May 5, 2008

A Tribute to John Altieri by Erich Bergen

May 5th, 2008

To All Jersey Boys Friends, Family and Fans…

This weekend was very odd. It was for everyone, one of the most amazing things we could ever be a part of. The opening of Jersey Boys in Las Vegas. Every cast member from every company, every one of our parents, every reviewer who ever “got” the show, every fanatical fan, and all the writers and creative team members were responsible for getting the show to this point. It was, for me anyway, a moment that I hadn’t had since the opening of San Francisco, back in December of 2006. For those who weren’t there this weekend, it was one of the craziest parties I had ever been to. Somehow, in Vegas, things that you just imagine happening, actually happen. There we were on the dancefloor, with four 50′s style microphones, singing Happy Birthday to Frankie Valli, turning around, watching a video montage, then watching the entire screen drop down to reveal 2 dozen go go dancers on a giant stage right out of that scene in Sweet Charity. Hell, if Jersey Boys doesn’t end up working in Las Vegas, you could just run that party every night.

All that being said, there was of course a cloud hanging over our heads regarding the health of our dear friend, John Altieri. The best thing about John was that there was not a selfish bone in his body, something that I said about him even before he got sick. He continued to live like that right until the end, by waiting to leave us until the morning after the opening night party. That was John. Making sure people had fun. I cannot even tell you the amount of times this man made me laugh. While John and I were part of a family on the road, we got closest at the end of our run on tour, in Seattle. We shared a dressing room, and we both decided to go to Vegas together. He was so excited about coming out here and starting something new. I was so excited to come out here with him and share this experience with a friend who had done this with me before. He was going to be starting training as a Yoga teacher, something that I was so excited about as well, because he told me he was going to get me off my ass and in to a Yoga class. I cant even tell you the amount of money I spent on Yoga clothing getting ready for that.

John’s pure joy in life was so obvious to see from the stage. He literally made the audience cackle with laughter. On the nights when the audience was a little stale, we would always count on John to come out and wake them up. One of my favorite memories, which I still think of almost every night on stage, was during the scene right after the “backups medley.” I went to say my line “OK, then listen to this. Either you give us a date when you’re going to record us…” and for whatever reason, I choked on the line, messed up a word, lost my place, and I think I started stomping my foot like a horse out of frustration. Trying to save the scene, John tried saying something to get us back on track. It did not work. John ended up getting lost himself, turning Mr. Elice and Brickman’s wonderful script into Pig Latin. The pure fear coming out of John’s eyes, yet watching Michael Ingersoll, Chris Jones and Deven May trying to contain their laughter was something I will never forget. John and I laughed about it almost every day for 2 months after that.

John was a gift. He honestly made each moment on stage such a joy We all talked about John in this way, even when he was still with us. What can you say about an actor who made each show that much fun? I suppose you say Thank You. Thank You for John Altieri. I can’t even tell how much I miss him, and the confusion that I have over how and why this happened. Every day up until late last week, we kept on saying, “any idea on when John’s coming back?” Or “how’s he feeling?” The fact that I can’t ask that anymore is confusing. I look on my cell phone and I see text messages from him going back months and months, and I all I want to do is write him and say “I miss you.”

The part of Bob Crewe now goes to John Salvatore, a brilliant actor and performer. If there is anyone to take over for John, well, it’s John. Salvatore approaches the role the same way Altieri did. The goal is to have fun, and if we happen to create something meaningful along the way, then even better.

John, I love you and miss you. Every show that I do, you are right there with us.



  1. What a nice tribute. I think all the wonderful things written about John should remind us all to appreciate people while they’re still here and tell them these things while we can. With the beautiful tributes written on the Web by Erich, Eric Gutman, and Taylor Sternberg, I have to think John did feel that appreciation from his castmates. Not to mention the laughs, applause, and kind comments from fans. And I’m sure a guy like John was well-loved by his family and friends, too. He was a million laughs as Bob Crewe. Salut, John.

    Comment by Catherine J. — May 5, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  2. Thanks Erich for a wonderful tribute to John. I am remembering seeing him in San Francisco several times and how he just energized his scenes. I loved him as Donnie in the car scene, especially his hair style with the high pompadour. A few minutes later he would be Bob Crewe and his “young, young, young, man would have the audience howling. He really did that line the best of all the actors I have seen portray Bob. His “Look Miss Congeniality, it’s a metaphor”. was equally hilarious. We were so looking forward to havng him back in vicinity. Damn, we’re gonna miss him.

    Comment by Linda — May 5, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  3. Erich,

    What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute. I met you and the cast in Las Vegas on April 4 after having seen your amazing performance. Buz and I were honored that so many of the cast attended the Jersey Boys party we hosted. A few of the cast members told me that John Altieri had pneumonia and how they missed him being with us that evening.

