Billy Harden, co-founder of Spectrum Theatre Company, died early Tuesday of colon cancer. He was 64. An actor, producer and educator, Harden appeared in many shows with Spectrum, Zach Theatre and permutations of Austin Playhouse.
“(I’m) wrecked today at the loss of Billy Harden,” posted Lara Toner Haddock, artistic director of Austin Playhouse, on social media. “I met Billy when I was 12 years old and for 30 years he served as an unparalleled example of kindness and integrity. … I’m grateful to have known him and so saddened by his loss.”
Harden earned a doctorate in educational leadership and served as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He was former head of school at Goodwill Industries Charter School and assistant principal at the Austin School District’s Alternative Learning Center.
Among his memorable performances were multiple stagings of “I’m Not Rappaport” with fellow actor Tom Parker. Other standouts include roles in “Porgy and Bess,” “Purlie,” “Spunk,” “Our Town,” “The Gospel at Colonus,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Two Trains Running,” “The Exonerated,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” and many more.
“Billy was such as sweet soul,” posted actor Felicia Dinwiddie on social media. “And so talented and surely he will be missed. … He has taken his final bow into the hands of the Lord.”
“Billy F. Harden was present from some of the earliest parts of my venture into this industry,” posted actor Vincent Hooper. “A constant source of wisdom, experience, kindness, and support; Billy was always such a positive presence to have around. You could always find him involved in something bigger than himself.”
Harden served as executive director of Spectrum, Austin’s leading African-American theater company, founded by Harden with Jacqui Cross, Janis Stinson and Carla Nickerson.
“There’s an old gospel song that says, ‘May the work I’ve done, speak for me’,” Stinson said. “Although Billy is now safe in the arms of Jesus, his works will continue to speak. I will truly miss my dear friend of 33 years. We have shared the stage many times, often cast as husband and wife. In fact, Billy would sometime introduce me as his ‘stage wife.’ So as your friend, castmate and stage wife, I say, ‘Take your rest my friend.'”
He is survived by his mother, Ada Harden, brother, Roosevelt Harden, Jr., and sisters, Marilyn Harden and Anita Davis.
UPDATE: Visitation will take place at 4 p.m.-7 p.m. April 13; funeral at 11 a.m. April 14. Both will be held at Metropolitan AME Church, 1101 E. 10th St.
UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post, Lara Toner Haddock’s name was misspelled.