Best known as a fixture in the movies of director Tim Burton since his role as Otho in Beetlejuice, actor Glenn Shadix (1952-2010) had numerous roles in theater, films, and television. After living and working in New York City and Los Angeles, Shadix returned to Alabama where he was active in local theater and as an advocate for gay rights.
Glenn Shadix was born on April 15, 1952, in Bessemer, Jefferson County; his mother, Ruth Livingston Shadix, was related to U.S. senator John Sparkman. Two years after Shadix was born, Ruth divorced his father; she would soon marry Chester K. Scott Jr., and the couple would raise Glenn and his three siblings. As a child, Shadix frequently participated in church pageants and plays. The family moved several times during Shadix's youth as his stepfather, a retail manager for Goodyear Tires, changed locations, and by high school, the family had settled in Jasper. There, Shadix began performing in the school's theater productions.
In 1970, at the age of 18, Shadix came out as a homosexual to his mother and stepfather. His stepfather, with whom he did not have a close relationship, demanded that he seek psychiatric treatment or be banished from the family home and lose all contact with his mother and younger siblings. Shadix agreed to undergo a controversial aversion therapy program at the University of Alabama (UAB) Medical Center that employed now-discredited techniques and therapies designed to "cure" Shadix of his homosexual feelings. After several months of treatment as well as forced dates with women and a physically demanding job at his stepfather's tire shop, Shadix attempted suicide and was rushed to the hospital. He then spent three weeks in the psychiatric unit of the UAB hospital. On a day-release visit with his stepfather, Shadix attended a football game at Birmingham's Legion Field, and the two men reconciled. They would maintain a close relationship until Scott's death in 1997.
After graduation from high school, Shadix worked with veteran actor Peggy Cass in the summer theater program at Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama). In 1973, he moved to Birmingham and immersed himself in the theater scene there, which included a role in a highly acclaimed production of Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band. That same year, he relocated briefly to Atlanta, Georgia, and played Sancho Panza in a production of Man of La Mancha. In 1974, he returned to Birmingham on a drama scholarship to Birmingham-Southern College, where he studied with avant garde dramatist and director Arnold Powell.
Two years later, Shadix moved to New York to pursue his acting career further. He worked a number of jobs outside of acting while also involving himself with the New York theater community. He befriended famed playwright Tennessee Williams while working as a production assistant on Williams's Vieux Carré at the St. James Theater in Manhattan. Shadix credits Williams with giving him his healthy perspective on fame and helping him formulate a philosophy of acting. Also, the play starred Sylvia Sidney, with whom Shadix would later star in his breakout film Beetlejuice.
In 1977, Shadix moved to Los Angeles. There, he spent the next decade acting in dozens of plays, studying acting, and honing his skills in improvisational comedy with The Groundlings Improv Group, which helped launch the careers of such notable actors and comedians as Will Ferrell, Kathy Griffin, Conan O'Brien, and Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens. In 1986, Shadix joined the Ensemble Studio Theater and starred as American author Gertrude Stein in Stein's Faustus Light the Lights, for which he won an L.A. Weekly Award. The play brought him to the attention of director Tim Burton, who had recently gained fame for his 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Burton cast Shadix in his upcoming film Beetlejuice (1988) as Otho, an eccentric interior decorator and dabbler in the paranormal; Shadix would go on to become a fixture in Burton's subsequent projects and appeared in other film and television roles as well. He also frequently attended science fiction and fantasy conventions throughout the United States, largely as a result of his roles in Burton films.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Shadix acted in many feature films, including Heathers (1988), Demolition Man (1993), and Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) as well as appearing in numerous guest spots on top-rated television shows and animated films. In 2002, after a lifelong struggle with obesity, Shadix underwent gastric bypass surgery and was able to achieve a more healthy weight. In 2005, Shadix took a four-year break from film work and made only scattered appearances on television shows. He returned to film with a role in the motion picture Finding Gauguin in 2009.
In 2008, Shadix returned to Bessemer and bought and restored an 1886 Victorian home there. The house was completely destroyed by fire in December of that year. Shadix then lived in an apartment in Birmingham and was involved in the Birmingham theater community. He was a guest lecturer in the drama department at Birmingham-Southern College in 2009 and a donor and supporter of the annual Tennessee Williams Festival in Providence, Rhode Island. Shadix was also active in gay rights organizations such as Birmingham AIDS Outreach and has spoken to student gay-straight alliances on college campuses in the area, including the organization at Samford University. An avid photographer, Shadix amassed a large collection of photos of celebrities for his trademark "Clock Series," in which each subject is shot holding the same vintage clock.
During most of 2010, Shadix was restricted to a wheelchair owing to mobility issues. He died at his home on September 7, 2010, from injuries suffered in a fall.
Claire M. Wilson
Published July 7, 2010
Last updated January 24, 2011