    It is so hard for us to understand why bad things happen to good people. We sometimes question life and our faith when tragedies like this happen. Many people think that every single thing happens for a reason. I am not sure how I feel about that. What I do know though
    without ever having met John is that he was loved by family, friends,
    cast members and it seems by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. There is some comfort in this.

    God Bless him, his family, friends and the entire Jersey Boys family.
    May all the wonderful memories of him give everyone strength and comfort.

    Irene Eizen

    Comment by irene eizen — May 5, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

  4. Very nice, Erich, thank you very much for that.

    I had the pleasure of seeing John in the Crewe role three times in Costa Mesa, along with you, and I agree – he always got the biggest laughs of the night. When Vegas rolled around and the cast was announced, I was eager for my east coast fan counterparts, most of whom were more familiar with the OBC, to see you two tour actors so they could know why I was as crazy about the tour as they were about the Broadway company. I was disappointed on April 4 that my new pals, part of the fan convergence that night, would not get to see John, and I was further disappointed when I returned a week later to see John was still out. I agree too, John Salvatore does an excellent, masterful job, but nothing can replace the sadness behind John’s absence.

    I had a nice chat with John in the lobby in Costa Mesa last November, and a warm exchange of a few emails after that. I consider myself lucky to have had this photo taken there (Costa Mesa) with him, to which I have added a few words, and through which I am easily able to recall the genuine warmth and enthusiasm that John exuded.

    My prayers and condolences to all who loved him.

    Comment by stubbleyou — May 5, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

  5. Thank you Erich. It’s easy to see how much John was loved as cast members and friends step up to pay tribute to him. I was also very touched by Eric Gutman’s story of John wanting to settle in Vegas so his pets could be happier and healthier. Someone capable of so much love will always be in the hearts of those who knew him.

    Comment by Mama Lucy — May 5, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  6. A beautiful tribute, Mr. Bergen. Everyone in the Jersey Boys circle feels this immense loss. You descried the true wonderful spirit of John Altieri so eloquently. Thank you John for such wonderful times, and thank you Erich for such beautiful words.

    Comment by mrsvalli — May 5, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

  7. Thank you Erich and Jackie, for the updates. I will never go to a show again and not think of John.It was a hard one, opening night knowing he wasn’t going to make it. I was crying inside saying to myself, this isn’t happening,such a funny,talented,kind person. We had alot of laughs in SF,LA and Costa Mesa. I know how excited he was that you and him were coming to Vegas. When he told me, we jumped up and down and hugged.he said he wanted this so badly. You’re right though, John Salvatore does a great job. And Erich, don’t think your getting out of Yoga, John Salvatore is a great yoga teacher.My heart and soul goes out to family,friends and old and new cast members.

    Comment by Kathy J — May 5, 2008 @ 11:56 pm

  8. What wonderful tributes by Erich, Eric, and Taylor, and by all who wrote above (Catherine, Mama Lucy, Irene, Stubbleyou, and Linda). You’ve said it all.

    Tonight, our friend Gary Neuberg and I were sharing our sadness on the phone, and Gary told me John was only 30. On my bus ride home, I couldn’t get Frankie’s last monologue out of my head about the best being when “it was all still ahead of us.” Well, John was taken from us in his prime, when it was still all ahead of him. But maybe, just maybe, he did experience “the best”, knowing the love he shared with his colleagues, family, and friends.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — May 6, 2008 @ 12:55 am

  9. Beautifully said Erich, Taylor and Eric. Thank you for sharing your stories and memories.

    Comment by Krystal — May 6, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  10. I am still in a state of shock reading this and in writing this comment. Erich, thank you for sharing your memories of John. Your good times and friendship with John. That is great you decided to go to Las Vegas together to do the show at The Palazzo! I hope John has inspired you to take up yoga. Namaste John for all the memories in San Francisco. Pace e Bene in Heaven.

    Comment by Tina — May 6, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  11. Erich,

    Thank you for your kind words about my cousin John. I met you in Los Angeles when John’s sister and I came out to see the show last summer. What a gift to see him in JB realizing his dreams he worked so hard for. What you say of him as a young man is true of him as a child growing up–always laughing, always making others laugh, so generous in his spirit and kindness–He was pure, pure light that will shine on forever. Below is a poem I wrote about my dear sweet cousin.

    Our John
    The world’s light shone on you
    Like a magnet
    Colors of radiance drawn to your soul
    Bright magenta, emerald green and pacific blue
    Created a circle that reached to the heavens above
    Our John
    The world’s light shone on you
    So handsome
    Your bold brilliant laugh so contagious
    Coupled with olive skin
    Glimmering chocolate eyes and that Cheshire grin
    Captivated people daily
    Our John
    The world’s light shone on you
    Passionate for film, music and the arts
    A dream weaver who chased his dreams
    With determination and buoyancy
    ‘Til the stage realized what we already knew:
    You were a gift wrapped in God’s most elegant ribbon
    Our John
    The world’s light shone on you
    A sparkling star
    On and off stage
    Heart pure as spun gold
    Soul warm as the strongest sunshine
    Love as infinite as the universal skies
    Our John
    The world’s light shone on you
    And now
    Your light shines on through all of us.

