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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal Drama Critic, Dies at Age 65

Terry Teachout, a prolific New York-based biographer and essayist who wrote exuberantly about drama for The Wall Street Journal, died early Thursday at a friend’s home in Smithtown, N.Y. He was 65 years old.

His companion, Cheril Mulligan, said a cause of death hadn’t yet been determined.

Mr. Teachout had written drama reviews for the Journal regularly since 2003. “He could never be pigeonholed,” said Eric Gibson, editor of the Journal’s Arts in Review pages. “Terry was never predictable.”

He was known for his biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Balanchine and H.L. Mencken. He also wrote plays and librettos.

Born Feb. 6, 1956, he grew up in Sikeston, Mo. His father was a hardware salesman, and his mother was a receptionist and secretary. Mr. Teachout evoked his childhood in a 1991 memoir, “City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy.”

Terry Teachout celebrated a performance of his play ‘Satchmo At The Waldorf’ in March 2014 in New York, along with director Gordon Edelstein, center, and actor John Douglas Thompson.


Walter McBride/Getty Images

Sikeston, he wrote, was “still a place where people salute the flag and don’t ask for receipts, where everybody knows who your parents were and what they did for a living. It is narrow and kind and decent and good, and I am blessed to have been raised in its shabby, forgiving bosom.”

As a teenager, he had the role of the fiddler in a local production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and played in a country band called Sour Mash.

In 1979, he graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where he studied journalism and music. He then worked as a bank teller in Kansas City, Mo., and wrote reviews for the Kansas City Star while finding gigs as a jazz bassist and striving to establish himself as a writer. Unsatisfied with his progress there, he moved to New York in the 1980s.

He obtained an editing internship at Harper’s magazine and later wrote editorials for the New York Daily News. He also worked as a contributor of essays and criticism for a variety of publications, including the National Review, while establishing himself as a biographer.

His wife, Hilary Dyson Teachout, died in 2020 after a double-lung transplant. He is survived by a brother, David Teachout.

In an October blog post, he announced that he had fallen in love with Ms. Mulligan and described her as “a theater-and-film buff.”

On Twitter, he described himself as a “critic, biographer, playwright, director, unabashed Steely Dan fan, ardent philosemite.”

Though he led a sophisticated life of culture in New York, Mr. Teachout retained some of his small-town earnestness. “I still wear plaid shirts and think in Central Standard Time,” he wrote in his memoir. “I still eat tuna casserole with potato chips on top and worry about whether the farmers back home will get enough rain this year.”

Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

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Appeared in the January 14, 2022, print edition as ‘Journal Critic Grew From Roots In Small Town.’


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