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Jeremy Geidt, 83; actor, founding member of American Repertory Theater

Jeremy Geidt acted in London and at Yale Repertory Theatre before helping to start the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. He also taught at Harvard University.2001 Globe File

Arriving in Cambridge more than three decades ago, when he left the Yale Repertory Theatre with his friend Robert Brustein to found the American Repertory Theater, Jeremy Geidt liked what he saw.

“It’s going to be different up here,” Mr. Geidt told the Globe in 1980. “For 13 long, hard years we sowed the seeds in New Haven, and now we’re reaping some of the goodies. But we’re not resting on our laurels. We don’t have any Boston laurels yet.”

Through the plaudits of some 100 ART productions, Mr. Geidt became one of the region’s most recognizable faces on stage. Off stage, he was a mentor to scores of actors he taught at Harvard University and to those with whom he shared the applause of thousands of theater-goers.


“He was irreplaceable as a human being and as an artist,” said Brustein, the American Repertory Theater’s founding director. “He was a mainstay of the company as an actor and a mainstay of the institution as a teacher. He embodied the greatest ideals of the nonprofit theater world and, I must say, the ART. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.”

Mr. Geidt, who was diagnosed with cancer about 13 years ago, died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday while sitting in his favorite chair in the kitchen of his Cambridge home. He was 83.

“He was family to me, as he was to so many of us,” said Cherry Jones, a Tony and Emmy award-winning actress who counted Mr. Geidt as a mentor and, more memorably, as a cherished friend. “He adopted younger actors, not in a corny way, but in the most lasting of ways.”

With his wife, Jan, the ART’s former director of development, Mr. Geidt created an extended family that spilled out of the theater and into their house, which actress Karen MacDonald called “a perfect English cottage in the middle of Cambridge.” Mr. Geidt began his career in London’s Old Vic theater, and his British upbringing could be felt in his voice, stories, and bearing.


Mr. Geidt performing in Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts” with Cherry Jones at the ART.Globe Photo/File 1982

Not that there was anything stuffy about him. To the contrary, “the parties at Jan and Jeremy Geidt’s house are legend to this day,” said Jones, who added, “It was just heaven there.”

Ranging widely as an actor, Mr. Geidt brought his intelligence and energy to the works of Shakespeare and Chekhov, Samuel Beckett and Sam Shepard. His career was unique in stretching from acting with Richard Burton in England decades ago to coaching Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston for a State of the City address.

Among stage performances Mr. Geidt was always reluctant to choose favorites. “Any part I’ve done, I hope I could do better,” he told the Globe in 1988. “You change, you develop. If you don’t, you’re stuck.”

His roles included Alonso in “The Tempest,” Sir Toby Belch in “Twelfth Night,” Gayev in “The Cherry Orchard,” Vladimir in “Waiting for Godot,” and Dodge in “Buried Child.”

“He was great to be on stage with,” MacDonald said. “He was always present and always in the moment. He was someone you learned from.”

During his long career he also was game to do whatever a director asked, even in later years. “I don’t think art is tidy,” he said in 1988. “I don’t think it’s clean; I think it’s sweaty, and I think it’s dangerous.”


Mr. Geidt, said the actor Tommy Derrah, “instilled a love of the stage in all of us, especially those of us who were younger. It wasn’t necessarily about stardom or fame or financial reward, it was about the art itself, the act of performing. And you only needed to look to him to be reminded of that.”

Born in London, Mr. Geidt was the younger of two children. His father was in finance, and a grandfather was a physician who tended to the royal family.

Dyslexic as a youth, Mr. Geidt dropped out of school and auditioned at the Old Vic.

“I lied about my age to get in – at least I think I did,” he told the Globe in 1988. “People tell me I did, but I don’t remember. I was 16.”

While working in England, Mr. Geidt’s first marriage ended in divorce. For years he acted on stage and in television productions and with a satirical ensemble called The Establishment.

During a tour of the United States with The Establishment he met Jan Graham, who was working in Washington, D.C., and went to see one of the ensemble’s shows.

“This month would be their 49th wedding anniversary,” said their daughter Sophie of New York City. “They were utterly and completely devoted to each other. My dad always said she was the love of his life.”

Mr. Geidt “was in a sense the most fun father you could ever have,” she said. “One of the things he instilled in us was always stay childlike, never childish. Always have that wonderment.”


Throughout his life, including after the cancer diagnosis, he “loved to laugh and giggle,” Sophie said. “My sister keeps reminding me that Dad always used to say: ‘Don’t ever lose your sense of humor. You can lose everything else, but don’t ever lose your sense of humor.’ ”

Along with performing, Mr. Geidt taught for many years, at Yale Drama School and later at Harvard.

“He was equally beloved as a teacher, and he took it very seriously,” Jones said. “It was a source of great pleasure for him.”

So, too, was his writing. Mr. Geidt “kept that fairly silent,” Brustein said. “Not many people know that he wrote prose, wonderful prose about the theater.”

Far more apparent was the impact Mr. Geidt had on a wide range of younger performers.

“I think he deeply affected not only the people who saw his official performances, but the people who watched the performance of his life, which was endlessly touching and entertaining, off stage and on,” said musician Amanda Palmer, who considered the Geidts her adoptive grandparents.

Getting invited to dinner at the couple’s house, Palmer said, was like scoring “an impossible ticket to the world’s best concert,” an opportunity she gratefully shared with her husband, the writer Neil Gaiman.

When Palmer called Gaiman to say Mr. Geidt had died, “after he collected himself, the first thing he said was, ‘Thank you for giving me the Geidts,’ ” she recalled, adding: “They really were a gift to the universe.”


A service will be announced for Mr. Geidt, who in addition to his wife, Jan, and their daughters Jennifer Holmwood of Wescosville, Pa., and Sophie, leaves a daughter from his first marriage, Lucy Durman of Mayfield, England; a sister, Verrell Dunlop of England’s Isle of Wight; and five grandchildren.

“There was something so electric in his smile and his gruff personality and his genial and kindly demeanor, Brustein said. “He was never sentimental, but he was one of those warm-hearted people in this world. A fascinating combination. I loved him and I’m going to miss him terribly.”

At the outset of his career, after completing training at the Old Vic, Mr. Geidt received a film contract offer, but chose instead to act with a classical repertory company for a far smaller sum.

“If you dream of a lot of money, then I was a fool to turn it down,” he said in the 1988 interview.

“But if you dream of doing something with your art or talent, then I’m not foolish. You can’t go into this business to make money, because if you put money first, you aren’t going to put this first,” he added, placing his hand over his heart. “And this is what counts.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@