Video above: Daniel Langhoff sings ‘What a Wonderful World’ at an April benefit concert for the Denver Actors Fund. Video provided by Eden Lane and Sleeping Dog Media.
The busy actor, husband and father fought cancer like the errant knight he played in Man of La Mancha. He was 42.
By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist
When award-winning Denver actor Daniel Langhoff was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2015, the first-time father dreamed what most every doctor told him was an impossible dream: To beat an unbeatable foe. And yet, over the next rocky and remarkable two and a half years, he reached star after unreachable star.
The cancer was discovered just a few months after Langhoff and wife Rebecca Joseph welcomed daughter Clara into the world. Langhoff then fought the disease with the same earnest fortitude and blind optimism as Cervantes, the playwright who defends his life through storytelling in the classic Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. That’s a bucket-list role Langhoff somehow found the mettle to play last year during a brief cease-fire with his disease, which would make a raging comeback only a few months later.
In April, doctors discovered a second, more virulent form of cancer in Langhoff’s abdomen, and it was everywhere. The Langhoffs were told it would be a matter of months. Not that the diagnosis changed Langhoff’s attitude one bit. He fought on with grit, optimism and no small share of Quixotic delusion.
“Dying never entered his mindset,” said Langhoff’s best friend, Brian Murray. “He always thought he would beat it.” It was only recently in the hospital, when Langhoff was no longer able to eat and fluid was filling his lungs that the impossible dreamer offered Murray this one slight concession to his adversary: “The prognosis is not good,” he told Murray.
“Daniel fought the cancer by trivializing it — like it was just this little thing to be taken care of,” Murray said.
Rebecca Joseph, known as R.J. to friends, gave birth to a second daughter, Naomi, on Nov. 2. It happened that day because Joseph made it happen that day. She had doctors induce labor to make certain Langhoff would be alive to see Naomi born. A few days later, Langhoff was admitted to Denver Hospice, where he again defied experts’ expectations by fighting on for days until there was no fight left in him.
Langhoff died at precisely midnight today, peacefully and as his wife held his hand. He was 42.
When he left, he was different from the man who married R.J. in 2015. During the ensuing years, as cancer gradually robbed his life, life in turn gave him everything to live for: A wife, two daughters, and the seminal roles of his acting career.
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Find an extensive gallery of Daniel Langhoff photos at the bottom of this report.
A punctilious punster
Langhoff was born in Denver on Nov. 8, 1975, and has been a performer since the third grade. He graduated from Cherry Creek High School and the University of Northern Colorado, and has been working steadily at theatres all over Colorado since 1999.
He was known as a consummate actor with a quirky sense of humor; a way with a guitar, a song and a terrible pun; a geeky affinity for sci-fi films … and a massive collection of inappropriate T-Shirts.
One of his favorites said: “When I die, I am going to haunt the (bleep) out of you.”
“That was Daniel,” his wife said.
“Daniel was into weird science fiction, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, anything counter-culture and all manner of useless knowledge,” said his frequent co-star and sometimes director, Robert Michael Sanders. “We had a shared love for underrated big-hair metal bands and Alien movies.”
In the dressing room, Langhoff was a serial punster who was known for running exasperated castmates out of the room with his wit. But on stage, Sanders describes Langhoff as an intelligent, steady actor who could only be distracted from his task by perhaps, say … a random reference to Ridley Scott (maker of Alien).
He was also one of the most dependable and pragmatic friends you could ever have, said Murray, who has been friends with Langhoff since appearing in Company together at the Town Hall Arts Center in 2008.
“I always called him my Vulcan,” said Murray, currently starring in Town Hall’s Seussical. “He was Spock, and I was Kirk. I was the emotional one, and he was the logical one.”
Ironically, Langhoff was the human being Murray turned to when he needed one most.
“When I was going through a divorce in 2009, the only thing that helped me get by was playing video games with Daniel until 3 in the morning and telling him the same stories all over again,” Murray said. “He would say to me, ‘Brian, this thing happened. It was outside of your control. Now what you have to do is move through it and move on from that.”
Perhaps the greatest testament to any man’s character, Murray said: “Daniel was kind to everyone — even to the people who annoyed him.” (Although, to be fair, Langhoff also loved to quote Tom Waits‘ life philosophy: “Champagne for my real friends … and real pain for my sham friends.”)
Traci J. Kern was a real friend. For 22 years, Langhoff has been her constant. “Soon after our meeting, Daniel proclaimed himself the little brother I never wanted,” she said. “Anytime I needed him, he was there. No questions asked, because it didn’t matter. Dan lived his life full of passion. Whether it was talking about music, theatre, movies, Stephen King novels, sports, his family, his babies or his wife — he spoke with such enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but be drawn in.”
A life on every stage
Daniel Langhoff was, simply put, “the most consistent actor ever,” said Sanders. He was also just about the most consistently working Denver actor ever. The list of area theatre companies Langhoff has performed with reads essentially like the list of all area theatre companies. You would be hard-pressed to find a person or company whose path has not, at some point, crossed with Langhoff’s on a Colorado stage.
