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Tom Walker, 76, the Don Quixote of The Living Theatre

BY JOANIE FRITZ ZOSIKE | Thomas Scott Walker, a 50-year veteran of The Living Theatre, died on Jan. 29. He was 76.

Walker was found in his sixth-floor walk-up on E. 10th Street in the East Village by his best friend, Jerry Goralnick, a longtime Living Theatre actor. Walker had lived in that same apartment since the 1980s. Everyone in the community knew him and he was always ready to stop on the street and chat with anyone, everyone.

In fact, Walker was a total man-about-town. He knew everybody in the Downtown art scene and everyone knew him. An avid follower of art, poetry, movement, music and literature, he was always ahead of the curve artistically and politically.

“The Tablets,” by Armand Schwerner, adapted by Hanon Reznikov, at The Living Theatre on E. Third Street, with actors, from left, Willie Barnes, Tom Walker, Sheila Dabney (on Walker’s shoulders), Michael St. Claire and Henry McWilliams. (TLT)

When he wasn’t on stage, Walker was checking out the scene and his radar was infallible. He was a catalyst, turning his friends on to all the trends and curiosities he encountered. He recommended that his friend Jerry check out the Church of Stop Shopping, and soon Jerry was working with Reverend Billy.

For my listening pleasure, he turned me on to Angelique Kidjo and Baaba Maal, poetry, literature. Tom’s mind was a sponge, and his retention of information was awe-inspiring and…well, kind of freaky. He was a font of information, a result of his unlimited passion for knowledge — so much so that he was often referred to as a “walking encyclopedia.”

“I and I” at The Living Theatre on E. Third Street, with Tom Walker, right, as Faust and Michael St. Claire as Mephistopheles. (Photo by Ira Cohen)

A Cornwall, Connecticut, native, the young Tom Walker was already recognized in the undergrad theater world at Yale University. He played Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” and Biedermann in Max Frisch’s “The Firebugs.” But conventional theater left him restless. He’d read Ken Brown’s article about The Living Theatre in City Lights Journal #3 (Kenneth H. Brown authored the company’s 1963 benchmark production, “The Brig”) and was ignited. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Ken Brown, who passed away in 2022.

Tom first encountered The Living Theatre (TLT) at Yale in 1968 during their three-week residency kicking off their American tour. In his own words, “It was as if the circus had come to town. At the final performance of ‘Paradise Now,’ when Julian Beck shouted, ‘The theater is in the streets!’ the packed house stormed the theater exits. Fearing Judith Malina would be trampled to death, I hoisted her onto my shoulders and carried her to safety. I became a Living Theatre groupie. While summering in Europe, I met up with them. I was also at the free Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park and saw the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin. In Oslo, Norway, I did a seminar with Eugenio Barba’s Odin Theater and met Grotowski, Andre Gregory, George Bartenieff, Joe Chaikin. I was streaming through life in my steady way.”

Tom Walker at the Pride March. (Photo by Jackie Rudin)

Tom joined The Living in Brazil in 1971, spending prison time with them when the government entrapped them on a cannabis charge. He acted in such productions as “Prometheus,” “The Money Tower,” “Seven Meditations on Political Sado-Masochism,” “Antigone” and “Frankenstein.” In the late ’80s until his death, he was a lead actor in works such as Elsa Laske-Shuler’s “I & I,” Armand Schwerner’s “The Tablets,” Hanon Reznikov’s “Anarchia,” Judith Malina’s “Korach” and “We Are Here” and numerous other productions.

Walker’s influence on the world of experimental theater spread far beyond The Living. He fell in love with the work of the Dar a Luz production of “Tight White Right” (1992), directed by the legendary Iranian director Reza Abdoh. He was fascinated by Abdoh’s cutting-edge style, his use of prerecorded sound and stark scenography. Walker subsequently appeared the next year in Dar a Luz’s “Quotations from a Ruined City.”

He also graced two productions conceived by visual artist/master puppeteer Theodora Skipitares, portraying Luigi Pirandello in “Six Characters (A Family Album)” in 2016, and Thomas Jefferson in “The Transfiguration of Benjamin Banneker” in 2020, a work with which he was also greatly enamored due to its distinctive mixed-media mise en scène, as well as the cross-cultural nature of the piece.

Tom Walker as Dr. Rosetta Sherwood Hall asking God why, in Walker’s last production, in Korea 2024. (TLT)

Additionally, Tom acted with and mentored members of Al Limité Collective, co-founded by Monica Hunken, Leah Bachar, Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li, Philip Santos Schaffer, Soraya Broukhim, Jessica Daugherty, Cypress Atlas and Brad Hamer, on international and local projects, all of whom became fully formed (as Tom would say) theater workers during several Living Theatre productions before forming their vital young theatrical company.

A lifelong supporter of the Black Panthers, Tom was a dedicated ally in the struggle against racism and an active proponent of L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights. It might appear that Walker was able to slide into any situation he admired or that captured his imagination, but it was actually that he made himself essential and indispensable while remaining humble and authentic — a rare combination.

