Remembering John Aylward. Fondly.


John Aylward, the beloved Seattle actor who died May 16, once bailed us out with one of his quietest performances. A fine carpenter and a troubled soul had just died of a very unexpected drug overdose. It was the middle of the ’80s. The carpenter for some reason had made it clear, if anything happened to him, he wanted a proper service. We made some calls, a lot of calls, and used some influence, but no minister of any religion needed this one on the resume.

We rented a room for a Sunday afternoon memorial at the Westin Hotel. Norman Durkee, the Seattle musician/composer who had like many, a great affection for the carpenter, had a piano moved into the room and secured 30 black umbrellas to stay open during the service, to set the tone. 

Someone suggested we call John Aylward, who was then a star actor at the Seattle Repertory Theater. John accepted without pause. He went to the costume room at the Rep and arrived at the Westin as Father John. Actor John also had a great affection for the carpenter. Father John never flinched. He performed the ceremony. He spoke a short piece about carpenters, and honor, and he stayed until every single person had spoken with him about what was important. Durkee played the piano quietly, and movingly, throughout.

It was a great surprise, but the carpenter’s parents, from Colorado, were at the service. And they were honored. Father John shook everyone’s hand and was gone.

We never talked about it. In the early 1970s, there was almost nothing going on, except The Empty Space Theater, started by John Aylward and others. On Monday, John Aylward died, at 75, after a long career of wonderful acting. I last heard him perform at the Virginia Inn, on Christmas Eve, when he read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the few of us who were working late that day. Goodbye, Father John.

Peter Miller
Peter Miller
Peter Miller runs the Peter Miller Design Bookshop, in Pioneer Square, in the alley between First Avenue and Alaska Way. He is there, every day. He has written three books, Lunch at the Shop, Five Ways to Cook, and How to Wash the Dishes. A fourth book, Shopkeeping, A Manual, will be published in Spring 2024, by Princeton Architectural Press.


  1. How backward thinking we were in the ’80’s regarding drugs. Cocaine was a party drug for those in the know and has lead to a possible vote on everything legal……..
    What could go wrong ?

  2. My late mother was a Seattle actress in the 1970s and early 80s and crossed paths with John on occasion, never had anything but nice things to say about him and, like everyone else, had great respect for him as an actor.

    A few years ago, I got to see him perform as Big Daddy, in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, which, I’ve learned, was his last local show – great performance in an iconic role. Thanks John!

  3. This story reminds me of the day when Seattle attracted and kept in town many fine actors. Young actors were advised, coming out of drama school, to go to places like Seattle and learn repertoire by appearing on many stages. Now Seattle has fewer stages and the young actors are advised to go right away to Hollywood to get into TV or film. The flow of young talent to Seattle has ebbed.


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