At life’s end, Mobile actor, playwright and comedian Steve Evans met his heart’s desire.
“The tumor had grown so much between the last time and now, they couldn’t believe it,” his brother, Bill, said. “They were calling doctors in from all over so he was in the spotlight like he would have wanted.”
The 55-year-old television and theater veteran with a comic’s instincts lost his three-year battle with small-cell lung cancer on Sept. 23, the day he was originally scheduled to begin his third round of chemotherapy. He was diagnosed following an August 2016 motorcycle accident.
He relocated home from Chicago on Sept. 9 and had difficulty speaking from a tumor inhibiting his larynx. By Friday, Sept. 21, he was admitted to University Hospital with pneumonia.
“Got to get out for football,” he texted in humorous reference to the weekend games. Instead, he took a downturn and slipped away Monday morning.
Evans donated his body to cancer research. Further arrangements are pending.
Evans acted in Mobile theatre beginning in 1977 and parlayed the experience into a series of Original Oyster House TV ads with a surprising flow of residual checks. He regularly worked in lauded outdoor productions throughout the nation.
I met Steve in 1998 when we worked together at Michael’s Midtown Café. He was a great colleague with a razor wit and huge, adventuresome heart. Though he cited his local alma mater as “Lord of the Flies” Preparatory School, it left him mindful of those less fortunate or often overlooked. Sometimes, he coaxed me into going with him to help feed the homeless.
In 2002, Steve dove into Chicago’s noted theatrical realm, acting with Strawdog Theatre Company, Open Eye Productions and Charles Grippo Productions. He studied at Second City and the Mary-Arrchie Theatre, where he performed in a production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” that received a Joe Jefferson nomination for Best Ensemble.
Steve performed his original one-man shows in the annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Theater Festival and YippieFest. His years of outdoor stage experience in Ohio yielded his comedy “My Life With the Shawnee.” A more dramatic piece, “South Side Chicargo Blues” was set in a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp.
“I like writing,” Steve said. “It’s one of the few things where you can stare off into space and it’s considered working.”
Once stuck with an early morning slot in the nonstop theatrical marathon, he didn’t complain.
“This will be the best theater you ever see before noon,” Steve told everyone.
He returned to Mobile in 2014. In quick order, he appeared in the South of the Salt Line satire “Ambushed by the Tea Party” and performed at one of the art salons created by Thomas Perez, Elizabet Elliott and yours truly.
Steve brought home a new character. Bro. Luther Powell was a nod toward older, storyteller Southern comedians. Adorned in two-toned wingtips and a seersucker suit, he held court in a style akin to Andy Griffith or Dave Gardner but more irreverent. Steve performed “Bro. Luther Powell vs. the Tobacco Demons” in Mobile, and then his “Shawnee” play. He returned to the Windy City in 2015.
After his first chemotherapy, he wrote and performed “Bro. Luther Powell vs. Cancer.” Its sardonic shots at deathly illness posed questions like, “Am I getting all I can from cancer?” The resulting attempt at a romantic interlude with Katy Perry through Make-A-Wish failed. In another portion, a late night drugstore visit to fill a morphine prescription results in his tagging the place “the Lou Reed Walgreens.”
The last hike I took before pulmonary disease stopped me was a 1999 trek through a nearby national forest with Steve and my dog, Lakota. We covered about a dozen miles that day.
Last week, I came across the condolences Steve sent when Lakota died. Turned out, the day Steve passed away was the 12th anniversary of her death.
After learning of Steve’s demise, one of his theater friends from their days among Native American lore and legend found a large feather in a shaft of sunlight on her doorstep. Her photo of it stands out among the cascade of warm recollections and love on his Facebook page.
The night after the sorrowful news, I readied for bed in the wondrous stillness past midnight and recognized a sound outside. I slipped out the front door and stood in the dark, listening to a barred owl on the oak branches right there at my door.
In the Kwagulth tribe, owls represent the newly released soul of the deceased. When the calls finally stopped, the bird silently took wing as nature designed and faded into the night leaving marvel and memory behind.
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