Friends, students mourn loss of Gary Austin, founder of The Groundlings Theatre

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Monday, April 3, 2017
Friends, students mourn loss of Groundlings founder
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Friends and students on Sunday were mourning the passing of Gary Austin, the founder of the influential improv theatre, The Groundlings.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- After a long battle with cancer, Gary Austin, the founder of Los Angeles' The Groundlings Theatre, died Saturday.

Some of his students gathered at the theatre to say goodbye that evening. They spoke about the 75-year-old's many talents and how he taught those he met to see life through truth, to laugh at the improperness of society and to find the significance in the insignificant.

"Gary was so inspirational. He's the reason that we're all here," said Annie Sertich, teacher and director at Groundlings. "It's a huge loss to our community."

She added that Austin gave a suit out of his locker to actor Paul Reubens that ended up becoming Pee-wee Herman's iconic outfit.

On Sunday night, Gloria Vassy and some of the other founding members of the Groundlings shared fond memories of Austin dating back to the early days in the 70s.

"He embodied every single thing that each one of your friends have separately. Gary had all of that within him," she said.

Groundlings first opened in 1974. Some of the theatre's most notable alumni include Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell and Kathy Griffin.

Students said despite his success, he never had an ego and created a diverse community of like-minded people.

"His technique was very basic. It was just 'be and understand,' and that you are enough and breathe, see, listen and react," shared student Natasha Perez.

For everyone in the room that they once shared with Austin, there's a common theme: He changed each and everyone of their lives and all for the better.