Fayard Nicholas, the Tony Award winner and Kennedy Center honoree who was half of the groundbreaking Nicholas Brothers tap dance team, died Tuesday at home in Burbank. Fayard and his late brother Harold amazed audiences with their no-hands splits and athletic performances on Broadway and in films such as The Ziegfeld Follies and Stormy Weather. Dancers from Fred Astaire to Gregory Hines and Savion Glover credited the Nicholas Brothers with inspiring their art. Until recently, I'm told, Fayard Nicholas could be spotted around Los Angeles teaching master classes, telling stories about his film and stage career and sitting down front at performances of local groups including Arlene Kennedy's Kennedy Tap Company and Lynn Dally's Jazz Tap Ensemble. From the Bob Thomas-written AP obituary:
Their trademark no-hands splits — in which they not only went down but sprang back up again without using their hands for balance — left film audiences wide-eyed. The legendary choreographer George Balanchine called it ballet, despite their lack of formal training....
The great dancer and actor Gregory Hines, who died in 2003 at age 57, once said that if a film were ever made about their lives, the dance numbers would have to be computer-generated because nobody could duplicate them.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune (among other websites) have the Thomas obituary up. Nothing at the L.A. Times site as of 11:15 pm, even though the first photo hit the AP wire before 10 am. There's a gallery of photos at NicholasBrothers.com.
A Nicholas Brothers fan emails: "About three years ago I saw Elaine Stritch's one-woman show at the Ahmanson. After the final curtain I was heading to my car when I saw Mr. Fayard, his wife and a friend enjoying a late-night champagne picnic on the plaza. I recognized him and stopped a few moments to talk -- mostly about the show we'd all just seen, but also to thank him for his contributions to dance. He invited me to sit with them and I wish to this day I hadn't felt as if I'd be an intruder that evening. It was a thrill just to have crossed paths with him."
* LAT catches up: (12:15 am Thursday) The obit by Dennis McLellan and Lewis Segal in Thursday's paper says that Nicholas lived in Toluca Lake. They add this quote from Mikhail Baryshnikov: "The most amazing dancers I have ever seen in my life — ever."
** Blog tribute: Bill Reed remembers his friend, with a recent photo of Nicholas and his wife Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas by David Ehrenstein. Also, friend Rusty Frank has been collecting a fund for Nicholas' healthcare and announced the death.