Michael McGrath, the veteran stage actor who received a Tony Award for his performance in the musical Nice Work If You Can Get It, has died. He was 65.
McGrath died unexpectedly in his sleep Thursday at his home in Bloomfield, New Jersey, his publicist told The Hollywood Reporter. No cause of death has been determined.
A regular in Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and musical comedy productions, McGrath had starring turns in Plaza Suite, Tootsie, Memphis, Born Yesterday and Wonderful Town. He was also the first actor to play Patsy, King Arthur’s long-suffering sidekick, in Spamalot, which earned him his first Tony nomination.
“Very saddened to hear that Michael McGrath, our first and most beloved Patsy in Spamalot, has passed away,” Idle wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Warm hugs to all the Spamalot family and very happy memories of a lovely man.”
McGrath was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on Sept. 25, 1957. He graduated from St. Peter’s High School in Worcester and attended the Boston Conservatory, leaving after three months to pursue a career in acting.
He began on the stage in Worcester before moving to Boston and garnering attention with a run in Gerard Alessandrini’s musical comedy Forbidden Broadway from 1985-89. One of his co-stars in Forbidden Broadway was Toni DuBuono, whom he would marry.
“Forbidden Broadway has always been one of the hardest shows I’ve ever done,” McGrath said in an interview about the production that proved his breakout. “It’s like doing an opera every night. It was 24 songs a night.”
McGrath moved to New York and gained his first Broadway credit in 1992 as part of the Joseph Dougherty musical My Favorite Year. During the 1990s, he also had parts in The Goodbye Girl, Swinging on a Star and the revival of Neil Simon’s Little Me, where he played one of the Buchsbaum brothers alongside Martin Short.
His performance in Swinging on a Star earned him his first Drama Desk nomination in 1996.
His first major Broadway role came in Wonderful Town, playing Chick Clark from 2003-05. By now an established stage talent, he was cast in Spamalot, Eric Idle’s musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The high-profile production opened in Chicago in 2004 and moved to Broadway the following year, with McGrath as King Arthur’s coconut-clopping servant.
“It was an amazing time in my life to work with such people as Mike Nichols and Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce,” McGrath said in an interview in 2014 about working on Spamalot. “When the project was first presented to me, I thought, ‘How the hell are they gonna do a musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail?’ I just couldn’t see it. Nonetheless, when I was told that Mike Nichols was directing it, I jumped at the chance to be involved.”
McGrath, who sang Idle’s iconic “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” in Spamalot, starred in the production for 2 1/2 years and earned Tony and Drama Desk nominations for best featured actor in a musical in 2005.
In 2012, he scored his Tony and a Drama Desk prize for portraying Cookie McGee in Nice Work If You Can Get It.
His other notable Broadway credits include originating the role of Mr. Simmons in 2009’s Memphis, playing Ralph Kramden in the 2017 musical stage adaptation of the classic sitcom The Honeymooners and portraying the agent Stan Fields in 2018’s Tootsie.
Outside of theater, McGrath was Short’s announcer and sidekick on The Martin Short Show, the short-lived syndicated talk show that birthed the Jiminy Glick character, and had minor roles in the features Changing Lanes (2002) and The Interpreter (2005).
In addition to his wife of 30 years, survivors include his daughter, actress Katie Claire McGrath.