The Twin Cities has lost one of its most enigmatic and engaging stage presences.
Phil Kilbourne, 61, a highly regarded character actor, died Saturday on the two-year anniversary of his diagnosis for metastatic melanoma.
“He always had a great sense of occasion and timing,” said Kilbourne’s wife, Marysue Moses. “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 would’ve been very much like him.”
Kilbourne performed at many Twin Cities theaters. He brought gentleness and a devious sense of humor to 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,” Penumbra’s Lou Bellamy said. “Phil could play any role and play it well. He just got lost in his characters and was a dream to be around.”
Kilbourne was a regular at the Jungle Theater, where he played a Russian scientist in “Hapgood,” a pack rat 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 several plays. “He was very intelligent and was excellent at accents. Phil always brought very imaginative choices to the table.”
For three decades, Kilbourne spent his summers in New England — he earned his undergraduate degree at Boston University — playing swells and bons vivants in Noël Coward comedies.
“He had this bifurcated career,” said Moses, who owned and ran a theater training company 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, N.J. 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.
Encouraged by his mother, Kilbourne got the theater bug early. He earned a master’s of fine arts in directing from 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,” Moses said. “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 other relatives.
Kilbourne’s body was cremated. A memorial service will be held June 10 at the Jungle Theater.
“In the last month, as his memory got bad, he would be trying to say something and then become confused,” Moses said. “Then he would turn around and say, ‘I’ve still got it. I just don’t know where I put it.’ ”