John Kerr, Tea & Sympathy Star, Dies at 81

John Kerr in "Tea and Sympathy" in 1956 Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection

John Kerr passed away Saturday, Feb. 2 at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif. He was 81.

The stage and screen actor, known for his roles in films South Pacific and The Pit and the Pendulum, died of heart failure, his son Michael told The Associated Press.

Kerr won a Tony Award in 1954 for his role as Tom Robinson Lee, a prep school student who is bullied for being a suspected homosexual, in Elia Kazan's Broadway production of play Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy. He also starred in the 1956 film version of the play.

While working in television on Peyton Place in the mid-1960s, the Harvard graduate enrolled in law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. He graduated in 1969 and had a private practice until retiring in 2000.

Kerr is survived by his wife, Barbara Chu, stepchildren Sharon and Chris Chu, daughters Rebecca Kerr, Jocelyn Kerr-Thantrakul and son Michael Kerr from his first marriage, and seven grandchildren.