RICHMOND, Va. -- Andy Boothby, a beloved Richmond-based actor, died suddenly Monday night at the Jefferson Hotel, according to friends.
The 55-year-old actor spent his final day portraying Santa Claus at the historic Richmond hotel's annual Christmas tree lightning ceremony.
"Our friend died after spending the day being Santa Claus, listening to children's wishes," Richmond artist Amy Gethins Sullivan said. "You know he would want every one of those wishes to come true."
Friends said he played Santa at various events at the Jefferson for more than a decade.
"It was something that he looked forward to and loved doing," friend and co-worker Mark Persinger said. "For him to be such an integral part of [Christmas at the Jefferson] meant a ton to him. He just loved that environment."
Persinger said news of Andy's death took him by complete surprise.
"I don't know that I've ever experienced a bigger shock in my life," he said. "He'd lost some weight recently. He looked great."
Boothby's cause of death has not been made public.
While he died too young, Persinger said, his friend Andy may have died at the right place.
"He died right after having done something that he absolutely loved doing," he said. "If you had to choose... doing what you love is the best thing you can hope for."
While Boothby loved playing Santa, he was heavily involved in the Richmond theatre community all year long.
"Andy was truly larger than life," fellow actor Scott Wichmann said. "Andy was the definition of a rascal, always ready with a quick, inappropriate rejoinder — you could always see the joke forming in his mind. But he was also incredibly humble."
The Maine native studied theater at Shenandoah University.
In addition to local stage productions, he appeared in feature films including: THE CONTENDER, MICKEY, HANNIBAL, and GUARDING TESS.
"When Andy made good money on THE CONTENDER, I remember him smoking a cigarette outside the dressing room at Swift Creek Mill and he felt so relieved," Wichmann recalled. "He said, 'I’m so glad I can give my kid a good Christmas this year.'"
Boothby's son said he was traveling back to Richmond Wednesday. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
"Give him a good one," Sullivan said. "Andy would say before a show, 'Let's give them a good one!'"
The family requests that in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund which is administered by the Community Foundation of Richmond.