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Broadway star Rebecca Luker dies at 59, months after announcing ALS diagnosis

Luker was nominated for three Tony Awards during her decades-long Broadway career.
Feinstein's/54 Below Press Preview
Rebecca Luker performed in a press preview of "Got Rhythm" at Feinsteins/54 Below on Feb. 21, 2019 in New York City.Walter McBride / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Broadway star Rebecca Luker died Wednesday at the age of 59. In February, Luker announced that she had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as ALS.

Luker performed on New York's biggest stages for more than 30 years, garnering three Tony Award nominations during her career. She began her acting career in "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1989, and went on to appear in famous productions including "Show Boat," "The Sound of Music," "The Music Man," and "Mary Poppins." Her final stage role was in 2019, when she played a featured role in a production of "Footloose" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Luker is survived by her husband, Broadway actor Danny Burstein, who was starring in the musical adaptation of "Moulin Rouge!" before the coronavirus pandemic brought performances to a halt in March 2020, and two stepsons, Zachary and Alexander.

73rd Annual Tony Awards - Arrivals
Rebecca Luker and her husband Danny Burstein at the 2019 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019 in New York City.Taylor Hill / FilmMagic

"Our family is devastated. I have no words at this moment because I'm numb," Burstein told TODAY in a statement. "Thank you for the overwhelming amount of love & support. We feel you here with us."

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and causes the loss of muscles and eventual paralysis. There is no cure for the illness, and the average life expectancy for people diagnosed with ALS is three to five years, according to the ALS Association.

Reactions from the theater community poured in shortly after Luker's death was announced.

"There are no words. Rest in Peace, Rebecca Luker. You were an angel. May you continue to inspire all of us. We will never forget you," wrote Josh Lamon, who starred in the Broadway production of "The Prom" in 2018.

Patti Murin, who played Princess Anna in the Broadway adaptation of "Frozen," called Luker's passing "a devastating loss for humanity and for the arts."

Michael Crawford, who was a part of the original cast of "The Phantom of the Opera" and performed alongside Luker, called her a "perfect" co-star.

Jessica Vosk, who has starred in "Wicked," tweeted that it was the "thrill of (her) life" to be Luker's friend.

Luker's long and accomplished career inspired many others. Michael R. Jackson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for drama earlier this year for his off-Broadway musical "A Strange Loop," wrote on Twitter that he had grown up listening to her performances.

Others celebrated Luker's life by sharing videos of her performances and concerts.

Burstein was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April and wrote in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter that Luker had also shown symptoms for the disease but "her bout lasted only about a week."