Tom Walker had a long, deep relationship with St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, where he participated in services, led poetry workshops with colleague Larry Marshall, and sang with the choir under Jeannine Otis. He was universally loved for his gifts and valued even more as a congregation member. The church held a beautiful memorial in his honor on Feb. 17. The feelings in the room were so palpable that it was clear how far and wide Tom Walker’s influence, energy and fellowship spread across multiple communities in the East Village.

Tom Walker and Judith Malina on the set of Anne Waldman’s “Red/Noir” when The Living Theatre was on Clinton Street. (TLT)

Walker’s last production was the cross-cultural endeavor “Rosetta,” directed by TLT alumnus Yossef K. Junghan, in collaboration with Brad Burgess, TLT artistic director, performed in Gwangju, South Korea.

“Tom was treated like a rock star in Seoul,” Burgess recounted. “He finally got the recognition he deserved. He was very optimistic about the future.”

Although Walker dealt with ailments, his sudden passing came as a shock to his entire community. As befits a person of his theatrical stature, the tributes came pouring in.

Director Theodora Skipitares recalled him as a “talented soldier in the nonviolent revolution, consummate actor, historian for The Living Theatre and loving mentor.”

Tom Walker (reading, in blue shirt) at the People Power Planet Party with Sane Energy at the 6th Street Community Center. To the right of him are Brad Burgess, Lois Kagan Mingus, Monica Hunken and Leah Bachar.

“He embodied the erotic enigma of the human body and its presence,” said Carlo Altomare, a member of Alchemical Theatre and TLT. “He understood the deliberate moment of the Artaudian actor.”

Lois Kagan Mingus of TLT and Action Racket Theatre recalled, “Once on tour while exploring a forest in Europe, Tom and I walked over the border. Feeling completely safe with Tom, we calmly backtracked. After 36 years sharing theater and the world, I told him how much I loved him. I’m glad I finally did.”

Martin Reckhaus of Loretta Auditorium and TLT said of Walker, “I hope that the clarity of your voice will be heard in every theater’s last row.”

“When he sang, it was a sermon. When he performed, his long arms extended, his imposing figure took over the stage,” said Monica Hunken, co-founder of Al Limité Collective and a TLT member.

Garrick Beck, Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s son and Tom Walker’s contemporary, recalled him as “a kindhearted, truly humane human being. Let there be beautiful remembrances that bring us joy; let there be Tom in the ever-living theater of our lives.”

Tom Walker, in the background, with Jeannine Otis, the musical director at St. Marks Church in the Bowery.

Poet Valery Oisteanu said, “History will long remember you, the Artaud of the East Village. Your soul still glows with glorious fires of rebellion.”

Since its formation in 1948, hundreds of people have joined and left The Living Theatre. Why did this remarkable person stay? Devotion? Dedication? Attachment? Of course. But, at root, Tom was an anarcho-pacifist man of action. He would have made a great Don Quixote, with his impressive stature and handsome visage, his earnest, powerful voice, in turn soothing and convincing. He exuded a sense of urgency in an inexplicable world.

“Theater is not a mirror to reality, but a hammer to shake it. We are catalysts. We go in, we do our thing, we leave. We stir up feelings. The Living Theatre is in the hope business. We are the combatants for peace.”

— Thomas Scott Walker


Zosike has authored seven plays and four solo theater works. She received an Albee Foundation residency, grants from Foundation for Jewish Culture, the New York State Council on the Arts and Bronx Council on the Arts and a Sara Patton Poetry Stipend. Zosike performed extensively with The Living Theatre for 25 years. She currently directs and performs with DADAnewyork and is a co-founder of Action Racket Theatre.


  1. John Penley John Penley March 20, 2024

    I remember photographing the Times Square Not In My Name anti-death penalty protests and many other actions by the Living Theatre. Tom Walker inspired many others, along with Judith Malina, Bob Fass, Julian Beck (all who have passed) and a host of Street Theater pioneers. With our world in flames, East Villagers shot in Tompkins Square Park and random, insane violence all over the city, it is sad that creative street actions for Peace and Social Justice are now just history and, with that history, gone too are the brave and creative radical theater actions that affected not only NYC but inspired people around the world.

  2. Elizabeth Ruf Maldonado Elizabeth Ruf Maldonado March 20, 2024

    Thank you, Joanie and the Sun, for this beautiful tribute to Tom. I have wonderful memories of seeing and hearing Tom in shows at the Living Theatre on East 3rd Street, TNC and Clinton Street, and, more recently, at St. Mark’s Church — and of practicing theater with him over the decades. No one could string Meyerhold’s biomechanical bow like Tom with his expansive arms. I learned the play “Not in My Name” from Tom, and performed it with the Living in Herald Square and in front of the Army Recruiting Center in Times Square when prisoners were executed in the U.S. He brought people together and made the world a better place.

  3. KatGee KatGee March 19, 2024

    A beautiful tribute to the one and only Tom Walker. Thank you, Village Sun and Joanie H.F. Zosike for this wonderful memoriam.

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