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Ron Simons, actor turned Tony-winning producer for stage and film, dies at 63

A Black man in a maroon sweater and white T-shirt and jeans posing with his left leg up on a chair and hands crossed
Ron Simons, whose career included Tony-winning productions of “Porgy and Bess” and “Jitney,” died Wednesday at age 63.
(Victoria Will / Associated Press)
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Ron Simons, the actor-turned-producer whose repertoire included Tony Award-winning Broadway shows as well as Sundance Film Festival selections, has died. He was 63.

Simons’ New York-based production company, SimonSays Entertainment, announced the Wednesday death of its chief executive in a statement posted Thursday on social media. “It is with heavy hearts that we share the unexpected passing of our beloved, blessed, and highly favored friend, Ronald Keith Simons,” the statement said.

The missive said a funeral is the works but did not reveal additional details about Simons’ death, including a cause of death or survivors. A SimonSays representative did not immediately respond Friday to The Times’ request for more information.

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“A huge tree has fallen in the Black Broadway community,” Tony-nominated producer Lamar Richardson tweeted. “Ron walked so that many of us could run in this industry.”

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“The Mamalogues” and “Single Black Female” playwright Lisa B. Thompson also mourned Simons on X (formerly Twitter), writing, “we’ve lost one of our brightest lights.” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also paid tribute to “legendary Detroiter” Simons, whom he honored with a key to the city in 2022.

Simons, born in Detroit on Nov. 30, 1960, began pursuing an entertainment career in his late 30s after more than a decade working for tech companies HP and Microsoft. “At the tender age of 39,” as Simons put it for Forbes in 2017, he enrolled in drama school at the University of Washington, eventually embarking on a path to producing that would yield five Tony Award nominations and four wins.

“I started feeling I wasn’t excited about the kind of roles I was auditioning for or the projects that were being greenlit,” he said during a TED Talk in 2018. “I realized that I could have more impact in the world by not just acting but producing and creating work.”

In 2012, Simons co-produced a revival of “Porgy and Bess” starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis that earned him his first Tony. In the years that followed, Simons produced Tony-winning productions of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” in 2013, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” in 2014 and a revival of August Wilson’s “Jitney” in 2017.

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Simons extended his producing skills from stage to screen with SimonSays, which prides itself on spotlighting stories of underrepresented communities. SimonSays produced the 2011 Sundance Film Festival selection “Gun Hill Road,” which centers on a recent parolee struggling with his son’s transgender life. Simons also produced “Viva Verdi!,” a documentary that follows elderly musicians as they continue performing and mentor up-and-coming talent.

“We seek to tell stories that will enable audiences to connect, communicate and act,” he said in his 2018 TED talk.

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His production credits include the films “Night Catches Us,” “Blue Caprice” and “Mother of George” and plays “Hughie,” “The Gin Game” and the all-black Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” among others. Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Leslie Uggams and Cecily Tyson were among the Black actors who starred in Simons’ productions, according to his website.

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Simons earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College, an MBA from Columbia Business School and an MFA from the University of Washington.

His career also included appearances in regional theaters including Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and minor roles in TV and film projects including “27 Dresses,” “Law & Order,” “The Resident” and “Succession.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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