Yuri Rasovsky dies at 67; big name in radio dramas, audio books

Radio drama was thought to be nearly extinct when Yuri Rasovsky launched the National Radio Theater of Chicago in the early 1970s, and he emerged as a major voice in its revival.

One of his first productions was a radio adaptation of the 1920 silent horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." By 1978, producer-writer-director Rasovsky and his theater had earned a Peabody Award for the weekly radio plays that aired on a small Chicago station.

After seeing the film "Star Wars," Rasovsky was inspired to stage an aural spectacle, so the high school dropout — who had taught himself Greek — produced his own rough translation of the epic "The Odyssey of Homer." The resulting, and acclaimed, series was heard on stations across the country in 1981 and brought him a second Peabody.

Sunnier skies and a seemingly endless pool of actors prompted Rasovsky to move west in the early 1990s after folding the theater in 1987. He called his new production company the Hollywood Theater of the Ear and increasingly produced audio books as they became more popular.

Rasovsky died of esophageal cancer Jan. 18 at his Los Angeles home, said his companion, Lorna Raver. He was 67.

"He was demanding and smart and kind when needed, and a frightening martinet when also needed," actor Edward Herrmann told The Times in a statement that addressed Rasovsky's reputation for being demonically driven to perfection. Rasovsky had long gone by a nickname he gave himself, "El Fiendo."

"He strove for what all true artists strive towards: authenticity. He was terrific, fair, frightening and loving all at the same time. Complex, certainly, but wildly worth the effort," said Herrmann. He worked with Rasovsky on "The Maltese Falcon," nominated for a spoken-word Grammy Award in 2009, and "Saint Joan," named the best audio drama of 2010 by the Audio Publishers Assn.

Radio legend Norman Corwin wrote that Rasovsky had "positive genius for conceiving and executing scholarly projects of immense scope" in the introduction to "The Well-tempered Audio Dramatist," Rasovsky's 2006 guide to producing audio plays. Corwin died in October at 101.

Rasovsky's dozens of productions included "Craven Street," an account of Benjamin Franklin's life with George Grizzard in the lead role; "Dateline 1787," which employed 35 actors to convey the writing of the U.S. Constitution; and the 2007 audio book "Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls," which won three Audies, the industry's award for excellence.

Another Rasovsky audio drama, "The Mark of Zorro" with Val Kilmer as the adventurer, has been nominated for a spoken-word Grammy at the awards scheduled for Feb. 12.

"It's work listening to radio," Rasovsky told The Times in 1993. "That's one of the reasons it's enjoyable. It's like the difference between watching a volleyball game and being in one."

Born July 29, 1944, in Chicago, Rasovsky was a lonely only child who repeatedly broke his family's television so that his parents would have to let him listen to the radio.

He furthered his education by unofficially sitting in on classes at various Chicago-area colleges. Rasovsky served in the Army in Europe and performed as a comedian before turning to radio.

The drinking cup he invariably bestowed upon collaborators was emblazoned with "I survived El Fiendo" and proved that "I'm not his only survivor," joked Raver, an actress who was his partner for 25 years. "He's got many, many survivors, and they have the mugs to prove it."


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