Jason Edwards, the other Man in Black, dies at 62

Jason Edwards in the DCPA's 'Ring of Fire.' Photo by Terry Shapiro. Jason Edwards in the DCPA’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ Photo by Terry Shapiro.

Broadway actor and Colorado native Beth Malone regularly receives the same short text message on her cell phone. It simply says, “Who-”

What it lacks in character count, it made up for in character.

“It was Jason Edwards just telling me, ‘Who loves you?’ out of the blue,” said Malone, reflecting today on the death of her friend and former castmate in Broadway’s Ring of Fire, a revue of Johnny Cash songs.

Jason Edwards 400“He was the real deal,” said Malone. “He wasn’t slick. He was authentic, funny, a good friend – and the fact that he lived in New York City was always completely weird to me.”

Edwards was far more comfortable in the mountains than in Manhattan, and yet the self-described good-old boy from the hills of Asheville, N.C., was right at home on any stage as long as he had guitar in his hands and a Johnny Cash song to sing.

Edwards died Tuesday, Nov. 15, in Vero Beach, Florida on an extended fishing trip with friends after another successful Ring of Fire tour. He was 62.

Randal Myler, a longtime musical collaborator, spoke to Edwards Tuesday about their mutual love for minor-league baseball. He said Edwards told him Tuesday had been one of the happiest day of his life.

“Jason was his own guy,” said Myler. He had a ton of friends, but he was at peace with himself.”

Edwards played a wealth of country characters ranging from cowboys to truck drivers to George Jones. He starred in a notable touring production of Pump Boys and Dinettes opposite another familiar DCPA performer, Cass Morgan. But Myler understands why Cash became Edwards’ signature role after Ring of Fire debuted on Broadway in 2006.

“Simply from a casting consideration, there are very few JohnJason Edwards in 'Mama Hated Diesels.' ny Cashes out there,” said Myler. “There aren’t many guys with that kind of Johnny Cash macho, but with a gentle side, and also can act. Jason was the complete package.”

Edwards first performed for the DCPA Theatre Company in the 2010 world premiere of the trucker musical Mama Hated Diesels, directed by Myler. Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” was one of the songs he sang. Edwards returned to Denver in 2012 to both direct and star in Ring of Fire. Denver Post theatre critic Lisa Kennedy said of his performance: “Director Jason Edwards cuts a rugged, rightly creased figure as an older Johnny Cash tempered by life.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson called Edwards a brilliant musician, performer, writer, director, and producer. “In addition, he was a funny, smart, and deeply compassionate man,” Thompson said. “Our paths crossed many times over the years, and he always had a smile, a warm welcome and a new idea for a show!  He loved the theatre, and we shall miss him.”

Today on Facebook, writer Seth Greenleaf said, “The world lost a really good guy, and I lost a dear friend.” Greenleaf met Edwards in 2005 when he was working on his new musical based on the songs of Johnny Cash. “We became instant friends, but he became instant friends with everyone he met. During our time outside of my urban comfort zone, he taught me my first chords on a guitar, took me to a country music hall in Nashville, and taught me how to order southern food. The cast was a family, and Jason was Pa.”

Greenleaf said Edwards’ death was completely unexpected, “but with Jason, there was nothing left unsaid. No regrets or need to apologize for anything. You were always good with him, and he was always good with you. I have no doubt his first order of business in heaven is to walk up to Johnny himself and ask, “How’d I do?”

Edwards was Born on April 28,1954, in Hendersonville, N.C., the son of Dawn and Irene Edwards. He graduated from North Buncombe High School in Weaverville and attended Belmont University in Nashville and Mars Hill College.

He toured nationally and directed The Will Rogers Follies with Larry Gatlin, and Man of La Mancha with John Raitt. Off-Broadway credits included Of Mice and Men, Johnny Guitar, Honky Tonk Angel and Cowboy.

His obituary in the Asheville Citizen-Times described Edwards as a fiercely loyal friend, and a champion of animals and underdogs. “Friends and colleagues have repeatedly described him as genuine, kind, compassionate, spiritual, honest, generous to a fault, fun, funny, encouraging, tenderhearted, and supremely gifted, a man whose energy brought joy to thousands from the stage, and to each person he met, no matter his or her station in life,” it read.

Edwards’ survivors include his parents, son Michael Dawn Edwards and wife Stephanie. Funeral services were held  on Nov. 22 in Weaverville, N.C. 

Myler said he will miss Edwards dearly, “but he was at home with himself. He was just a big-hearted guy and he left a lot of friends.”

Memorial gifts are being accepted by the Riverside Theatre Endowment Fund, which has been set up by the theatre in Edwards’ name. Call 772-410-0481 for information.

 

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Jason Edwards in the DCPA's 'Mama Hated Diesels.' Photo by Terry Shapiro. Jason Edwards in the DCPA’s ‘Mama Hated Diesels.’ Photo by Terry Shapiro.

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