The Twin Cities has lost one of its most enigmatic and engaging stage presences.
Phil Kilbourne, 61, an actor known for essaying wonky, spooky roles in the Twin Cities and comic ones in the Boston area, died Saturday, April 6 on the two-year anniversary of his diagnosis for metastatic melanoma.
“He always had a great sense of occasion and timing,” said Marysue Moses, his high school sweetheart and widow. “I thought he may have left us on Easter, but that’s Jesus’ day. Then we thought that maybe he would’ve left us on April Fools. That also would’ve been very much like him.”
Kilbourne performed on many stages in the Twin Cities. He brought gentleness and humor to a range of characters in Penumbra Theatre's productions of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," “Dinah Was,” “Black Eagles,” “Sex Diary of an Infidel” and “I Wish You Love.”
“He won a place in the company with his wit and solid craft that didn’t get in the way of his work,” said Penumbra's Lou Bellamy. “Phil could play any role and play it well. He just got lost in his characters and was a dream to be around.”
Kilbourne also was a regular at the Jungle, where he played a Russian scientist in “Hapgood,” a packrat in “The Dazzle” and the devil in "The Seafarer."
“He was a popular Jungle actor not only with me but with our audience,” said Jungle founder Bain Boehlke, who directed Kilbourne in a number of plays. “He was very intelligent and was excellent at accents. Phil always brought very imaginative choices to the table.”
For three decades, Kilbourne returned every summer to the Boston area, where he had done his undergraduate degree, to play swells and bon vivants in Noel Coward comedies.
“He had this bifurcated career,” said Moses, who owns and runs a theater training school in St. Paul. “People on the East Coast knew him as this comic guy and here he played these enigmatic physicist-devil characters.”
Born March 27, 1952 in Alexandria, Va., Kilbourne was raised in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He was named after both parents. His father, also named Phil Kilbourne, was a pediatrician. His mother, Phyllis (but called Phil) was a nurse and real estate agent. As a child, he was called Flip.
Encouraged by his mother, Kilbourne got the theater bug early, and earned his undergraduate degree in acting at Boston University and a master’s of fine arts in directing from The Ohio State University.
He worked in Ohio, San Francisco and other places before moving to the Twin Cities in 1997 to marry Moses, with whom he had gone to high school. Both of their previous respective marriages had ended.
“He was so funny,” said Moses. “We both enjoyed language and went through phases where we talked with nothing but English accents for months.”
Besides Moses, of St. Paul, Kilbourne is survived by stepdaughter Eliza Swanson, of Philadelphia, and siblings Kathy DiVittorio of Nahant, Mass., Tom Kilbourne of Harwich Port, Mass., Anne Hamilton of Morgan, Vt., Peter Kilbourne of Monroe, Conn., and two nephews.
Kilbourne’s body was cremated. A memorial service will be held at the Jungle in late spring.
“In the last month, as his memory got bad, he would be trying to say something and then become confused,” said Moses. “Then he would turn around and say, ‘I’ve still got it. I just don’t know where I put it.’”