“Once Daniel got it right, he went out and nailed it at that level every night,” Sanders said. “You never had to worry what he was going to do, whether it was for one person or 100. Even for dumb stuff like Guys on Ice – he would find moments that mattered.”
Langhoff made his Denver Center debut in 2010 in the musical comedy Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre, followed by a stint in a revival of the longest-running musical in Denver history, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He also performed in the DCPA Theatre Company’s seasonal stagings of A Christmas Carol in 2014 and 2015. The latter staging was right when Langhoff was starting his cancer fight. He had surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes – then immediately joined the cast, fitting rounds of chemo into 10-show weeks at the Stage Theatre.
Langhoff’s substance and versatility put him in an elevated class among local performers: He was a nuanced dramatic actor with a rich singing voice — and an uncommon knack for comedy and children’s theatre. He could glide from playing the conflicted pastor fomenting the Salem witch trials in Firehouse’s The Crucible, to Coolroy in the Arvada Center’s children’s production of Schoolhouse Rock Live, to the long-suffering husband of a bipolar housewife in Town Hall’s Next to Normal.
Langhoff’s breakout year was 2016, which began in triumph and ended in terror. It started with Performance Now’s Ragtime. As Langhoff was continuing his initial chemotherapy, when he called Director Kelly Van Oosbree to express his interest in playing Tateh.
“I remember thinking, ‘How in the hell is this going to happen?’ ” Van Oosbree said. “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it because if were in the same situation, I wonder how I would even cope. But Daniel did not let cancer stop him from doing anything.”
Langhoff had strong sentimental and professional reasons for wanting to play Tateh. He had played the homegrown terrorist known as “Younger Brother” in a remarkable production of Ragtime for the Arvada Center in 2011, and he wanted to complete the circle by playing Tateh — also a dreamer, also a new father — for Performance Now. “Tateh was a role that spoke to him,” said Van Oosbree said.
In the summer of 2016, doctors declared Langhoff cancer-free. He celebrated by performing for the Arvada Center (40th anniversary concert), Firehouse (The Crucible) and Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Every Christmas Story Ever Told). He began 2017 by reuniting with Van Oosbree to play the chivalrous and insistent dreamer in Man of La Mancha. These were perfect bookend roles, said Van Osbree: Both Tateh and Cervantes are kind, inventive men who see the world not as it is, but how it should — or could — be. “They are both Daniel,” she said.
But just as Man of La Mancha was to begin rehearsals, Langhoff noticed another abnormality in his abdomen, and doctors soon discovered a new, more prevalent and more vicious strain of cancer in his abdominal walls. Langhoff began a second round of chemo just as he had been cast to perform in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Arvada Center, followed by Ring of Fire at Vintage Theatre. This time, he would not be well enough to play either role. And he again downplayed the challenge. “I am just more physically compromised than I was before,” he conceded at the time.
The great work of helping others
Langhoff was known for helping out any company or cause that needed a hand — or a voice. Back in 2010, he joined the volunteer cast of Magic Moments‘ The Child. That’s an annual musical revue where up to 200 disabled and able-bodied performers perform together, many for the first time. Langhoff played a war veteran opposite a devil character played by Drew Frady, his castmate back in the Arvada Center’s 2008 staging of Les Miserables. Langhoff had been recruited as a late replacement for another actor. On his first day, the stage manager ended her introduction of Langhoff by saying, to his horror, “He loves hugs.” And, he later said with a laugh, “I didn’t really have the heart to correct her.”
Over the next few months, Langhoff said, he learned to love hugs.
“This is the kind of place where you can still be 5 minutes late for rehearsal, even if you show up on time, because there is a 5-minute gantlet of hugs to navigate,” he said.
Throughout his cancer ordeal, Langhoff was both a beneficiary of, and great champion of, The Denver Actors Fund, which in three years has made $133,000 available to Colorado theatre artists in situational need. Between direct aid and targeted donations, the theatre community has so far made more than $14,000 available to help the Langhoff family with medical bills, along with practical volunteer assistance. And Langhoff has given back at every opportunity, performing at five DAF fundraising events over the past three years.
In April, a weakening Langhoff made a galvanizing appearance at United in Love, a benefit concert staged by Ebner-Page Productions that raised $40,000 for the Denver Actors Fund at the Lone Tree Arts Center. (See video at the top of this page.)
Langhoff sang a heart-rending version of What a Wonderful World to acknowledge the support and love he has received from the theatre community throughout his medical ordeal. “All of these performers, this stunning audience, all of these donors make me feel like my fight ahead is just a matter of logistics,” he said.
(Photos at right, top: Photographer Laura Mathew Siebert, with son Nate Siebert, raised money for Langhoff’s cancer fight in 2016 by taking portraits and donating the proceeds. Photo by John Moore. At right: Broadway’s Annaleigh Ashford with Langhoff at Klint Rudolph at the April ‘United in Love’ concert for the Denver Actors Fund. RDG Photography.)
