Iconic actor Bucky Walsh, a longtime Westerly resident, dies at 90
Iconic actor Bucky Walsh, a longtime Westerly resident, dies at 90
April 27, 2017 08:01PM
By Nancy Burns-Fusaro
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — Arthur “Bucky” Walsh, the legendary, much-loved local actor who once said he’d prefer to be remembered as the sidekick to his wife of 52 years — the late Nikki Bruno — rather than for his role in a movie with Julia Roberts, died Wednesday afternoon at the Royal of Westerly Nursing Center on Beach Street, surrounded by his children. He was 90 years old.
The cause was a combination of complications associated with leukemia and pneumonia, said his son, Christopher J. Walsh of Westerly. His father has been in failing health for about two years, Walsh said.
Bucky Walsh, who alongside his wife performed throughout New England in productions of “Love Letters” during the early 1990s, also acted regularly for the Colonial Theatre, Theatre-By-The-Sea and the Stage Door Theater Company.
Over the last half-century, Walsh acted on screen, stage and television, on Broadway with Jose Ferrer, in commercials and in summer stock productions.
He was a man who had a perpetual smile upon on his face, a hearty laugh and was always quick to tell a joke.
He was also a director involved with his community who once organized a production of “Our Town” at the old Immaculate Conception School. Walsh said in a 2011 interview that he and Nikki — who were married on Valentine’s Day in 1953 — moved to Westerly when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to California in 1957.
“I was out of a job,” he said, explaining that he did the live broadcasts before and after the Dodgers’ games.
The veteran actors were professionals to their core. When they heard that Tommy Brent, the longtime theater producer, was doing summer stock at Theatre-By-The-Sea, they drove straight to Matunuck and requested an interview. Despite the hesitations of a protective assistant, Brent overheard Bruno and Walsh and came rushing out of his office.
“Wait, wait,” said Brent, who helped introduce up-and-coming performers like Cherry Jones, Tovah Feldshuh, Michael McGrath and Frances Sternhagen in summer productions and is credited with twice saving the theater from demise.
Turning to Bruno he asked, “Can you do a Jewish accent?”
Bruno and Walsh went on to work with Brent for the next 16 years.
In recent years he performed with Marion Markham at various charity events and at the annual Guy Fawkes Day event at Misquamicut Beach. Until his health prevented him from participating, he was a staple in the Colonial’s Shakespeare in the Park summertime productions.
Harland Meltzer, the founder and artistic director of the Colonial Theatre, fought back tears as he recalled how Bruno and Walsh embraced and supported him when he first came to town in the 1980s.
“They were pillars of the theater in Westerly and a huge part of my life,” said Meltzer, who directed the couple in a number of plays. “They were so much fun ... and such a pair. They were the biggest supporters I had.”
“Bucky was great ... he was indefatigable ... he always did what needed to be done,” added Meltzer who last directed Walsh in Shakespeare in the Park’s “The Tempest ” several summers ago. “He was a really talented actor.”
Meltzer’s tears turned to laughter as he recalled the many shared moments with Bruno and Walsh and the many “Bucky” antics he witnessed over the years.
“He was also famous for using the script as a launching pad instead of the definitive document,” said Meltzer with a chuckle. “But the theater was his lifeblood ... his oxygen.”
“He was one of the very few really talented actors I’ve had the joy to work with,” added Meltzer. “He was always up for whatever ... he always had a twinkle in his eye and he lifted the spirits of everyone around him.”
Markham, who performed regularly with Walsh over the years, said he had “the most upbeat disposition of anyone I’ve ever met.”
“He was an iconic actor [who] could always deliver ... and he loved to laugh,” said Markham, who has met regularly with Walsh for breakfast or lunch. “Had so many friends that every time we had our breakfast date he would run into someone he knew.”
“He was so proud of his children and grandchildren,” added Markham, and he was “deeply in love with Nikki.”
“He loved ice cream,” she added. “I will miss his ever-smiling moon face and twinkling eyes.”
Westerly filmmaker Eugene J. Celico, the founder and artistic director of Stage Door Theater Company, first met Walsh in 1976 when the two were working at Theatre-By-The-Sea. Walsh was directing “Equus,” at the time, Celico said.
“There are almost too many stories to tell about the life of such a dynamic person,” said Celico, who directed Bruno and Walsh in his award-winning film, “The Tournament.” “Bucky was a true man of the theater.”
“He had a controlled vanity about him ... something he’d let go of now and again,” said Celico, who last directed Walsh in Stage Door’s 2010 production of “Twelve Angry Men.” “He’d let go and let you know just how good he was.”
“He was an inspiration and he’ll be sadly missed,” added Celico. “A man like Bucky touched so many people ... when he was anywhere near you, you were engaged ... whether you were in theater or not. He was a very important man.”
Walsh, whose many roles on stage and screen included an appearance in “Mystic Pizza,” several performances on Broadway, and dozens of commercials and television appearances, caught the acting bug as an apprentice while building sets.
In a 2011 interview with The Sun, he said one of his proudest accomplishments was doing two different performances in one day.
He was acting in “I Remember Mama,” which was a live, nationally broadcast TV show in the afternoon, and had to perform in “Stalag 17” on Broadway that night.
“I changed costumes in a cab going from the TV show to the play,” he said at the time.
In another interview with The Sun, Walsh spoke about his role in the movie with the woman named “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” by People magazine just days ago.
“I had a good part in ‘Mystic Pizza,’ and Julia Roberts couldn’t keep her hands off me,” Walsh jested.
But Walsh was a family man through and through. In 1980, when Bruno and Walsh’s son, Kevin Bruno Walsh, died, they vowed to keep his memory alive. They loved to tell their grandchildren stories about him, referred to their “Uncle Kevin” frequently and took great pleasure in choosing a recipient for the Kevin Bruno Walsh Scholarship, awarded each year to a student pursuing an education at the University of Rhode Island.
When asked, in a 2011 interview, how he most enjoyed spending his time, the grandfather of 13 and father of five said, “Watching the Sox, the Pats and my granddaughters’ softball games.”
“He had so many parts to his life,” said his daughter, Nicolina Bianchi. “But we will always remember him as a wonderful father and a great grandfather ... and the world’s best baby-holder.”
Bianchi said when her twin nieces were born 25 years ago, her parents would arrive at her sister and brother-in-law’s house at midnight, and stay awake through the night, feeding the babies and rocking them to sleep so their exhausted parents could close their eyes.
“We don’t know how we’ll get along without him,” said Bianchi Thursday morning as she sat with her siblings, crying, laughing and reminiscing. “He loved everyone ... he loved Westerly and he loved the people of Westerly.”