Bradley Mott, a big man of the Chicago theater who scored huge laughs, has died at 64

In Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable soul, marvels at the kindness and joy dispensed to all by his former boss, Mr. Fezziwig. “The happiness he gives,” Scrooge says, “is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

For years at the Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production, Fezziwig was not merely played but exploded in the affirmation of life by one Bradley Mott, a beloved Chicago actor as well known for the joy he dispensed onstage as for his antics and camaraderie behind the scenes.

Mott, 64, died Saturday at his home, surrounded by his family, in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood in Chicago, due to pancreatic cancer. His death was announced by his daughter, Emily Mott Zeimetz. “Thank you for being my rock,” Mott Zeimetz wrote of her father, “and the constant reminder that love is the greatest gift of all; a giant smile and belly laugh being a pretty close second.”

“He just had the biggest heart,” Mott Zeimetz told the Tribune Sunday. “He was the life of the party and his laugh filled the room, whether it was on stage, in a classroom or a coffeeshop. Fezziwig was he and he was Fezziwig.”

”His kindness and exuberance in that role,” said Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman, "was iconic.”

On social media, hundreds of bereft fellow performers wrote their own versions of that truth.

Mott was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich, Conn. But after graduating from Northwestern University, he took to the Chicago stage and its audiences took to him. His first professional job was in the comedy “She Stoops to Conquer” at the Court Theatre in 1978. Thereafter, he worked constantly in most every Chicago theater of note for the next 30 years. Even after his wife, Susan Osborne-Mott, became an Episcopal priest and the pair, both people of faith in service to others, moved back East in 2008, Mott still came back often to perform.

Prior to his death, the couple had returned home to Chicago, Mott’s daughter said.

He was a very poignant actor who did his share of dramatic roles, including working opposite John Malkovich in Falls” Wisdom Bridge Theatre production of Sam Shepard’s “Curse of the Starving Class.” But belly laughs, or the acquisition thereof from members of a Chicago theater audience, were Mott’s speciality. To see how directors understood this and craved Mott in their shows, you need only look at the roles in which the actor, famous for craft and comic timing, was cast over a vast career on the Chicago boards.

Mott played the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2002. In 1998, he essayed the stiffest of butlers in “You Can’t Take it With You” at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. And if you wanted a Rude Mechanical for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream," well, Mott was your man.

He even told a story about showing up naked during a Goodman Theatre production of “Galileo," all in a successful attempt to make the late Brian Dennehy laugh. Generations of Goodman Tiny Tims found him to be a riot.

At Chicago Children’s Theatre, Mott played Toad in “A Year with Frog and Toad.” He was very adept with the comedies of Moliere. And, when David Cromer directed “Miracle on 34th Street” at the old Chicago Center for the Performing Arts in 2002, there was only one actor in his mind for Kris Kringle.

”Bradley Mott,“ said Cromer on Sunday, “was a delicious artist and a delicious person.”

Mott liked to describe himself as a big guy, but very light on his toes: It was an accurate self-observation, often put to good use when he was required to dance. ''I’m not in very good shape by any stretch of the imagination," he told the Tribune in 1989, "but I have an agility that belies my bulk.''

Indeed he did, along with a singular gift for mentoring young people, as honed through his work teaching at both the Latin School of Chicago and Columbia College of Chicago, where he would meet his wife.

“Bradley was hilarious, of course,” said the actor Tom Mula. “But anyone who worked with him, and everyone who knew him, knew what a huge-hearted man he was. His kindness and generosity was a blessing to us all.”

Other survivors include a son, Andrew Mott, and two brothers, Tod Mott and Alex Mott, as well as Bradley Mott’s mother, Nancy Barton-Mott.

Mott Zeimetz said that plans for a memorial service are not yet set but very much in the works.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.


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