His final performance was on Sept. 25 at Miscast, a popular annual fundraiser for The Denver Actors Fund, and it was one for the ages. Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore, all actors in the midst of their own cancer journeys, performed a variation of the song Tonight, from West Side Story, that was written by Langhoff and his (pregnant) wife, who also choreographed. It was essentially a rousing declaration of war against cancer, and it brought the Town Hall Arts Center audience to their feet. The trio were immediately dubbed “The Cancer Warriors.”
(Story continues below the video.)
Daniel Langhoff, Jona Alonzo and Norrell Moore perform Sept. 25 at ‘Miscast,’ a benefit for The Denver Actors Fund, at the Town Hall Arts Center.
The impact of family
Everyone close to Langhoff says the courage and unyielding optimism he has shown since his diagnosis can be explained in three simple words: Rebecca, Clara and Naomi. “Those three were everything to him,” Murray said. “They were his life.”
He met his R.J. in a theatre, but Langhoff wasn’t on the stage; he was a member of the audience. Joseph caught Langhoff’s eye after a performance of Vintage Theatre’s Avenue Q. Langhoff noticed the assistant stage manager — usually one of the most invisible jobs in all of theatre. She eventually agreed to a late-night date at the Rock Bottom Brewery that almost didn’t happen because she was running late. Langhoff was appearing in, ironically, the dating comedy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the Denver Center’s Galleria Theatre. She was attending Red at the Curious Theatre, which ran longer than she was expecting. Luckily, he waited. Sanders later married the couple in a ceremony at the Town Hall Arts Center.
Langhoff recently helped Sanders in a profound creative way when the singer-songwriter went into production on his second solo album (under the name Robert Michael). In 2013, Sanders was the victim of a botched shoulder surgery that partially paralyzed his arms and left him unable to play the guitar. Sanders now writes new music through the help of friends who act as his fingers. Langhoff co-wrote the lyrics and music to a track called Forever that Sanders says is informed in part by their own personal experiences:
You found your forever. You put your hand in his.
He pulled you close to him, gave you that forever kiss.
You found your forever, now you’ll wake up every day.
With him smiling back at you, and you have no words to say.
And that’s OK.
You found your forever.
(To listen to ‘Forever’ on Spotify, click here. Backing vocals by Daniel Langhoff and Norrell Moore.)
As the theatre community struggles to process the news that Langhoff is gone, his friend Murray was asked what Langhoff himself might say to bring comfort to those he leaves behind. His response:
“I think the Vulcan in Daniel would say to us exactly what he said to me: ‘This thing happened. It was outside of everyone’s control. I did everything I could to make it not happen, but it still happened. Now what you have to do is move through that and try to move on from that.’ ”
In addition to his wife and daughters, Langhoff is survived by his parents, Jeannie and Charlie Langhoff, and his sister, Amy Langhoff Busch.
After an intimate family service later this week, a larger celebration of Daniel Langhoff’s life will be announced in the coming weeks.
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.
Here’s how to help Daniel Langhoff’s family:
The Denver Actors Fund is accepting targeted donations that will go 100 percent to Rebecca Joseph to help with medical, funeral and expenses. Any eventual excess funds will go toward the future educational needs of daughters Clara and Naomi. Here’s how it works: Click here. When prompted, “Where do you want your donation directed?” choose from the pulldown: “For the family of Daniel Langhoff.” The Denver Actors Fund will absorb all transactional fees.) If you prefer to mail a check, the address is P.O. Box 11182, Denver , CO 80211. Separately, if you are motivated to start your own campaign to proactively raise additional funds for the Langhoffs, you can create your own personalized fundraising page on the Langhoffs’ behalf. To do that, just click on this (different) link. Choose “Start a fundraiser.” Follow the instructions from there.
Photo gallery: A look back at the life of Daniel Langhoff
To see more photos, click on the photo above to be taken to our full Flickr album.
Daniel Langhoff/Selected shows and companies
- High School: Cherry Creek
- College: Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley
- Denver Center for the Performing Arts: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Five Course Love at the Galleria Theatre; A Christmas Carol for the DCPA Theatre Company
- Arvada Center: A Man of No Importance (Breton Beret), Ragtime (Younger Brother), A Man for All Seasons, A Wonderful Life, The Crucible, Man of La Mancha, Miracle On 34th Street Les Miserables. Children’s shows: Charlotte’s Web, Lyle the Crocodile, Schoolhouse Rock
- Town Hall Arts Center: Next To Normal (Dan), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Company, Batboy! The Musical
- Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company: Every Christmas Story Ever Told
- Firehouse Theatre Compay: The Crucible (Rev. Hale)
- Miners Alley Playhouse: Pump Boys and Dinettes
- Performance Now: Man of La Mancha (Cervantes), Ragtime (Tateh)
- Aurora Fox: Spamalot (King Arthur)
- Vintage Theatre: Hamlet, Prince of Pork, 18 Holes (Lyle)
- Next Stage: Assassins (The Balladeer)
- Magic Moments: The Child
- Hunger Artists
- Film: Bouquet of Consequence, Why There Are Rainbows
Video: Daniel Langhoff presents Community Impact Award to Denver Actors Fund: