Terry Dobson, who for 30-plus years served as a music director, keyboardist, actor, playwright and bon vivant in the Dallas theater community, died last night. He was 59.
It was hard to miss Terry. Standing six-foot-six and cutting a lanky silhouette with a Marty Feldman-esque mug, he towered over theater lobbies. But much of his career, mostly as the musical director at Theatre 3, was spent behind the scenes, arranging scores of the musicals performed there, usually leading the band and playing keyboards. He once arranged a piece for Stephen Sondheim which the composer was pleased with; he loved to tell that story.
But Terry could also be frequently seen in front of the limelights. He performed in the Tony Award-winning three-hander Art at FMPAT, as well as numerous shows at Theatre 3. He last trod the boards in Assassins playing the would-be presidential murderer Sam Byck.
But the show Terry will be most closely associated with will surely be My Own Private Diva, a more-or-less solo show about his journey from his native Slapout, Ala., to the big city of Dallas. The play was also a love letter to his best friend and muse, local actress Sally Soldo.
Soldo was with Terry and members of his family when he passed away last night in New York City. Plans are currently underway to arrange for a cremation. Dallas memorial services are pending.
Terry was a longtime HIV survivor, and was very open about his status. About a year ago, his health took a serious turn which necessitated him stepping down from his duties at Theatre 3. But in recent weeks, he had bounced back. Personally, I ran into Sally and Terry about a month ago at the Dallas Summer Musicals. He was in good spirits and alert and friendly. “He was in great shape and happy,” Soldo told me. “We were [recently] at [Theatre 3’s production of] Hot Mikado and a big Easter celebration with his extended family. This was very sudden.”
His fatal illness was not only unexpected, but unrelated to his HIV status. A few weeks ago, Terry took a trip to New York City to take in some Broadway shows. The day after one, he fell quickly ill and was admitted into a hospital. He had developed sepsis owing to a perforated ulcer. He was treated with antibiotics and seemed to be improving. Then he developed some abscesses and his condition worsened over the weekend. Soldo flew to his side Tuesday to meet with the family.
This is one of several sadnesses visited upon Theatre 3’s staff recently. The company’s founding producer, Jac Alder — the longest-serving artistic director of an arts organization in the U.S., having helmed it for more than 50 years — was recently admitted to Baylor’s ICU for treatment of pneumonia. Until he is released, which will hopefully be in a few days, plans for a memorial for Dobson are on hold.
“Terry hated memorial services,” Soldo said. “When he had to play music for them, he ducked out as soon as it was over. So I don’t know what we will be doing, but I am sure it will involve chocolate.”
Terry would have appreciated that.