Louie "Lou" Judson Fant Jr.
Louie Fant, an educator and actor who was one of
the founders of the National Theatre of the Deaf, has died.
He was 69.
Fant, who wrote books on sign language and, during
the 1980s, co-hosted the television program "Off-Hand," died
Monday in Seattle of complications from pulmonary fibrosis.
Born in Greenville, S.C., to deaf parents, Fant
could hear well but learned sign language virtually before he began to
"I became bilingual at birth," he told a
reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune some years ago, "learning
sign language from my parents and [auditory-verbal] English from my
He went to Baylor University for a bachelor's
degree, while initially pursuing a degree in the ministry for the
hearing-impaired. But he
changed his vocation to teacher and earned a master's degree at Columbia
After teaching elementary school at the New York
School for the Deaf, Fant joined the faculty at Gallaudet University in
Washington, D.C., the nation's preeminent school for the
acting as a "voice" for deaf actors in school productions,
Fant developed an interest in acting and the theater.
In 1967, he helped found the National Theatre of
the Deaf in Waterford, Conn., and toured the country with the troupe
over the next three years in the capacity of actor, interpreter,
translator, narrator and administrator.
He believed the theater experience that his company
offered helped provide a fresh perspective for hearing people.
"Whenever National Theatre of the Deaf
performs, 60% of the audience is hearing," he told a reporter for
The Times some years ago. "You see, they make a point of saying
it's theatre OF the deaf, not FOR the deaf.
And hearing people who don't know what to expect -- they think
they're going to watch a bunch of handicapped people on stage --
suddenly, they forget the handicap and realize they're just watching
actors working in a different medium.
And they love it...
"It's broken down a lot of barriers," he
added, "made hearing people aware of deaf people -- and that they
have something to offer in theater, dance, art, literature, all forms of
the arts -- that only a deaf person can offer."
Fant relocated to Southern California in the 1970s
to pursue his acting career. He
did local theater and found character parts in a number of TV programs
and films including "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and "Little
House on the Prairie."
He also worked as a consultant and sign language
coach for numerous actors, including Diane Keaton, Henry Winkler, and
John Rubenstein. He coached
actors in the use of sign language on the set of "Children of a
Through the 1980s, Fant co-hosted a program called
"Off-Hand" on KHJ-TV Channel 9 in Southern California.
Fant's co-host, the hearing-impaired Herb Larson,
would offer his witty commentary in sign language, which Fant would
later translate into words for the hearing TV audience.
The show won two local Emmy awards and featured guests ranging
from actress Marlee Matlin to ventriloquist Paul Winchell.
Fant also offered seminars on sign language across
the country. The author of
several books on sign language, his "The American Sign Language
Phrase Book" is still widely used.
Fant is survived by his wife, Barbara Bernstein, and four children.