Aussie praiser passes suddenly

Johnson enjoyed long career as publicist for Ensemble Theater

Sydney’s doyenne of theatrical publicity, Judith Johnson, died suddenly Oct. 2 at the city’s Royal North Shore Hospital where she had been admitted for tests earlier the same day.

Johnson was working on the world premiere of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical,” the stage adaptation of the hit 1994 feature, which bows Saturday in Sydney.

Her close friend and one of the show’s producers, John Frost, said Johnson died of a burst aorta. Johnson had phoned Frost twice that day from the hospital and had been expecting to be released Thursday.

“She was the most experienced publicist in town. There was a respect and love for the industry,” Frost told Daily Variety. “She could talk to a chorus member and in the next breath deal with an Ingrid Bergman.”

Johnson, who was in her 60s, enjoyed a long career as publicist for the Ensemble Theater until the mid-1980s, when she established her own shingle, repping Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert in “Aren’t We All?” and Lauren Bacall in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

For the Gordon Frost Organisation she managed publicity on “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” “Hello, Dolly!” and the arena production of “Grease,” among others. During the past season she handled publicity for tours by Debbie Reynolds and Mandy Patinkin.

“She always kept saying she was going to slow down, and she never did,” Frost said. Johnson is survived by her husband, David, and children Katie and William.

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