René Marie Murat Auberjonois was born on June 1, 1940, in Manhattan to Fernand and Laura (Murat) Auberjonois. His father was a journalist who often worked as a foreign correspondent, and when he was a young boy the family lived in Paris. He sometimes told the story of discovering his calling at age 6, when he conducted his class in the singing of “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”
“When the performance was over,” a biography on his website says, “René took a bow, and, knowing that he was not the real conductor, imagined that he had been acting. He decided then and there that he wanted to be an actor.”
Returning to the United States, the family settled in an artists’ colony in upstate New York; John Houseman, who would become a mentor to Mr. Auberjonois, lived nearby.
When he was 16, Mr. Houseman got him a job as an apprentice at the theater in Stratford, Conn. He graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
He began his professional career as a theater actor, performing with the American Conservatory Theater in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, among others. He made his Broadway debut in 1968 playing the fool in a production of “King Lear,” with Lee J. Cobb as Lear.
He did not consider himself a singer, yet some of his most prominent stage roles were in musicals, among them “Coco” and the 1985 Broadway production of “Big River,” the Huck Finn story, in which he played the Duke, earning a Tony nomination.
“He managed to put what he felt were his limited musical talents to work by mastering a kind of patter style,” his son said by email, “‘talk-singing’ (his term) his way into the hearts of so many theatergoers.”
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