In Memoriam

Warren "Red" Ryder Schwartz

In Memoriam

His one dream was to juggle, and he learned to do it with a skill that amazed audiences and his peers alike. But the dream was cut short tragically on Sunday, May 28, when Warren "Red" Ryder Schwartz was stabbed in the parking lot of an apartment complex in South Austin. Although he was continuing to work at Esther's Follies, as he had on and off for almost 20 years, Schwartz had been struggling for years with drug addiction and in the preceding year had gone through a divorce and lost his home. He was 39. According to Follies co-founder Shannon Sedwick, juggling got in Schwartz's blood when he was a kid and saw Austin performer Turk Pipkin juggle. After that, he picked up the balls and never stopped tossing them. By the time he was 14, Schwartz was good enough to be named "Most Promising Performer" at the International Jugglers' Association competition. When Sedwick first saw him, he was just 21 (though he looked "about 12," she says), and Mario Lorenz, Esther's resident juggler at the time, had taken him under his wing. Esther's veteran illusionist Ray Anderson recalls being introduced to Schwartz by Lorenz after seeing him juggle five pins while riding a unicycle. "I would say there are maybe 10 people in the world who can do that," Anderson says. "He was surrounded by other jugglers that were in silent awe." Rob Williams of the Flaming Idiots holds Schwartz's talent in like regard: "I can speak as a professional juggler that Austin was blessed to have someone of his caliber working the local scene. His inventiveness and skill level were at the highest level. Much like Anderson, his was a talent that could have reached far beyond his hometown, but we were all richer for his having stayed." After joining Esther's in 1987, Schwartz won the silver medal at the International Jugglers' Association championships and was accepted into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Clown College. As redheaded juggler "Red" Ryder, he landed gigs on cruises, in theatres, and at hotels across Europe and in Japan, where he became wildly popular. But he always returned to Austin, where he had a spot warming up the crowd for the Follies and where he kept honing his act right to the end. In a memorial service at Riverbend Church on June 1 – a standing-room-only event with Esther's performers past and present, and jugglers from the Texas Juggling Society alongside family and friends – Anderson offered this observation: "If you wanted to know what Ryder was like, all you had to do was watch his act. It had its 'ups' and 'downs.' Occasionally, he would make a drop, but he always picked up the pin and carried on. Everything was delivered with warmth, kindness, and a desire to be loved. And Ryder was loved by all who knew him." Memorial contributions may be made to the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at UT-Austin, PO Box 7458, Austin, TX 78713-7459.

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