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Actor Ethyl Eichelberger Dead at 45

August 14, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Flamboyant actor Ethyl Eichelberger, who turned theatrical conventions upside down in his career as a performance artist, playwright and director, committed suicide over the weekend. He was 45.

Eichelberger, who had AIDS, slashed his wrists in his Staten Island home, according to friends and the city medical examiner’s office. His body was discovered Sunday morning by actress Lola Pashalinski and director Linda Chapman.

Eichelberger was equally at ease playing characters male or female, including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, King Lear and Medusa.

He wrote more than 30 plays, many of them marked by such Eichelberger trademarks as fire-eating, cartwheels and impromptu accordion concerts.

His rewriting of the classics included such Shakespearean send-ups as ″Hamlette,″ a female version of Hamlet, and ″Leer,″ his bizarre version of ″King Lear.″

He had just completed performances of ″Das Vedanya Mama,″ a variation on Chekhov.

He was also recognized for his work on Broadway. Last year, he performed opposite Sting in ″The 3 Penny Opera,″ playing a crankbox and singing ″Mack the Knife.″

James Roy Eichelberger was born to Amish parents in Pekin, Ill., on July 17, 1945. He legally became Ethyl in 1975.

After studying theater at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. For seven years, he acted with the Trinity Square Repertory Company in Providence, R.I.

In New York, he worked with Charles Ludlam and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

As his reputation grew, he began appearing in mainstream theater, doubling as the courtesan and the abbess in the Flying Karamazov Brothers production of ″The Comedy of Errors″ at Lincoln Center.

Eichelberger’s final performance will be posthumous: he plays himself in Oliver Stone’s upcoming Jim Morrison film biography, ″The Doors.″

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