Gary Austin, SF State alumnus and comedic mentor, dies at 75

SF State alumnus Gary Austin, whose work inspired comedians such as Helen Hunt, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, died on April 1 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at age 75 after losing a battle with cancer, according to Variety.

Austin graduated from SF State with a bachelor’s degree in theatre in 1964, although he lost touch with the department after graduation, according to Todd Roehrman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at SF State.

Austin moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a stage manager for the Committee, an improvisational group based in San Francisco. In 1969 when the L.A. branch closed, Austin moved back to San Francisco to work at the Committee headquarters as a performer, according to the Comic’s Comic.

The comedy writer then moved back to Los Angeles, where he founded the Groundlings Theatre and School in 1974 and served as the artistic director, according to San Francisco Chronicle.

Groundlings’ alumni included comedy stars Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig from “Saturday Night Live,” and Academy Award winner Helen Hunt attended one of the weekly Gary Austin Workshops, which was founded in 1972.

“Gary Austin will forever be considered one of the greats, always interested in producing work that is funny and moving, because it’s true and utterly unique,” Hunt said quoted as saying on the Gary Austin Workshops website. “His work is always a treat to watch.”

Current “Saturday Night Live,” cast member, Mikey Day tweeted in response to Austin’s death on Saturday that “We lost a legend today. Rest in peace Mr. Gary Austin, founder of the Groundlings.”

Comedian Chris Kattan, also showed turned to social media to comment on Austin’s death. Kattan tweeted out on Sunday, “I don’t know what my dad or I would have become without you. So grateful for your teachings…”

The Groundlings Theatre and School released a statement on Twitter to address his death, thanking him for his work and praising him as “A vision, an inspiration, a father to us all, thank you.”

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