    ~With all my love, your cousin Sue

    Comment by SDRobinson — May 6, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  12. I’m still very sad over John’s passing and reading Guter’s, Taylor’s blog and your thoughts/feelings about John are all very touching. I didn’t get to know him as well as you guys did working with him 8x a week, being on the road with him too. I feel very honored to have seen him 12x as Bob Crewe plus being able to chat with him some too in Costa Mesa. I’ll cherish my signed JB book and poster with his autograph on them even more now.
    I loved going shopping Jersey style with John and Miles. How I would crack up over this especially the one night in Costa Mesa where the gun got stuck in John’s pocket thus delayed going off. I’ll miss his “Don’t talk to me like that”, “Look Miss Congenality, it’s a metaphor” line which was my most favorite line he said and his young, young, young man too. I was so looking forward to seeing the show in Vegas again plus hoping to see John again too. I know when I see the show again I’ll be thinking of John. He was such a kind man and I have a hard time understanding why a healthy 30 year old would get pneumonia then die from it. He’ll be greatly missed by us fans who were blessed enough to see him as Bob Crewe on the road!

    Comment by Jeannette — May 6, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  13. For all of you who knew John……your beautiful words allow us to know him. I watched him in the show, so many performances (I’m Taylor’s Mom) and always looked forward to the scenes he was in….he made me laugh, no matter how many times I sat in that audience. He had a magic on stage that made the scene come alive. His energy and spirit will always be a part of Jersey Boys and with all of you who knew him……that doesn’t die. My heart goes out to his family and all of you in the cast who knew and loved him.

    Comment by Deborah Williams — May 8, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  14. I had the privilege of seeing John perform the night my brother Douglas Crawford played Nick Massi in L.A.
    It was one of the most memorable nights of my life! I know my brother is grieving and I hurt for him and for all of you who have lost your friend John. Thank you for sharing your special memories with the rest of us.

    Comment by Pam Elliot — May 8, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

  15. Thanks for the touching tribute! Your cast was the very 1st Jersey Boys production my family watched in late 2006, and remember what a great person John is when we used to visit you guys at the stage door after your performances in San Francisco and Sacramento. I really wished to see him perform one more time at the Palazzo, but at least I have the memories of the times we saw him perform so professionally with the Jersey Boys…..

    He truly embodied the character of Bob Crewe as well as the supporting roles that really made us crack up in laughter. John’s “flamboyancy” when playing “Bob” was actually much more energetic than when seeing the actual Bob Crewe in TV interviews and when I met Bob in person, but that was John’s style and we loved it!

    I also want to pay my condolences to the National Tour cast members that had already moved on to other ventures because I’m sure it is total shock for them as well….. He’ll always be in our hearts and prayers! Rest in peace, John…..

    Thanks Erich!

    Comment by Mike B. Magbaleta — May 10, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

  16. I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to leave a tribute to John but after hearing the tragic news I felt the need to put pen to paper.

    We met in London. We shared an English summer together. The summer was too short but the memories last forever.
    We didn’t stay in touch long. I was 20, John 19. Both starting out in life with the insouciance of youth. Different countries. Different continents.
    But I still have his postcard from Saint Martin and the dancing flower he sent me for my birthday.

    Last week after all these years I decided to look up John’s name on Google. What urged me to do it? I don’t know. And why now? Cruel fate perhaps. Who knows.
    The sudden thrill at seeing his name and having succeeded in tracking him down. Followed by the immediate wave of cold shock on reading the content of the articles on the net.
    So why do I feel so empty and sad. After all, our paths crossed nearly 20 years ago and I know nothing of his life since. I guess what I’m trying to say so clumsily is that John was a special person who brought light into the lives of all those he met. He will always be a fundamental part of my life story and for that I thank him.

    “Say not in grief he is no more,
    But in joyfulness, he was.”

    My heart-felt condolences go to all his family and friends.


    Comment by c — May 13, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  17. I had the sincere honor and pleasure to work, laugh and create with John at the Idyllwild Arts Summer program for many years. And I had the very excited joy of seeing him in Jersey Boys in Los Angeles…give him a Big Hug and Best Wishes. It is only now, May 29, that I am hurting deeply to know that he is no longer in the sphere of life with us…What sorrow! No words can express. I loved John as a family member, friend and fellow artist. He will be truly missed! My deepest sympathy to his family and to all who had the honor to know him…Shalom dear one!

    Comment by Theresa Polley-Shellcroft — May 30, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

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