NEW YORK CITY, NY - Don McKay - World War II combat veteran and star of stage and screen - died on December 27, 2018, at the age of 93, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, having led a satisfying life filled with service, sparkle and success.
Born Donald Juan Hawkins on January 28, 1925, in Clarksburg, West Virginia, McKay graduated from Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana, in May 1943, then joined the U.S. Army the next month at the height of World War II. After completing training at Fort Bragg, McKay joined the 7th Infantry Regiment as it advanced through Italy and up into Germany. At the end of the war, the decorated soldier took the opportunity to attend art school in France before returning to the United States as a guard on a prisoner troop ship in 1945.
In the late 1940s, McKay, a talented artist, passionately pursued acting, earning several roles in regional theater in and around Chicago before garnering a small Broadway turn in Top Banana in 1951. He then headed to Hollywood, where he shared the silver screen with none other than Judy Garland in her Oscar-nominated film, A Star is Born. The duo performed the song and dance number 'Gotta Have Me Go With You.'
London's West End is where McKay ultimately left his lasting mark on the theater world. He starred as Tony in the original London cast of West Side Story, which opened on December 12, 1958, in Her Majesty's Theatre. Manchester Guardian theater critic John Rosselli wrote onMcKay's opening night, 'the evening is a triumph. West Side Story is a work of art.'
After 1,039 London performances, McKay and his co-star Marlys Watters would go on to a similarly successful run in Tokyo, while another co-star George Chakirisstarred in the 1961 film version and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
McKay parlayed hisbreakout performance into another lead role in Show Boat, with co-star Shirley Bassey, in London in 1959. The show's cast album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Not long thereafter, on May 30, 1963, McKay and co-star Elliott Gould openedOn the Town at London's Prince of Wales Theater. Finally, it was off to New York for McKay's revival of Tony in West Side Story, opening at City Center on April 8, 1964.
After his many stage successes in London and New York, McKay settled in Connecticut for a couple of decades, whereupon he acted in regional theater and taught vocal lessons to aspiring actors. He spent his last two decades in a cozy Manhattan apartment just a couple of blocks from Central Park, where enjoyed pampering his dog, and relaxing on the bench outside his building.
McKay is survived by his partner Jessie Dunston, and his sister Stephanie Levine.