Australia's Gus Mercurio
Gus Mercurio might have been the most famous actor from Wisconsin that most people here never heard of.
Mercurio's death was big news in Australia this week. He died Tuesday at a Melbourne hospital, while undergoing surgery for an aneurysm. Mercurio was 82.
"Gus Mercurio, the gravelly voiced actor who was one of the most recognised and loved faces in Australian television, has died," began a story in The Sydney Morning Herald.
"You kind of expect him to walk through fire and come out the other side with his moustache singed, but still smiling and still positive," son Paul Mercurio, a dancer and actor in Australia, told the Herald Sun in Melbourne.
By all accounts, both in life and in front of the camera, Mercurio was a character.
Movie credits included "The Man from Snowy River," "Crocodile Dundee II," "The Blue Lagoon," "Return to the Blue Lagoon," and "Doing Time for Patsy Cline." He starred in Australian television shows like "Cash and Company," "Tandarra," and "Power without Glory."
And he did commercials, including one wildly popular one for a roofing company, in which he appeared as the "Roof Fairy."
"They had him in a pink tutu and a blond curly wig, and gave him a wand, but his take on it was to wear a cowboy hat and boots, too," said daughter Jo Mercurio.
All of that was far from Wisconsin where August Eugene Mercurio grew up, including in West Bend. He was a good big brother but could get into trouble, too, including the night he and his buddies painted bubblers and the West Bend City Hall flag pole red. They got caught and had to clean up their mess, his late sister, Connie Dragan, said in a 1987 profile in The Milwaukee Journal's Wisconsin magazine.
Mercurio was 15, a student at Milwaukee's Bay View High School, when he used a falsified birth certificate to join the U.S. Merchant Marine during WWII. As a young man, he also became a boxer - more than 100 bouts, 36 of them professional - and then went to chiropractic school.
His life in Australia began in 1956. One version of the story had him going there to watch the U.S. boxing team at the Olympics. Another had chiropractor buddies encouraging him to consider setting up a practice there. Both stories are probably true.
"I liked Australia," he later told the Journal. "I stayed."
Prompted by some chiropractic work on an injured race horse, his practice came to include horse patients.
Mercurio also stayed involved in boxing, including as a guest commentator. An Australian production company liked the distinctive quality of his voice and asked him to audition for a movie. Instead, he tried an amateur theater performance for practice first.
"My first role was a small part in Arthur Miller's 'After the Fall,' " he said. "I was on stage about 20 minutes, and I said to myself, 'Wow! How long has this been going on?' I was fatally bit."
Mercurio went back to the production company and landed a role in a police TV series. His many acting credits included an episode of "McCloud" with Dennis Weaver, and many episodes of a Disney production called "Five Mile Creek" about an American operating a stagecoach line in Australia's outback. He also acted in the Home Box Office series called "All the Rivers Run."
"I was even a guest commentator over Australian TV for one of the Super Bowls," he said. "My mother thought that was a much bigger deal than all my other work."
Mercurio was an accomplished international lightweight boxing judge and was president of the Australia Boxing Hall of Fame, his daughter said.
"It was fun for me in later life to go to Australia to visit him," daughter Jo said. "People would recognize him and say, 'Hey, Gus!' And he'd always stop and say hi. It was fun to see how much he was admired and how people could approach him."
He remained friends with his two ex-wives. Survivors include his longtime partner Rita Ball; daughters Jo, of Madison, and Connie of Manchester Center, Vt.; and sons Vincent and Tony of Milwaukee, and Paul and Joseph of Australia. Other survivors include sister Gerie Bauer of New York City; stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Wisconsin's Mercurio was a famous actor in Australia