his career as a travel agent, Barry traveled the world and encouraged others to do so as well. Loosely quoting him, “You learn,” he once said, “when you meet people and get to know them … wherever they may be.” So many people learned from Barry as they got to know him.
As Barry performed over the years from early on at Front Street Theatre in 1958 to his last on stage cameo appearance in Theatre Memphis’ 2021 Hello, Dolly!, he made audiences rejoice at just the thought of him being on stage. If there is no other legacy, Barry was the absolute best as he portrayed Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Memphis 11 times. His run from the first performance in 1978 to his last performance in 2013 spanned decades when he influenced performers and moved patrons He stated once his proudest achievement was “… the eight and a half hour production of Nicholas Nickleby”, yet when asked during an interview, what is your greatest reward, he responded, “The sound of an audience enjoying itself.” True to his spirit, he was always thinking about others.
Barry’s theatre resumé is far too extensive to list, but let it be said that there was no better Gus the Theatre Cat than in the two productions of Cats at Theatre Memphis, and the lyrics he sang befit his legacy as he broke many a heart. “I was never a leading man … I’ve always considered a character actor,” Barry would say. We would say he led in every role.
Not one to brag about himself, several awards were bestowed on him over the years acknowledging his talent and dedication to the theatre. Besides acting awards aplenty from the local Memphis Ostrander Awards, he also was the recipient of the 1997 Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award from that same group. In 2017, he was honored with the Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer Award from the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT).
There will be a Celebration of Life tribute to both Barry and another cherished theatre icon, Bennett Wood, on March 23, 2024 at Theatre Memphis.
Executive Producer at Theatre Memphis Debbie Litch reminisced, “The Memphis theatre community and Memphis have lost a beloved friend and a Memphis theatre treasure. Barry has brought immense joy, laughter and love to audiences and fortunate friends and acquaintances throughout his entire life with his amazing theatrical talents and his lovable personality. Barry was an eternal optimist, full of extreme kindness and infectious enthusiasm. He has touched the hearts of thousands on and off the stages.”
In short, Barry blessed us, everyone.