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John Higgins dies at 71

Directed plays in London, South Africa, Australia

John Higgins, an actor, director, producer and dialect coach, died Nov. 11 of oral cancer in Fremont, Calif. He was 71.

Australia-born Higgins made his professional acting debut with the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and appeared in 16 Shakespeare plays in repertory over a four-year period. He appeared Off Broadway in “Desire Under the Elms” with George C. Scott and in the celebrated production of “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” directed by William Ball. Relocating to London in 1970, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the original West End productions of “The Boys in the Band” and “Fortune and Men’s Eyes.”

In 1974 Higgins moved to Johannesburg, where he directed and acted with the Market Theater. In 1975, he directed “Of Mice and Men,” with Ken Gampu, the first government-approved multiethnic production in South African history, at the Lakeside Theater. In 1977, he directed the anti-apartheid play “Survival,” with Seth Sibanda and David Kekana; the production toured to the U.K., Russia and the U.S. Returning to California in the late ’70s, John directed the U.S. premiere of “The Biko Inquest,” a play about the South African activist, at the Globe in San Diego, and the world premiere of Ken Kesey’s “The Further Inquiry.”

During the 1980s Higgins divided his time between England, the U.S. and Australia, directing new works “Two Without a Cause” (plays by Michael Weller and Israel Horovitz) in Sydney as well as Charles Marowitz’s “The Shrew” and Woody Allen’s “God” in London. In 1990, he directed a controversial musical production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco against the turbulence of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. In the 1990s, he directed plays and musicals in San Francisco and Sacramento for the Eureka Company, the Spreckles Arts Center, Next Stage and the Alcazar Theater.

Higgins also appeared in more than a dozen movies, including “Phar Lap” and “The Revolutionary,” and on TV.

Since returning to Australia in 2000, he served as an acting and dialect coach for the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Rose Byrne. He taught at the Ensemble Studios, National Institute of Dramatic Art, Stables Theater and Company B. He was in the process of preparing a revival of his musical on Bob Dylan called “Words and Music,” and creating an updated version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when he learned he had cancer.

John Edward Higgins Jr. was born in Sydney, the son of an American father and Australian mother. John and his younger brother, filmmaker Colin Higgins (“Harold and Maude,” “Foul Play”), moved to the U.S. and settled in Atherton, Calif. John Higgins received a B.A. from San Jose State U. and an acting diploma from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and he served in the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s.

He is survived by his mother and brothers Gary, Brian, Barry and Dennis.

Information regarding a party celebrating Higgins’ life, to be held sometime after the new year, will be available at Professorjohnhiggins.com. John’s brother Brian may be reached at higginsb28@yahoo.com

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