Remembering Phil Kilbourne

Actor Phil Kilbourne finished performing his finest role this past weekend – his own.

Kilbourne, 61, spent much of the past two years battling cancer. A regular performer at both the Jungle Theater and Penumbra, Kilbourne’s roles often had an air of mortality about them, whether he was playing the devil in “The Seafarer” or the ghost of a king in “Hamlet.”


Phil Kilbourne’s headshot

Friends and colleagues remember him for both his professionalism, his humor and for the grace with which he dealt with his illness.

From actor Stephen Yoakam:

Foremost in the present is how vast, far-flung and loyal his community of friends, colleagues and admirers has been over the last two years of his journey. And how incredibly generous, forthright and humorous he and especially his wife Mary Sue have been in sharing all this with all of us through Caring Bridge.

As for Mr. Phil…plain and simple, this was one hell of an actor and one fun person to be in the same room with. Witty, acerbic, most always the smartest guy in the room, he was also warm, giving and kind at the end of the day. An encyclopedic knowledge of film, Shakespeare and trivia that would leave you shaking your head and going “How the hell does he remember all this?!” For those who had the pleasure of his company, when we think of him, most times we will laugh first, then continue to smile long after at his vivid spirit. A helluva guy.


Phil Kilbourne, far left, as the devil in the Jungle Theater’s production of Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer”

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Lou Bellamy, Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre:

Phill won a place in our company several years ago. He’s been in at least 4 shows at PTC. All directed by me. We’ve traveled together in shows in Arizona, Connecticut, and Washington D.C. What I think the company will miss most is Phil’s craft and humor. He was a consummate actor who made no big deal about his mastery of craft. With Phil, it was simply “taken for granted.” In several of the shows he did at PTC, he had to play multiple roles in the same show. Each character was distinct and well-rounded. I remember when he began dealing with his illness. None of us knew what was happening, but we knew that Phil’s memory wasn’t as reliable as it had been. In true Phil fashion, when I would call him on some detail that he had forgotten, he’d make some joke about his mistake. Something like, “Sure, blame it on the white guy.” Even when he began to be seriously affected by his illness, while we were touring, he still found great humor in his situation. A model of courage and style.


Phil Kilbourne in Penumbra Theatre’s production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Photo by Michal Daniel

From actor Sam Landman:

When I first met Phil Kilbourne, he scared the s**t out of me. We were doing a show at Penumbra together. And along with a boatload of other anxieties I was having at the time, Phil seemed like an oppressive, belittling character… There’s no doubt that he was an imposing presence to me. And I soon learned that THAT’S what great artists do. They challenge you to bring your A-game. They have a way of keeping you from being lazy. But mostly they live in a way that inspires you to follow. Phil was the epitome of a working actor. He travelled where the work was & brought that formidable talent with him. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, he kept working. All the way up until his body betrayed him.


Stephen d’Ambrose and Phil Kilbourne in “The Dazzle” at the Jungle Theater

Photo by Michal Daniel

From actor Joel Liestman:

Two years ago my wife and I ran into Phil and Marysue at the hospital. We were on our way in to see our newborn son who was still at Abbott (he was premature) and Phil was being discharged, finally, after his first long bout with cancer. No matter what I did to ask how he was doing and how happy I was to see him out, he only wanted to talk about our little boy. In typical Phil fashion he looked at our tired, new-parent faces and said, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help out.” That’s Phil.

From Bain Boehlke, Artistic Director of The Jungle Theater:

Phil Kilbourne was a favorite Jungle actor – not just of our audiences but of mine as a director. Phil appeared in a number of shows on the Jungle stage and always turned in terrific performances -performances that were nuanced and savvy. Always fun to work with, he was upbeat, witty, and congenial. We shall miss him here.

From actor/director Charlie Bethel:

I directed Phil in a solo version of Xmas Carol he adapted. He really was a tremendous spirit with a huge heart and an incisive brain. The world will be the worse, lacking him.

Do you have memories of Phil Kilbourne that you’d like to share? Please feel free to add your story in the comments section.