John Higgins, Actor, Director and Dialect Coach, Dies

1:44 PM PST 12/14/2011 by Mike Barnes

The brother of late “Foul Play” writer-director Colin Higgins traveled the world to work in the theater.

John Higgins, a globe-trotting actor, writer and director for the theater, died of oral cancer Nov. 11 at his brother’s home in Fremont, Calif. He was 71.

Based out of his native Australia since 2000, Higgins also worked as a highly regarded acting and dialogue coach, assisting the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Bishop.

One of Higgins’ five younger brothers was Colin Higgins, who penned Harold and Maude (1971) and wrote and directed Foul Play (1978), Nine to Five (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). He died in 1988.

Born in Sydney on Jan. 2, 1940, Higgins and his family moved to Atherton, Calif., in the late ’50s. He made his professional acting debut at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, appearing in 16 Shakespeare plays, then worked opposite George C. Scott in the off-Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Later, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the original West End productions of The Boys in the Band and John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes

In 1974, at the height of the apartheid era, Higgins moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work at the Market Theatre. There, he helmed Of Mice and Men, the first government approved multi-ethnic production in South African history, and Survival, an anti-apartheid ensemble play that would tour in the U.S., the U.K. and Russia.

Returning to California and the Globe in the late ’70s, Higgins directed the U.S. premiere of The Biko Inquest, a play about the black anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1977 while in police custody.

Higgins spent three months in 1979 living and working with Ken Kesey on the author’s farm in Oregon, and they co-wrote the play The Further Inquiry, a chronicle of the bus trip Kesey’s Merry Pranksters took to New York in 1964. Higgins then directed the production at the Globe.

Throughout the next decade, Higgins divided his time between England, the U.S. and Australia.

Along the way, Higgins also acted in such films as Phar Lap (1983) and on such TV shows as Nash Bridges. He also served as a dialect coach on Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006).

Survivors include his mother Joyce, brothers Gary, Brian, Barry and Dennis, and nephews Patrick, James and Sean. A celebration of his life will be held in the new year.

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