Camille D’Ambrose, a lifelong theater artist known as an inspiring teacher and honest actor, died Sunday evening. She was 63 and had been diagnosed with lung cancer last November.
"There was no artifice in her work and she had quick access to her emotions," said her husband, Allen Hamilton, also an actor. "The highest compliment I can give her acting is that it was personal and true."
In addition to her husband, D’Ambrose’s brother, Stephen, is an actor — as is his wife Barbara Kingsley and their children, Cooper and Maggie. Stephen D’Ambrose recalled as a child that Camille would lead him and all their cousins in theatrical productions up at the lake.
"I don’t know if we invented karoake, but she’d have us doing these skits to records," he said. "Theater was always a part of our lives and I followed her into that."
Stephen D’Ambrose said his sister was "pretty much the same off and on stage. She was generous, loving, always interested in what you had to say even if she didn’t agree with it."
D’Ambrose acted at the Cricket, Brave New Workshop, Illusion, Jungle and the Guthrie in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. She spent several years in Los Angeles in the 1970s with her then-husband, novelist Thomas Gifford. A few years after returning to the Twin Cities, she and Hamilton were cast in Harold Pinter’s "Betrayal" at the Illusion.
"I can still remember, though 30 years have passed, seeing her across the stage from me and feeling that precious rapport between us in ‘Betrayal,’" Hamilton said.
D’Ambrose also directed and taught for many years at Metro State University, where she was instrumental in developing a theater degree. She also was a sought-after voiceover talent.
"Her sense of nuance within a character was just extraordinary," said Bain Boehlke, artistic director at the Jungle, where D’Ambrose’s 2005 performance in "Honor" won Star Tribune praise as the year’s best performance by an actor.
Actor and friend Shirley Venard said D'Ambrose was terribly generous on stage. "She and Charles [Nolte] were the two most generous actors I've ever worked with," Venard said late Monday afternoon.
D’Ambrose survived a bout with leukemia 12 years ago. This time, however, her decline was swift, said Hamilton.
"On February 14th, she was smiling, sitting on our couch and I hired a violinist to come play ‘Fascination’ for her," he said.
Hamilton said he will arrange a memorial service at a local theater late this month or early in April.