Theatre News

Iconic stage wig designer Paul Huntley has died aged 88

Huntley has worked on some of the biggest productions in theatre and film history

Paul Huntley
Paul Huntley

© David Gordon

Beloved Broadway wig designer Paul Huntley died July 9 in London. He had turned 88 on July 2 and was living at Denville Hall, an entertainment industry care home in London.

Working up until the pandemic began — with his last Broadway production being Diana: A True Musical Story — Huntley announced his official retirement in February 2021. According to the New York Times, his decision was spurred by the worldwide theater shutdown and the financial hardship it caused, as well as a fall that fractured his pelvis. He returned to his native England after selling his longtime Upper West Side townhouse.

Huntley designed wigs and styled hair for more than 200 Broadway productions over the course of his career, beginning with Mike Nichols's 1973 revival of Uncle Vanya and ending with 2020's Diana, which will begin streaming on Netflix on October 1. Among Huntley's scores of shows were the original productions of Cats, The Producers, Hairspray, Fun Home, and Tootsie, as well as revivals of Company, Sweeney Todd, The Music Man, Kiss Me, Kate, Cabaret, and many others.

His wigs have been seen on Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, Faye Dunaway in Network, Patti LuPone in Evita, Glenn Close in 101 Dalmations, Robin Williams and Steve Martin in Waiting for Godot, Tovah Feldshuh in Golda's Balcony, and many others.

At Taylor's request, he created the personal hairpieces and eyebrows worn in daily life by Mike Nichols, who'd been bald since the age of 4 after a bad reaction to a whooping-couch vaccine. He is the recipient of a 2002 special Drama Desk Award and a 2003 Tony Award for Excellence.

"Paul was as kind as he was virtuosic, and gave us the gift of sharing his vast knowledge, while collaborating to serve the character and the story being told," said Donna Murphy, who wore Huntley's work in Passion, Wonderful Town, LoveMusik, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Added playwright Paul Rudnick, for whom Huntley designed I Hate Hamlet, "He was a great artist, a combination of Dumbledore and Geppetto, with the deepest understanding of theatre. He made performers look superb and feel confident – truly a magician."

Huntley was also known to make wigs for people undergoing cancer treatments, often for free. One such person, as a thank-you for his services, dedicated a bench on 82nd Street and Riverside Drive in his honor.

He was predeceased by his longtime partner Paul Plassan, who died in 1991. A small private funeral is planned.