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Disabled LA Playwright and Activist John Belluso Dies
New York City police say foul play not suspected
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-02-15 16:24 (KST)   
Associated Press Writer

Playwright John Belluso, who championed the rights of the disabled in both his work and through the Los Angeles-based writer's program he helped direct, has died at age 36.

Belluso was found dead Friday in his room at a Manhattan hotel, New York police Det. Chris Filippazzo told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday.

The cause of death was under investigation, but Filippazzo said foul play was not suspected. Belluso, who used a wheelchair, was afflicted with a debilitating bone disease called Engleman-Camurdrie Syndrome, according to friends.

"Clearly there were moments of pain, when he didn't feel as whole as he wanted to, and took medicine," said Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum.

"He was a good storyteller, and he wanted to tell the stories of the disabled from a personal point of view," added Davidson, who produced Belluso's 2001 play "The Body of Bourne," about Randolph Bourne, a World War I pacifist and writer disfigured by childhood spinal tuberculosis.

The playwright, who lived in Los Angeles, had been staying in New York while he completed "The Poor Itch," a play about a disabled American veteran returning from Iraq. It had been commissioned by New York's Public Theater.

"John was an incredibly important writer, both in his own right, and as a leading advocate for writers and artists with disabilities," said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater. "It's a terrible, terrible loss."

Until last July, Belluso had helped direct the Taper's Other Voices Project, a development program for writers with disabilities.

Los Angeles playwright Luis Alfaro said Belluso's works challenged stereotypes of disability.

"He wrote very defiant works about disabled people," said Alfaro, citing in particular 2002's "Pyretown," a scathing look at America's managed health care system that is told through the story of a romance between a divorced mother of three and a young man in a wheelchair. The couple meet at a hospital emergency room where the mother is seeking help for a sick child.

Other works included "Gretty Good Time," about a 32-year-old woman with post-polio paralysis living in a nursing home; "Traveling Skin," about a New Jersey waitress with cerebral palsy; and "Henry Flamethrowa," in which a miracle-imbued comatose girl is visited by those praying to be healed from illness.

Funeral services were pending, but Eustis said a memorial service was scheduled Feb. 27 at New York's Public Theater.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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