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Former PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Star Byron Nease Passes Away

Byron Nease, who originated the role of Raoul in the Canadian production of The Phantom of the Opera, has passed away. He played the role of Raoul for over five years and can be heard on the Original Canadian Cast Recording of the show.

Former 'Phantom' actress Rebecca Caine confirmed the news today on Twitter, posting: "Distraught to tell you that my precious Byron Nease was found dead last night. The bravest man I'll ever know is at peace."

I saw Nease perform as Raoul many times when The Phantom of the Opera was on stage in Toronto, and had always respected and enjoyed him as a performer. Last year, I was one of the lucky few who got to see him perform on stage again in Toronto for the first time in over fifteen years when he joined with Rebecca Caine, his original 'Christine' in the Canadian Company of Phantom as a guest star in her Green Door Cabaret. The two were magic together, and you could clearly see the love and affection they had for each other after so many years.

Nease had a fascinating story, which he told to the world in his book ' Behind the Mask...No More' which discussed his over 1700 performances in the Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster musical, but also took a heartfelt look at the struggles he endured in his personal life.

He was diagnosed with HIV at the height of the epidemic, back when it was still considered to be an immediate death sentence. His story of resilience in the face of a terrible disease is perhaps one of his greatest legacies, as he continued to perform and fight for well over 25 years. Behind the Mask...No More told this story as well as tales of what it was like hiding his identity, sexuality and true self while growing up in California.

It's a story that reminds us all of the importance of life's priorities, of remembering that those in the spotlight have their own struggles that many of us can't imagine, and beyond all else, it's a reminder of the importance of courage and love in the face of suffering.

Seemingly born to be a leading man, Nease has enjoyed tremendous success as a performer. He made his Broadway debut with the legendary Angela Lansbury in MAME, playing the role of Patrick. Nease co-stared in the stage production of Annie Get Your Gun with veteran actress Bonnie Franklin. Audiences across the U.S. have thrilled to his portrayals in Camelot, A Little Night Music, West Side Story, Carousel, and South Pacific, to name a few. His portrayal of Raoul in Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera contrasted sharply to his role as the Phantom in the beautiful Kopit/Yeston Phantom.

Nease has performed in concerts from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl with dozens of symphonies under such illustrious conductors as Skitch Henderson, Peter Nero and Michael Tilson Thomas. Honored to have sung at The White House for, four administrations and spoken in the Senate Chambers, he has also performed high atop New York City at the world renowned Rainbow Room. Nease has sung in over 100 countries around the world.

Below, you can view a video of Nease and Craine performing Phantom of the Opera's 'All I Ask of You', and a reel of some of the late actor's most memorable performances:

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