Frank Buxton, entertainment icon and island stage star, passes away at 87

Frank Buxton (Bainbridge Island Review file)

Frank Buxton (Bainbridge Island Review file)

Frank Buxton, iconic Bainbridge Island stage presence and lifetime show biz polymath, reportedly died at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, surrounded by family and friends. He was 87.

A founding member of The EDGE Improv on Bainbridge Island, Buxton was as renowned for his work as an actor-writer-director-producer for the stage and screen as for his comedic chops. He won numerous awards throughout his lengthy, storied career, and worked alongside such titans as Buster Keaton and Robin Williams, among others.

“Frank has been a steady source of laughter and inspiration at Bainbridge Performing Arts for nearly 25 years,” said BPA spokeswoman Sally Jo Martine. “He will be sorely missed by BPA’s board, staff, patrons, and community of artisans, but his spirit will continue to guide us with humor, humanity, and wisdom.”

Memorial services have yet to be announced.

According to his biography at the Internet Movie Database, Buxton was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts on Feb. 13, 1930.

He grew up in Larchmont, New York, graduated from Northwestern University and Syracuse University and, after service in the Army in the Korean War, began working in local television as a producer-director in Buffalo, New York and Chicago. He then began his performing career as a stand-up comedian, TV host (“Discovery,” “Get the Message”) and stage performer (“Brigadoon,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Tender Trap” and others).

His television writing, producing and directing work included “The Odd Couple” (1970), “Happy Days” (1974) and “Mork & Mindy” (1978), among many others, and he created the Peabody Award-winning series “Hot Dog” (1970) for NBC, which starred Woody Allen and Jonathan Winters.

As a film and TV actor, he appeared in “Overboard” (1987), “Beaches” (1988), “Frankie and Johnny” (1991), “Face of a Stranger” (1991), “With a Vengeance” (1992) and “Roomates” (1994), as well as many series and specials.

He wrote and created voices for Woody Allen’s “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) and did further voice work for innumerable cartoon and commercial projects.

Tributes were plentiful in the wake of the announcement of Buxton’s death, including the scheduling of a special “All About Frank” performance by The EDGE at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6 at BPA.

“Frank had a marvelous way of helping us navigate difficult moments with humor,” said BPA executive director Dominique Cantwell. “I hope that friends will join us to channel his energy as we try to pilot onward through this particularly hard one.”

To honor Buxton’s legacy of generosity, BPA officials announced, all remaining tickets to the Jan. 6 performance will be free of charge.

Donations to the Hot Dog! Fund, a charitable endeavor cofounded by Buxton, will be accepted at the door.

Tickets are now available at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org and through the box office at 206-842-8569.

Seating is very limited, and advanced reservations are strongly recommended.

Friend and fellow cofounder of The EDGE John Ellis wrote of Buxton’s passing, a portrait of a passionate profession engaged in his life’s work to the end: “He’d been struggling with heart issues for some time but had gotten stronger with a lot of work and support from his wonderful family and community. Things had been pretty damn good until very recently. He even got back on stage with The EDGE in November, and a week before his final trip to the hospital, he was singing up a storm at a workshop.

“His exit line was perfectly Frank!” Ellis wrote. “We sang some songs [on] Christmas Eve and at the end of the last song, he closed his eyes, dropped his hand from his chest, opened his hand and whispered, ‘Rosebud.’ We all laughed (including Frank) and we left his room, but as far as we know that was his exit line.”

Buxton’s friend and admirer Mark Evanier commemorated the island icon’s passing in a lengthy passage posted at his personal blog.

“I want to go like he did…and I think I’ll even steal his exit line,” he wrote. “He was truly one of my heroes and it was an honor to know him.”

He is survived by his wife, Cynthia Lovelace Sears.

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