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A Heartfelt Tribute To A Fallen Friend

Dear Folks,

I hadn't seen anything about Kevin Gray's passing in any Duke media outlet and I thought it was too important to go unreported.

I'd like to tell you a little bit about an extremely accomplished alumnus who died suddenly of a heart attack Monday night - my friend for 37 years, Kevin Gray, class of '80.

Kevin was an actor, the youngest ever to play the phantom in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway. He was one of only three actors to play the King in "The King and I" on Broadway. He played the Engineer in "Miss Saigon," Scar in "The Lion King," among many, many roles.

He met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in "Phantom." She was in the original cast. They had been together ever since, as devoted to each other as I've ever seen a husband and wife.

Kevin was SAE and a big Duke basketball fan. He was two weeks shy of his 55th birthday.

Kevin's father was the youngest officer in the Marine corp in WW2, at age 19. He was twice awarded the Purple Heart. He went on to work for the State Department and the CIA. Kevin's mother was Chinese. They met in China and fell in love. Rose, among her many talents, spoke several languages and was a brilliant cook.

Kevin, like many of us, was quite insecure as a young man, unsure of his talent, his voice, and his looks. He was an exotic mix and he wanted desperately to fit in. He was also unaware of anyone who wanted him to do this thing he wanted to do.

A few years after graduation I went to see him Off-Broadway in Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. He was magnificent. His voice, which had been sweet but fragile in college had become a powerhouse.

Gone was the uncertainty, the tremulous notes. In a large cast, he stood out. You couldn't take your eyes, or your ears, off him. He had done it all himself, out of sheer will. He understood the distance between what was great and where he was, and he closed it until there was no daylight in between. It was overwhelming to see

Think, perhaps, Kyrie Irving: a late bloomer on the national scene who suddenly found himself and then left everyone behind.

Of all the parts I saw him play on stage, the one I liked him in the most was the Engineer in "Miss Saigon." The Engineer is a snarling, cynical Eurasian owner of an "after hours bar" who wants more than his share of the "American Dream." That is the title of his big number. A naturally optimistic and kind man, in "The American Dream," Kevin got to unleash all the resentment and obliterate every racial stereotype of every small-minded person who had ever doubted him or tried to confine him to secondary parts. It's a show-stopping, hysterical screed and when Kevin did it, it was as good as any musical number I've ever seen on stage.

We got to hang out for a couple of days at our 30th reunion. We wandered around campus, laughed about old times and talked about future plans. Men make plans and God laughs.

Kevin's gone. I can't believe it. Hug your children, kiss your spouse, send kind thoughts to Dodie, and when you cheer for Duke, send one up for Kevin.

Jack Coleman '80