Rebecca Luker, a Tony-nominated Broadway star of the past three decades, died Wednesday at a hospital in Manhattan, just 10 months after revealing to the public that she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She was 59.
Sarah Fargo, Luker's agent, confirmed the news to The New York Times.
The actress earned Tony nominations for playing Winifred Banks in the 2006 run of Mary Poppins, Marian Paroo in the 2000 revival of The Music Man, and Magnolia in the 1994 revival of Show Boat. She's also known for playing Maria Rainer in the 1998 revival of The Sound of Music, but her credits remain far-ranging.
Luker announced over Twitter in February that she was diagnosed with ALS in late 2019. "I have the best medical care in the world and the greatest support," she wrote at the time. "My dear husband Danny has been an angel. I will get well. In the meantime, we fight and go forward. Keep us in your thoughts."
Danny Burstein, Luker's husband since 2000 who also acts on Broadway, suffered through COVID-19 earlier this year to the point of hospitalization. He recovered, though revealed in an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter in April that Luker, too, contracted the virus.
In June, Luker participated in a musical streaming benefit with host Santino Fontana and journalist Katie Couric to promote Prosetin, a promising ALS drug. By October, she sent out a plea for further aid in a video shared on the Instagram account of her friend, Kelli O'Hara. "Since my appearance for Project ALS in June, I have progressed," she said. "My limbs have all gotten worse and, of course, I'm in this wheelchair. I'm holding onto my lungs, my breathing, and my speech. Perhaps the gifts I was given as a singer had helped. I wanna tell you, time is not on my side, and I need help now."
Born April 17, 1961, Luker received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Montevallo. She got her professional start on the stage by performing in The Michigan Opera Theatre's rendition of Sweeney Todd in 1984. Luker then made her Broadway debut as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera from 1988-1991.
Despite high praise and meaty musical roles, the operatic soprano never considered herself a musical theater person. In fact, she told Playbill in a 2003 interview, "I am so not a musical theater person. I never put on a musical [record at home]. I love it, but I do it so much I don't want to listen to it when I go home. I love rock music, and jazz. I love the '70s stuff that I grew up with. I grew up listening to Karla Bonoff. I like mostly that '70s rock. I love Carlos Santana, too."
Those in the Broadway community expressed their condolences and shared memories of Luker on social media.
"Rebecca Luker was humble, loving and kind. So much so that you would sometimes forget her otherworldly talent, until she would sing, and her golden voice would wrap you in peace," actress Laura Benanti tweeted. "She was an angel on earth, and now in Heaven. I will always love you, Becca."
Hamilton's Javier Munoz called Luker "an inspiration both as [a] person and artist," and To Kill a Mockingbird's Celia Keenan-Bolger shared how her meeting with Luker made her feel like she belonged in their community.
"A delightful, warm & magical performer with one of the best voices ever to grace Broadway," wrote choreographer Matthew Bourne. "She has left us far too soon but what glorious memories she leaves behind."
Rebecca Luker was humble, loving and kind. So much so that you would sometimes forget her otherworldly talent, until she would sing, and her golden voice would wrap you in peace. She was an angel on earth, and now in Heaven. I will always love you, Becca. ✨ pic.twitter.com/yZ9sfunM5L
— Laura Benanti (@LauraBenanti) December 23, 2020
An inspiration both as person and artist. Sending you, Danny, all my love; love to her entire family.
— Javier Muñoz (@JMunozActor) December 23, 2020
Oh Rebecca Luker I looked up to you so much. I fell in love with your voice on the Secret Garden OCR and then when I got to meet you, you treated me with such love and respect. You made me feel like I belonged in our community. I am so sad you are gone. pic.twitter.com/ZUtKjYeqPb
— Celia Keenan-Bolger (@celiakb) December 23, 2020
Heartbreaking news. #RebeccaLuker was our wonderful Mrs Banks in the NYC prod. of @MaryPoppins - a delightful, warm & magical performer with one of the best voices ever to grace Broadway; she has left us far too soon but what glorious memories she leaves behind - RIP dear Rebecca https://t.co/Nr1Gx60HpL
— Matthew Bourne (@SirMattBourne) December 23, 2020