"'Hairspray' (and Broadway) has lost a huge piece of its heart. RIP to the glorious, loving and much loved Dick Latessa," the musical's composer and co-lyricist Marc Shaiman wrote on Facebook.
“This was a man who defined Pro, with the timing of a Swiss watch and a voice, a smile and sweet soul that made you feel special just to know him,” Shaiman added. “We were lucky to have him in our lives, he was, truly, timeless.”
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Latessa served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1952, and then began performing in Cleveland before moving to New York City in 1959 to pursue acting professionally.
After making his Broadway debut in 1968’s “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N,” Latessa went on to appear in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” “and Broadway Bound,” and musicals such as “The Will Rogers Follies,” “Damn Yankees,” “A Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Cabaret” and “Promises, Promises.”
He won a Tony Award in 2003 for playing joke-store owner Wilbur Turnblad opposite Harvey Fierstein in “Hairspray,” a role played by Christopher Walken in the 2007 movie and by Martin Short in this month’s live broadcast on NBC.
“We lost the 1 & only Dick Latessa & my heart is broken. Still, for 1,000 performances I had the best partner ever,” Fierstein wrote on Twitter.
On television, Latessa played Noel Douglas on ABC soap opera The Edge of Night in the mid 1970s. He later played Neil Hayes on One Life to Live. Other credits included The Black Donnellys, True Blue, Central Park West and The Good Wife.
Latessa is survived by his partner, Jonathan Hilton.