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Vincent Dowling, world-renowned actor who founded The Minature Theatre of Chester, dies at 83

Olwen O’Herlihy Dowling said her husband died at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dowling, who left school in Dublin at age 16 to become an actor, was a poet, playwright, author, director and raconteur whose work at what was then the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival had a profound impact on a then 20-year-old unknown actor named Tom Hanks when Dowling invited him to the Ohio stage company in 1977. He had directed Hanks one year earlier in California. “Vincent’s the reason I’m an actor, man,” Hanks would say years later. “To act with Vincent on the stage is to share the wings with a master.”

Dowling was a star in his own right, performing on stages from Moscow to Hong Kong to Washington, D.C., and, finally, in his adopted home of Chester in the foothills of the Berkshires.

As recently as October 2011, Dowling appeared at the Academy of Music in Northampton, performing in “Love Letters” by A.P. Gurney opposite veteran television, stage and movie actress Mary Linda Rapelye.

During his 27 hears at the national theater of Ireland, The Abbey Theatre, he was artistic director, director of experimental theatre and a leading company actor.

He organized The Abbey’s first visit to The Moscow Arts Theatre and brought the famous Russian theatre to Dublin.

Dowling also played and directed in the United States, London, Paris, Florence, and the Edinburgh Festival.

In his native Ireland, he was a well-known radio and television broadcaster. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1976.

At Great Lakes, Dowling was producing artistic director from 1976-84. There he staged, among others, the “Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” an 8½-hour, 40-actor production .

He won an Emmy Award for his PBS television production and direction of “The Playboy of the Western World.” In the early 1990s, he founded The Miniature Theatre of Chester, a professional theatre now in its 20th season. He resigned from that group in 1997 and formed the Vincent Dowling Theatre Company.

Asked once if he was retired, he replied no. “Old actors don’t retire, they only get less work,” he said.

Besides his wife Olwen, an artist, Dowling is survived by children Bairbre, Louise, Valerie, Rachael and Cian. He leaves seven grandchildren. There will be a private memorial service. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Actors Fund, 729 7th Avenue, 10th floor, New York , N.Y., 10019.

Legacy Comments1

We all create little solar systems of those we touch in our lives; Vincent’s must include literally thousands of orbiting souls he had influenced during his journey. He was a gentle, truly caring individual, always ready to lend assistance to not only those in the theatre but historians, visionaries, educators, community activists. Travelers in almost any realm could glean valuable insight from his wisdom. He will be missed on so many levels.

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