It was years ago, probably a decade or more, that I first saw Andy Bendel. Sitting in the audience of the darkened Station Theatre, I was enjoying the production of Deathtrap, and especially the performance of one of the leads. This would have been Andy. Having watched the Christopher Reeve/Michael Caine movie, I was pretty familiar with the plot of the play, but it still managed to mesmerize. A lot of that was down to Andy.
Then there was the classic farce Charley's Aunt, also produced at the Station Theatre. There, Andy played a butler, and nearly stole the show. He did so much just by standing there, raising his eyebrow. Everyone else on stage was great. It was a wonderful production, full of energy, and yet through it all my focus kept coming back to Andy's performance of the staid butler, very much the (extra) comic relief.
A few years later, I would finally meet Andy, socially, at a friend's house one evening. It was one of those nice, laid back parties, and there was Andy, sitting on a couch, and I had a moment of feeling star struck. 'There's that cool dude from the Station Theatre!' I thought. I said hello to him, and he was easy to talk to. Polite, unassuming, Andy's first impression was that of a gentleman.
Over the next few years I'd see Andy again - at parties, and especially on the campus where we both worked. Our paths would often cross at the end of the day, when we were on the way home. We would exchange pleasantries, and Andy would always offer a faint smile and a "Hi, how are you?" as he ambled toward the bus stop, and a brief conversation ensued. We would also see each other at the dining room in the Illini Union. Andy would often sit alone. There's something to be said for those who are comfortable in their solitude.
Andy Bendel died early yesterday morning, a few weeks after suffering a massive stroke. His friends -- those far, far closer to him than I -- did a stellar job of being by his side during his illness. He definitely was not alone in the end, and that's about all most of us can ask for. I will miss his presence, knowing that I'd run into him on campus, or at a friend's house, or the possibility that, hey, maybe he'd be in another play. He will be missed.