As chief theater critic and culture columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones is used to getting lots of story pitches from people who read him. But few come postmortem.
In the Tribune’s Arts and Entertainment section Thursday, Jones wrote an obituary of theater preservationist Ray Shepardson, who committed suicide Monday, according to police, by jumping off the roof of the parking lot at the Hollywood Casino near the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
In the fifth paragraph of the piece, Jones noted that Shepardson, 70, “had left behind, in a note, a small group of last wishes. This obituary — published in this newspaper, by this writer — is the fulfillment of one of those requests.”
Calling it “a truly sad and strange story,” Jones shared his conflicted reaction to fulfilling Shepardson’s final wish.
“Coming into the office on Wednesday, that was not what I expected to be doing,” Jones told me. “We had a complex relationship. Ray was relentless. You had to be rude to get him off the phone. But I admired his passion. Arguably, he saved downtown Cleveland. Not to mention the Chicago Theatre.
“Obviously, one does not ordinarily get to order up one’s obituary and writer. On the other hand, what reasonable person does not fulfill such a request from a widow whose husband has committed suicide? I think the feeling here in the tower [Tribune Tower] was that the issue was moot. Shepardson’s projects were significant. The obit would have been done anyway, and I would have done it.”
In the obit, Jones quoted this passage from Shepardson’s note: “To Chicago, I wanted to die at the site of the grandest theatrical experiences I have ever had. . . . I am so proud I had some small part in them. The buy two, get two shows free is my concept. My message is subscribe now! You will always remember the shows you will see at the Paramount. Memories are everything.”