Every body has a story.
Every body has a story.
December 22, 1948—March 12, 2003
Lynne Thigpen was born Cherlynne Theresa Thigpen on December 22, 1948, in Joliet, Illinois. Not much has been reported about her early years, but most likely she experienced the typical 1950’s middle-American childhood. What is known is that while attending Joliet Central High School, she flexed her creative wings in the school’s theater department as well as an a cappella club. After graduation, she moved on to the University of Illinois, acting in school and local theater productions while she earned a degree in education. She then took a job teaching high school English, while at the same pursuing a Masters degree in acting at the University of Illinois. Talk about multi-tasking.
Her English teaching/masters’ degree class-taking only lasted about one semester—not because she couldn’t handle the work, but because she was hired to perform in the Washington, DC, production of the musical “Godspell.”
Her first televised role aired in 1972. She was part of a singing ensemble in an unsold television series pilot called Fol-de-Rol, which was created by Sid and Marty Krofft of Land of the Lost and H. R. Puffinstuff fame. Fol-de-Rol was, one could say, an experience. It’s a psychedelic-y musical comedy (I use the word loosely) skit show based in medieval times. You can probably find it online. Not sure if you want to.
In 1973 she appeared in her first motion picture, reprising her “Godspell” role. Not too much later, she decided to steer her career away from the singing/dancing stuff and focused on dramatic acting. From then on, her life was jam-packed with dramatic roles on the big and small screens, as well as the stage, including Broadway.
The role that arguably made her most famous was that of The Chief in the Carmen Sandiego franchise (Where in the World…, Where in Time…, Where in the U.S.A…,etc.). She also provided the voiceover for Luna in the Bear in the Big Blue House children’s show. Just a few of her many wonderful appearances include Lean on Me, Tootsie, Bob Roberts (which also starred Robert Hegyes), Gimme a Break!, L.A. Law, Law and Order, and the massively underappreciated Homicide: Life on the Street. On Broadway she performed in “An American Daughter,” a role that earned her a Tony Award (presented to her by Christine Baranski, by the way). In her spare time, she did some radio work and recorded a bunch of audio books.
Besides the Tony Award, she also received two Obie Awards for her off-Broadway work (specifically, for “Boesman and Lena” and “Jar the Floor,”) a Drama Logue Award for Outstanding Performance for “Tintypes” (at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles), and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for her work in August Wilson’s play “Fences,” performed at James A. Doolittle Theatre. (Some sources say she did not win the award, but according to Playbill, she did.)
She was no slouch in the nomination department, either, garnering a whopping six Daytime Emmy Award noms, two NAACP Image Awards nominations, and a second Tony nomination, this one for “Tintypes.” She was also nominated for AudioFile Awards’ “Golden Voices for the Year” (for audio books). Every time I check a new source, I find another accolade that was bestowed upon her (deservedly).
In early March of 2003, she started suffering from severe recurring headaches. On March 12, a friend found Thigpen unconscious in her Marina del Rey, California, home. She had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, which led to her death. An autopsy showed there were no other contributing factors, such as foul play, drugs, or alcohol.
At the time of her death, she was employed as Luna the Bear as well as the character Ella Farmer in the television series The District.
Thigpen and her parents can be visited at Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet, Illinois.
In 2010 her friends and family established the nonprofit foundation, The Lynne Thigpen/Bobo Lewis Foundation. It’s purpose is to mentor aspiring Broadway actors and help them deal with the sometimes daunting experience of living in New York.
Lynne Thigpen Elementary School in Joliet is named in her honor. Very cool, and well deserved.
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