Broadway Star Rebecca Luker Dies at 59 Just 10 Months After Revealing ALS Diagnosis
Luker, a three-time Tony Award nominee, revealed her ALS diagnosis in February
Rebecca Luker, the Broadway star who captivated audiences in revivals such as The Music Man and Mary Poppins, has died. She was 59.
Luker's agent Sarah Fargo confirmed to The New York Times the actress had died on Wednesday in a hospital in Manhattan.
Fargo did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
In February, Luker revealed on Twitter she had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
"Hello friends. I have some tough news. Late last year I was diagnosed with ALS," Luker tweeted at the time. "I have the best medical care in the world and the greatest support.
She thanked her "dear husband" Danny Burstein, also a Broadway star whom she married in 2000. "[He’s] been an angel."
Luker stayed positive, writing, "I will get well. In the meantime, we fight and go forward. Keep us in your thoughts."
One of four children, Luker was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1961 and made her Broadway debut in 1988, joining the cast of the Phantom of the Opera as an understudy for the original star Sarah Brightman and taking over as Christine in 1989.
She received her first Tony nomination in 1995 for her role as Magnolia in Show Boat and was nominated again in 2000 for her leading role in The Music Man. Her most recent nod came in 2007 for Mary Poppins.
Luker also appeared in the movie Not Fade Away (2012) and in the TV shows Boardwalk Empire, Elementary and NCIS: New Orleans.
Throughout her career, Luker played well-known characters starring as Maria in a revival of The Sound of Music. Her final stage role came in the 2019 production of Footloose where she played the minister's wife. Her last performance was in June during a pre-recorded benefit performance on Zoom, At Home with Rebecca Luker.
She told the Times, "When I sing, I think it heals me. It helps me feel like I'm still a part of something."
Luker is survived by her husband, Burstein, and her step-sons, Zachary and Alexander.
In August, Burstein, 56, wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter revealing he had become the sole caretaker for his wife after they both tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.
"No health care worker in their right mind would come to our home as we were both suffering with the aftereffects of the coronavirus. We were very much on our own," he wrote. "The next month was spent pretty much alone in isolation. Despite being dizzy and in a constant state of exhaustion, I was somehow able to care for her."
Though the couple recovered from the virus, Burstein wrote they faced a new challenge as Luker's ALS was "getting worse quite rapidly" amid the pandemic.
"It's a struggle to lift her. It's a struggle to get her into her chair," he wrote, quoting an email he had written to a friend about their daily life in lockdown. "She hasn't walked in nearly six months."
"Her shoulders went, seemingly overnight. And now her hands. Their shape has changed, especially the left. But the right one is starting to curl in the same unusual fashion," Burstein continued, saying he has to "hold back the tears" whenever he helps dress her. "I try to stretch them back into a familiar position and she says it feels good, but they fall back into their new shape."
Despite the challenges, Burstein said he and Luker still "have hope."
"I can't deny her hope," he added. "I have some, too. But I have to keep preparing for the worst. And I hate that I am preparing for the worst. But we are hoping our hopes come true."
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