Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jim Parsons

Television’s “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons plays the lead in a new Broadway production of "Harvey," the 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase that opened Thursday night in New York. The two-time Emmy winner and Golden Globe Award winner Parsons tackles the role of  Elwood P. Dowd, made known to millions in a 1950 cinematic portrayal by Jimmy Stewart. Harvey is the name of Dowd’s best friend, a six-foot tall invisible rabbit, and the relationship between the two is what drives this comedy of errors.

In last month’s profile in The New York Times, the actor discussed his recent small role in Larry Kramer’s "The Normal Heart" and his current Broadway run as the star of "Harvey." Though Parsons hadn't previously commented on his personal life, the article mentioned that Parsons is gay and in a committed relationship with his partner. Parsons will return to his Emmy winning role as the socially clueless Dr. Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory" for its sixth season on CBS. Meanwhile, he is using his summer hiatus from television to return to the stage.

The casting of Parsons in the iconic role of Elwood P. Dowd follows the recent celebrity casting trend that guarantees full houses in the risky world of stage productions. Teenagers leaving a performance of "The Normal Heart" excitedly exclaimed that they chose to see that particular play because of “Sheldon,” using the name of the character Parsons plays on television. They had not known that the play was about men dying of AIDS. In "Harvey," Parsons is leading a Broadway cast for the first time.

Jim has enjoyed a 20-year career since his first high school stage roles. He is a graduate of the Old Globe/University of San Diego Masters of Fine Arts program, and his time there was spent studying and performing Shakespeare and the classics.

“I cannot say, and I mean this quite sincerely, how often my time at grad school at USD enters my mind,” says Parsons. “The type of work I did in that program to get through some of those Shakespearean texts is very similar to the work strategy I use to get through these scientifically dense speeches,” referencing his job playing Sheldon, a formula-spouting, pop-culture-pontificating theoretical physicist on TV.

Growing up in Houston, Parsons was a theater nerd from the start. The actor recalls his role of the Kola-Kola bird in his first-grade production of Kipling’s “The Elephant’s Child.” In the NYT profile, Parsons related that his curiosity about performance grew from watching the physical antics and reaction shots in the television sitcom “Three’s Company.”

Jim Parsons took on roles in more than two dozen plays during and after his undergraduate years at the University of Houston. After his classical theater training at the University of San Diego he spent several years working Off-Broadway while making guest appearances on TV. His role as Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory” changed everything, transforming him into a star. He seems to handle his celebrity well, and his professional confidence led to last month’s public revelations about his personal live in the NYT profile. It was surely one of the most casual coming-out stories anyone can recall, delivered with little more drama than a yawn. All reference to his sexual orientation took up exactly one sentence in the lengthy profile. I quote in full:

“ ‘The Normal Heart’ resonated with him on a few levels: Mr. Parsons is gay and in a 10-year relationship, and working with an ensemble again on stage was like nourishment, he said.”

I think it’s no small triumph that a major TV star can come out in such a relaxed fashion. The expected splash across the covers of supermarket tabloids never materialized. Jim's partner is Todd Spiewak (above), who is an advertising agency art director. The couple has appeared together publicly at numerous entertainment award shows and sporting events.

Parsons will leave his role in "Harvey" on Broadway in August to return to “The Big Bang Theory.”

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