Actor, director, mentor, independent film producer. Leo Lunser was all of those things.

Mr. Lunser, a longtime resident of Sanford, died Saturday at his home with his family by his side. He was 61 years old.

Mr. Lunser was widely known in Maine’s theater community.

“He was a friend to everyone,” said his longtime partner, Judy Burnett. “He judged no one. He really believed in his philosophy of peace and love.”

Mr. Lunser was born in Duluth, Minn., and moved to the Sanford-Springvale area in 1972 so he could be closer to his parents.

Over time, he became a prominent member of the theater community in Maine and New Hampshire. He performed and directed numerous plays over a period of 35 years.

His favorite production was “Hair: The American Tribal Love/Rock Musical.”

“Hair” tells the story of a group of politically active hippies living a bohemian life in New York while fighting conscription into the Vietnam War.

“Leo was a long-haired hippie. His very favorite all-time show was ‘Hair.’ He would have directed it every year if he could,” said Burnett.

Burnett said he must have mentored hundreds of young actors and actresses who performed in “Hair,” introducing them to an era – the 1960s – they knew very little about.

Burnett said he would take great care in telling his casts about the culture of the ’60s and what expressions like “freak flag” meant. It was slang for long hair.

“He took the time to make sure they understood what the show was all about,” she said. “He didn’t care about the age of the actor. He could relate to all ages.”

Mr. Lunser was also known as Peacefreak.

Though he dabbled in many artistic endeavors, Burnett said, her partner’s passion was acting.

She was introduced to him 20 years ago, while he was playing Dracula in the theatrical production of the same name.

According to Mr. Lunser’s autobiography, he made his first stage appearance at the age of 8, when he wandered on stage as a beatnik, uttered the line, “Way out man,” then ran off stage and got sick to his stomach.

One of his favorite roles to play was the infamous Fagin in the Charles Dickens classic “Oliver.”

He took on a variety of roles, many of which challenged his acting abilities. Mr. Lunser portrayed Scrooge, Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple,” and the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“He did comedy, musicals and drama. He could do them all,” Burnett said.

But acting wasn’t his only passion.

Mr. Lunser directed plays at venues throughout Maine and New Hampshire. Among his more recent directorial credits were: “A Christmas Carol,” “Go Ask Alice,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Making movies was another thing he enjoyed.

In 2006, Mr. Lunser formed an independent film company with Derek Brigham. Gold Shoe Productions was based out of his home in Springvale.

Mr. Lunser’s son, Matthew Lunser of Phoenix, said his father brought him to the theater when he was a boy. He got to see how the sets were built and what happened backstage, but his father never tried to force him to become an actor.

In fact, he is now attending medical school.

“He impacted so many peoples’ lives. I was talking to my sister about this, how we felt like we had to share him with so many people,” his son said. “He was like a father to many of the people he worked with.”

Burnett said her partner was not one for getting dressed up. It went against his “hippie” image.

But he did wear a tuxedo to his best friend’s wedding four years ago.

Burnett said he made one alteration to his outfit. He wore Converse High Tops to the wedding.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]


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