Anyone hearing Dennis Johnson's booming, powerful voice never forgot it. Onstage as King Lear, his "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!" startled theatre-goers right out of their seats. Dennis's acting days began in 1959 right here in Durango, under Orvis Grout at the Diamond Circle Theatre in our historic Strater Hotel, where his thundering vocal cords often landed him the villain role, though he was equally gifted in singing and comic bits.
From there he went to NYC, where he earned small roles in tv (Dark Shadows, Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, etc.), commercials, voice-overs, & off-Broadway plays. It was as a student in Bill Hickey's acting studio that he met his wife & creative partner, Anna Montgomery Johnson. But the mountains kept calling, and eventually he wooed Anna to come to the mountains too, where they infused Stuart's of Durango with their verve and style right up until they closed it in 2016.
As owner and chief haberdasher of Stuart's, his articulate guidance on fine men's suits and gracious womenswear led buyers to purchase exactly the right piece for a special occasion, a gift for a loved one, or an item to last a lifetime and pass down to the next generation. Christmastime at Stuart's was a comforting Durango tradition, offering customers homemade eggnog and sweets, elegant gift wrapping, and the expert, considerate staff who remembered you from year to year.
He got back into theatre by directing a few plays at the Abbey Theatre, thereby beginning a lifelong nurturing of Durango's now-thriving acting and artistic community. It was this passion for developing talent in others that led him and Anna to create The Company, later known as The Durango Repertory Theatre. Just a few of their favorite productions were "Love Letters", "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", "Seascape", "Noises Off", and "The Lion In Winter", a play whose line, "I do love being King!" often got Dennis into hot water at home with Anna.
Dennis was the inaugural director for Purgatory Resort's Summer Theatre Program, and together he and Anna collaborated on numerous theatrical and artistic projects including Purgatory's Music in the Mountains and "Peter and the Wolf" at Pagosa Springs. He was on several Boards as well: Durango Arts Council (DAC), Music in the Mountains, the city's Design Review Board, & Four Corners Opera.
He loved sledding, skiing, hiking until he was 80, and even jumped onto a zipline a few years ago. He graduated from high school in 1953 in International Falls, MN. His bachelor's degree was in psychology, from University of Minnesota. His interests included art (& supporting local artists), poetry, reading, and philosophy.
Dennis and the family have been extremely grateful for the loving care he received from his amazing team of caregivers: Bob, Buckie, Leslie, Olga, Pamela, Rita, & Uta.
He is survived by: his wife, Anna; daughters: Nicole Johnson and Martine (James) Smith; grandsons: Jonathan and Jeremiah; sister: Carol "Teesa" Kutowy; niece and nephew: Michelle (Josh) and Mark (Kelly); great nieces: Mia, Hannah, Brynn; and his beloved pets: McCafferty the cat and Jackson the dog.
He was preceded in death by his granddaughter: Francesca "Mimsy" (2016), and his parents, Stuart and Ethel Johnson.
Services will be held at Hood Mortuary on Wednesday, January 2, 2019, at 11:00 a.m. with burial to follow at Greenmount Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Durango Fine Arts Council.