In Memory

Kenneth Strong

Kenneth Strong

Kenneth P. Strong, longtime PlayMakers Repertory Company actor and dramatic art professor at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died Tuesday (Jan. 12, 2010) after a long battle with cancer.

He had appeared with PlayMakers, UNC’s professional theater company in residence, since 1979, having been in more than 50 productions. Most recently he was seen in “Pericles,” “Amadeus” and as the Aviator in PlayMakers’ 2007 holiday production of “The Little Prince.” Strong is also remembered for roles in “God’s Man in Texas,” “King Lear,” “Art” and “Death of a Salesman,” among others.  

Tom Quaintance directed Strong in “The Little Prince,” a classic story with the creed “It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

“Ken embodied that so sincerely,” Quaintance said. “The whole production had a spirit behind it that was unlike any other I’ve ever done.”

Ray Dooley, PlayMakers company member and professor in UNC’s department of dramatic art, said Strong “radiated love to everybody that knew him. When the history of PlayMakers is written, he will hold a place of honor.”

Strong appeared on Broadway in “Inherit the Wind” with George C. Scott, Off-Broadway in “Easter ” with the New York theater company Naked Angels, as Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Syracuse Stage and, as Mitch in the Intiman Theatre (Seattle) production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

He was also seen on television shows including “Law & Order,” “Matlock,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Spin City.” Strong appeared in films including “Cold Sassy Tree.”

Strong earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and master’s in fine arts in 1983, both from UNC. 

Upon completing their graduate studies, Strong and his wife, Kee, worked at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, where Ken appeared in main-stage productions of  “Julius Ceasar ,” “Hamlet”  and “The Passion of Dracula.” He was a company member of the Alliance Theatre Children’s Theatre and created unforgettable characters including Long John Silver, Wilber the Pig, Don Quixote and The Emperor in “The Emperor and the Nightingale.” He also completed nine film and TV projects in just 18 months in and around Atlanta.

Strong was a native of Fayetteville, where Bo Thorp, artistic director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre, asked him to found a theater school in conjunction with Cape Fear. He named it THE STUDIO and set about the business of teaching and shaping young lives, which he went on to do as a faculty member in the UNC department of dramatic art.

UNC senior Sarah Peck first met Strong when he taught her freshman acting course. “He was as fearless an actor as he was a person who famously told anyone who was willing to listen that he loved them,” she said.

He is survived by his wife, Kee Strong, of Durham; his mother, Sara Strong, father, John Strong, and brother, Richard Strong, all of Fayetteville; father-in-law Jack Fortes of DeLand, Fla; and brother-in-law Scott Fortes of Talking Rock, Ga.

A memorial gathering will be held in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road at 1 p.m. Monday (Jan. 18, 2010). In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in Strong’s name to The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center.