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John Lamb, Published December 27 2012

Friends remember Fargo actor, director who died of cancer

FARGO – Even with a dire prognosis and his body giving way, Matthew Burkholder was able to share with his friends what they will miss about him most – his laugh.

The Fargo actor and director died Thursday after a long bout with cancer.

As recently as Monday, the 43-year-old showed the joyful spirit and sense of humor that won him friends. When a colleague brought the soundtrack to the new film adaptation of “Les Miserables” to his room at Sanford Health, Burkholder listened before eventually rolling his eyes.

“I have cancer and I can still sing this part better than Russell Crowe,” the actor said, then proved his point by singing along.

“I’ll miss his laughs. He had the greatest laughs,” said Brad Delzer, a fellow member of Theatre B. “He taught me more about being a kind human being who knows how to love more than anyone until I met my wife.”

The two met in the early 2000s during auditions for “Fiddler on the Roof” at North Dakota State University. Burkholder had returned to Fargo to finish school after a decade working in theaters in Boston and New York. He would go on to get his MFA from the University of Alabama in 2011 before returning to his hometown again and teaching at NDSU, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and Trollwood Performing Arts School.

Burkholder grew up in Fargo and graduated from Fargo South High School in 1987.

He is survived by his parents, Keith and Vel Rae Burkholder, of Fargo.

“He had really taken on the role of a mentor,” said Tucker Lucas, who met Burkholder in 2004 doing “Macbeth” for Shakespeare in the Park. They became fast friends and colleagues, with Burkholder directing Lucas in Theatre B’s staging of “Rabbit Hole” in 2007 and “The 39 Steps” a year ago.

“He really championed the idea of theater as a place for conversations,” Delzer said, adding that his friend’s legacy was in furthering the local arts, “celebrating the talent that exists in the community.”

The local theater community was moved by Burkholder’s passing as members of various troupes and organizations posted on his Facebook page. Theatre B canceled Thursday night’s performance of “The 12 Dates of Christmas” to host an open house to share memories of their colleague. Theatre B’s own page said they would decide about this weekend’s shows.

Delzer said Burkholder was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in the mid-2000s. He won that first round but this past spring got a new diagnosis and was recently admitted to the hospital.

“He kept trying to work, but it got harder and harder for him,” Delzer said.

The proof can be seen on the late actor’s Facebook page, now filled with memorials from friends.

On Sunday, Burkholder posted a lengthy update of his condition including trouble breathing and a paralysis of his right arm, which he described as “on vacation,” as a therapist suggested.

Still, he continued to work on upcoming projects, including directing Theatre B’s season finale, “God of Carnage,” this spring.

“So, not a traditional Christmas ahead – but we do what we can with what we have,” he wrote. “I hope you all have a Merry Christmas – and (just to tick off someone at Fox) – Happy Holidays. Celebrate however you choose to!!”

“Matt was the most open, accepting person I’ve ever met,” said Lucas. “He was a sterling example of living life with adversity. He had plenty of ups and downs in his life, but he never lived like he was dying.”

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday at Askanase Auditorium at NDSU.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533