Johnny Lee Davenport, actor in ‘The Fugitive,’ Chicago plays, dead at 69; UPDATED with services Saturday

Friends and family are invited to gather for fellowship at 10 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 29) at Progressive Baptist Church, 275 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora. A service is to follow at 11 a.m.

SHARE Johnny Lee Davenport, actor in ‘The Fugitive,’ Chicago plays, dead at 69; UPDATED with services Saturday
Actor Johnny Lee Davenport.

Actor Johnny Lee Davenport.

Gray Talent Group

Actor Johnny Lee Davenport uttered one of the most Chicago of lines about a Chicago icon in one of the most Chicago of movies.

It happened when Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones ) eavesdrops on a wiretap as he tries to track “The Fugitive” — Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford).

Gerard and other deputies lean in to monitor Kimble’s call to his lawyer. Kimble says he’s calling from St. Louis.The rumble of a train can be heard.

And Mr. Davenport, playing Marshal Henry, cracks the case.

“I might be crazy,” he says, “but that train sounds like an L.”

Gerard scoffs: “Well, then you can explain the difference in the sound of an elevated train as opposed to a train that’s running along the ground. You must have ears like an eagle.”

As they fine-tune the recording, they hear a CTA announcement: “Next stop, Merchandise Mart.”

“Son of a bitch,” Jones marvels. “Our boy came home.”

Mr. Davenport, who also did Shakespeare on stage and had TV roles on shows including “Law & Order” and “Empire,” died Sunday in the Boston area, where the West Aurora High School graduate lived with his wife Kelly Cook. She said the cause was leukemia. He was 69.

Mr. Davenport, who performed on many Chicago stages, had planned to appear as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s “Fences” this year at New Repertory Theatre, said Michael J. Bobbitt, artistic director of the Watertown, Massachusetts, theater company.

“It’s a loss for Chicago, Boston and just everyone,” said Maurice Emmanuel Parent, executive director of the Front Porch Arts Collective, a black theater company in Boston.

He was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up in Aurora. In high school, he appeared in the musical “Carousel.”

“That is where he got the [acting] bug,” his wife said.

He went on to college at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he helped start an acting company.

Mr. Davenport served in the Army in Vietnam, his wife said.

In the 1990s, he appeared on stage in shows including “Everyman” and “Nomathemba” at Steppenwolf Theatre, “Miss Julie” and “Comedians” at Court Theatre and, at the Goodman Theatre, “Cry, the Beloved Country” and “I Am a Man.”

“He would tell stories about performing in Chicago and how much he loved it there,” Parent said.

Chicago audiences also saw him in many works of Shakespeare. including “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Othello.”

“He had a lifetime goal of doing every play that Shakespeare ever wrote,” said Kieran Campion, a theater agent with Chicago’s Gray Talent Group, which represented Mr. Davenport. “I think he was only two or three plays short.”

In recent years, Mr. Davenport toured the country in the one-man show “Thurgood,” about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice.

“That has been his calling card for the last decade or so,” Campion said.

“He was one of the earliest champions of our work,” said Dawn Meredith Simmons, artistic director of the Front Porch Arts Collective.

He originated the role of Great Grand Daddy Deus, a Zeus-like, Afrocentric deity, in a 2019 co-production of “black odyssey boston” by the Front Porch Arts Collective and Underground Railway Theater.

“Right from the beginning, we knew he was the lead,” Simmons said. His voice was “unmistakable — it is decades of power and training. . . .It is commanding and can stop you in your tracks.”

Mr. Davenport also was an approachable, generous mentor to fledgling actors. He tutored them on monologues from Shakespeare and the Greek classics.

“He taught them to understand what they were actually saying,” Simmons said. “You could see the difference when those students went into an audition.”

In the movies, Mr. Davenport appeared in movies including “Chain Reaction,” “Ted,” “Joy” and “The Package.”

More recently, he portrayed Harold in Showtime’s “Work in Progress,” filmed in Chicago.

Parent said his trademark expression was: “I’ll keep a good thought for you.”

In his final hours, his wife wanted him to be able to listen to the Super Bowl. So she placed the volume control near his ear.

“The Chiefs were down 20-10,” his wife wrote. “I wasn’t paying much attention, but when I looked up at the end, Patrick Mahomes (a quarterback Johnny loved) had led his team to a 31-20 victory. I’d like to think Johnny’s energy had something to do with changing the tide of the game.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Davenport is survived by his daughter Celia Davenport, sister Richea Dougherty, a grandson, four nieces and three nephews.

Friends and family are invited to gather for fellowship at 10 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 29) at Progressive Baptist Church, 275 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora. A service is to follow at 11 a.m.

Contributing: Lee Bey

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