FORT WORTH Jerry Russell, one of the most important figures in the history of live theater in North Texas, is in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

Russell also happens to be the father of state Sen. Wendy Davis.

If you've ever enjoyed a live theater performance anywhere in Tarrant County, Jerry Russell deserves part of the applause.

As an actor, producer, director, and businessman, he is considered to be the first person in modern times to make local theater work in Fort Worth.

"A lot of people forget Jerry started Stage West out of a sandwich shop, said longtime arts critic Punch Shaw. He said Russell's Stage West now on West Vickery created a model for others to follow.

"It wouldn t be an exaggeration to say perhaps all the theaters that have developed since had to have been guided by his model," Shaw said, adding that the news of Russell's suddenly declining health jolted the North Texas arts community.

Those unfamiliar with Russell's work and influence are now learning about him because of his daughter s rising prominence.

Sen. Wendy Davis is posting Facebook updates, saying machines are keeping her father's heart and lungs going as he struggles to recover. Friends said severe medical problems began after an abdominal surgery.

Meanwhile, at Stage West, "Thank You, Jeeves," the comedy Jerry Russell is directing, goes on despite the real life drama off stage.

"Those people out there are devastated right now, Punch Shaw said. "We're all worried sick about him right now."


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