The first time Nicky Margolis saw comedian Niki Moran perform, it was a solo show in 2002 for iO Theatre.
Mrs. Moran walked onto the stage, oozing confidence, nunchucks swinging from her hand. Intense music filled the theater as she took her spot on stage, and all Margolis could think was, “She’s gonna really use these nunchucks!”
She was right — sort of. Instead of being the master martial artist expertly swinging nunchucks around, Mrs. Moran ended up just beating herself up.
“I remember sitting in the audience crying-laughing because that was just, to me, the essence of Niki,” said Margolis. “She always surprised you.”
Margolis was Mrs. Moran’s coach, and even then, she could tell Mrs. Moran was a shining star.
Mrs. Moran — an actor, a writer, a comedian, a singer and a dancer — died Tuesday morning after a three-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, her family confirmed in a Facebook post Thursday. She was 45.
“It seems impossible that her irrepressible light has been extinguished. If you knew Niki, you experienced her authentic goodness, her overwhelming generosity, her unselfish love, and her next-level crazy sense of humor,” her brother Kjell Lindgren wrote for the family. “She was the model of courage in the face of adversity and unrelenting pain. Her radiant smile blessed us until the end. She will be deeply missed.”
She had shared the news of her diagnosis in July on Facebook. Despite a hormone suppressant treatment plan, Mrs. Moran wrote, the cancer had spread from her spine to several other parts of her body. She’d been given five years at most to live.
During Moran’s Chicago years, she was known as Niki Lindgren. Her love of performing arts brought her to the Annoyance Theatre and iO Chicago, where she became part of a team called Bevy, notable for being entirely female but also for the performers’ commitment to supporting one another.
“If someone gets a good laugh, everyone is proud of it,” Moran told the Sun-Times in 2003.
Mrs. Moran first performed with the Second City in 2002 and remained active there until 2008, co-writing and performing in three revues at the e.t.c. theater.
As is Second City custom, she played many roles in every show. In her first, “Immaculate Deception, (2005), she appeared as school pageant director as well as a no-nonsense obstetrician trying to divide an expecting couple. Most strikingly, she played a steely-eyed Chinese restaurant owner who would make withering comments to the other actors. Then, turning to the audience, she’d ask some of them questions — and say devastating things about them, too.
“I actually kind of forgot that she did that!” Margolis said with a laugh. She had co-starred with Mrs. Moran in “Immaculate Deception,” as well as her other e.t.c. shows: “Disposable Nation” and “Pratfall of Civilization.”
“She had such a rapport with [the audience] that they were almost welcoming,” Margolis added. “She just had an ability to really express herself in a way that was so daring, and yet made everybody feel safe. She was that sort of living paradox.”
In a statement, The Second City said it was “devastated” by the news of Mrs. Moran’s death.
“Niki’s creative prowess was only outshone by her big heart and fearless spirit,” the statement, posted to Facebook, read. “Our hearts go out to her husband Joe [Moran], her family, her colleagues in the improv community, and the countless lives she touched during her lifetime. Niki approached her illness the same way she approached her life: with a limitless capacity for laughter.”
Accompanying the post was a video, posted in January 2019 after her diagnosis, showing Mrs. Moran as her husband shaves off her hair. She bows her head briefly when the deed is done before a jump cut shows her dramatically snapping her head up, in perfect makeup and a gold bodysuit with a red cape.
She and her husband, dressed in a green bodysuit and blue Speedo, run through an alley, a playground, a front porch, dancing in their costumes. And it’s all to the soundtrack of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
“It tells you everything you need to know about Niki,” said Margolis. “It’s all at once so funny and amazing and then you’re just crying because that’s just Niki’s spirit.”
Mrs. Moran’s family will hold a “celebration of life” on Nov. 6 in northern Virginia, where she and her husband Joe Moran lived with their dog, Loki, near her parents.