Consummate TV newsman was also our friend
Last updated 6/10/2020 at 3:29pm | View PDF
He was a fixture in Chicago journalism. His death was the second story on the 10 o’clock NBC news Tuesday night. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted about his loss.
But to many of us here in Hinsdale, Dick Johnson was first and foremost a neighbor and a friend.
To those of us in The Community Revue, he was our castmate.
And what a castmate he was.
Dick was the guy who would miss a million rehearsals (hard to argue with his excuse — he had to be on TV) and then come in and bring the house down with whatever show-stopping number he was performing that year. In March, he had audiences belting out “Sweet County Line (Caroline)” with him every night.
And for so many of these numbers, the rest of us would be crowded backstage or in the wings, trying to catch a glimpse of Dick on stage without being spotted by the audience. We had seen him rehearse, of course, but on show nights he came alive. He was bigger than life.
He was often cast as the stereotypical Hinsdale “trad” — with names like Harper Leatherwood III and James Hinns Braddock XV — but he also made a fabulous gay wedding planner named Carlos.
My Facebook feed was filled with posts about him Tuesday and Wednesday, from cast members who met him for the first time in January to those who had been in his orbit for years.
“I knew him for just a moment but that’s all it took for him to give of himself and you felt like you had known each other forever,” said Tim Fowler, a first-time cast member this year.
“I lost one of my dearest friends today,” wrote Jim Hutchinson, a longtime friend who appeared in about 10 revues with Johnson. “Dick Johnson was an amazing man. He embodied all the positive, wonderful traits we all strive for. He was friendly, smart, funny, musical, engaging, empathetic, sensitive and a great newscaster.”
Longtime friend Teri Goudie, who knew Dick personally and professionally, described him as one of kindest, most optimistic and talented men she has ever known.
“The last song I watched him sing was a version of ‘Sweet Caroline,’ she wrote. “He owned the stage and brought down the house. No one could appeal to an audience, both live and on television, like Dick. I will miss him dearly.”
Laura LaPlaca played Dick’s wife, Blanche Leatherwood, in “Hinsdopoly” in March.
“Dick was my friend in life and my partner on stage,” LaPlaca wrote. “What a blessing to have known him, laughed with him and shared so many memories with him. I am heartbroken and so sad to have lost a dear friend and a wonderful person.”
There are so many posts about Dick — from friends, current and former colleagues, viewers, even his tax accountant and a former real estate agent. They all use similar words to describe him: smart, caring, funny, talented, a man of integrity. He treated everyone the same, a fact noted by cast member Bill Lewis.
“Dick was a big star in Chicago (and even more so in Hinsdale); but from the moment I met him, until I last saw him, you’d never know it by the way he treated people, including me,” he wrote.
Many of us in show last saw Dick in March, just before he went on medical leave from NBC to spend time in Michigan until the COVID-19 scare died down. We never could have imagined he wouldn’t be with us the next time we all got together to laugh and sing and laugh some more.
Our hearts go out to his lovely wife, Lauren; his children, Parker, Griffin and Maclayne; and his two grandchildren. We’ll have more information about ways to remember Dick and support his family as it becomes available.
— Pamela Lannom is editor
of The Hinsdalean. Readers
can email her at