Dallas — Perry Stewart, the longtime theater critic at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, died on Sunday, Jan. 7, from complications stemming from a 2017 incident in which he, as a pedestrian, was struck by a car in East Dallas. He was 75.
In the accident, both feet were broken and he suffered a brain injury. After several weeks at Baylor Medical Center, he was moved to a facility for rehabilitation.
Born Oct. 18, 1942, in Austin, Arkansas, Stewart was a lover of culture and journalism. He was a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat before moving to Fort Worth for a job at the Star-Telegram as a copy editor in 1965. In 1966 he was promoted to "amusements columnist," and would soon become film critic and then theater critic, covering the major Fort Worth theaters that opened in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Hip Pocket Theatre, Stage West, Circle Theatre, and Jubilee Theatre, as well as the already established Casa Mañana and Fort Worth Community Theatre (later Fort Worth Theatre, now defunct). Alongside established theater critic Elston Brooks, productions at these theaters received two reviews, one for the morning edition, and another for the afternoon edition. (Wouldn't he be mortified to know that the newspaper no longer publishes theater or other arts reviews?)
Lake Simons, daughter of Hip Pocket Theatre co-founders Johnny and Diane Simons, once told me that as children, she and her sister Lorca, and their friends, would perform their own original plays backstage after the Hip Pocket performances. Stewart would watch these too, and write a quick review on a piece of paper and give it to them.
Stewart also soaked up the Fort Worth nightclub scene, writing a popular column called Nightcrawler. He was a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum, even past his retirement in 1999. He continued to correspond for the Star-Telegram, writing reviews alongside me. I started at the Star-Telegram in 1998, and after Stewart retired, I took over the theater beat. When I left the paper in 2008 and started TheaterJones.com, Stewart wrote for this site through 2014.
Stewart, known for his raspy voice (due to a similar auto accident when he was 10 years old) and long, pony-tailed white hair, was also famous for his supremely messy desk, with papers piled high—but somehow he knew where everything was. He was technology-challenged; a late adopter of email and a never-adopter of social media. He filed his reviews to me by using a public computer at the library. He learned to write fast and cleanly via quick-deadline overnight reviews for years at the Star-Telegram.
Like every critic, he had his biases. I remember being dumbfounded when he told me he didn't care for the Scandinavian dramatists Ibsen and Strindberg. "That dreadful cold made them and their plays miserable," he said.
The Tony-winning actress Betty Buckley, who Stewart covered from her early performances at Casa Mañana and in her early Broadway performances such as Cats, posted about Stewart on her Facebook page.
"Perry Stewart was such a lovely, decent, kind, knowledgeable and gentle man," she said. "He was a wonderful writer and critic. To my mind, he was one of the elite writers in the DFW area and formed my ideas of what a theater writer and critic should be. When I was a young performer, and, then, throughout the years he supported and endorsed my work so generously. His reviews made my heart expand. And I valued his friendship and loved and appreciated him very much"
Our former Star-T colleague Robert Philpot, wrote a lovely appreciation of Stewart for the Star-Telegram.
The funeral service is at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Grace United Methodist Church in East Dallas.