Justice For Jeffrey

Loved Ones Say Bullying Caused Broadway Actor To Take His Own Life

July 06, 2018 - 8:36 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- As friends, family and fans mourn the loss of the last original cast member from the Broadway revival of CHICAGO, his loved ones believe he took his own life as a result of bullying. 

Jeffrey Loeffelholz, 57, was a rare male soprano, and because of his ability and vocal range had been a standby actor for the role of Mary Sunshine since the beginning of the show's current revival in 1996. He died June 29, several days after a grueling rehearsal, in which, friends allege, the show's current director, music director and others ridiculed and verbally abused him in what may have been an effort to get him to quit after 22 years, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported.

His partner of more than 30 years, Peter De La Cruz, recalls finding him devastated at home the evening after rehearsal. "He was in the dark in the bedroom and told me what happened, and he cried, and I held him and I assured him it was probably some tactic they were doing," De La Cruz told 1010 WINS.

De La Cruz says Loeffelholz kept notes from the rehearsal, describing alleged insults and a staredown from the show's director Walter Bobbie in front of the cast which left Loeffelholz in a state of shock and confusion, Rincon reported. Music director Leslie Stifleman was even more harsh, according to De La Cruz, in her critique of his signature song. 

"She made him do it over and over again and said he was doing things wrong," De La Cruz told Rincon.

Loeffelholz was crushed, according to De La Cruz. Days later, he was in the hospital after a suspected overdose, believed to have involved a combination of painkillers and alcohol. He died shortly thereafter.

1010 WINS reached out to CHICAGO's producers for comment on the allegations of bullying and harrassment. In a statement, the show's producers said, "The entire CHICAGO family is devastated by the loss of our company member. We are working with Actors Equity to investigate the circumstances around this tragedy."

De La Cruz says Loeffelholz reported the incident to his union, Actors' Equity Association, which promised to investigate.

A statement from AEA says, "Our thoughts are with the cast and all those affected by this tragic situation. Equity has and will continue to engage with the cast and monitor the situation, but due to a pending investigation by the employer, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time."

Loeffelholz appeared in the role on an as-needed basis, sometimes for weeks at a time. Because he was an original company member, he had a rare contract that guaranteed his employment as a standby as long as there was no cause to fire him. He had not appeared in the role, however, in several months.

Jeffrey Loeffelholz as Mary Sunshine/Justice For Jeffrey
De La Cruz and Loeffelholz's longtime friend Mark Newman, who has written a blog entitled Justice For Jeffrey, said the actor always drew a bigger reaction than any other actor who played the role when it's revealed that Mary Sunshine is a man. The soprano was so convincing as a woman, that the reveal always drew laughs and gasps.

Newman says CHICAGO was Loeffelholz's dream job, and that he intended to keep his contract and continue to work as a standby as long as he possibly could. He also had a successful cabaret act. 

"Was it that important to make someone try to quit, just so you could save a few dollars on someone's contract?," Newman said.

They said he had never been suicidal before and had never shown signs of depression, Rincon reported. "No, never," according to De La Cruz. "Everyone loved him. He was such a happy person." 

Both Newman and De La Cruz say the problem of bullying on Broadway goes beyond Loeffelholz and Chicago, and they hope his death draws attention to the issue.

"This was a direct result of what they did to him. This is why he's no longer with us," De La Cruz said.

Funeral arrangements are still pending, but Loeffelholz's friends and family are asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in his name to Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS.