Jeff Jones was a person who didn’t like being pigeonholed. He was a comedian, an actor on both stage and screen, a singer and writer.
Raised in St. Joseph, Jones graced every stage that he could, from the Rendezvous to the Missouri Theater to the Kansas City Improv Comedy Club. He was such a cult of personality that couldn’t be contained to Northwest Missouri.
In 2015, Jones moved to Palm Springs, California, taking up an internship with a theater company, furthering his pursuit of the craft. That journey was cut short May 7, when he unexpectedly passed away.
In the wake of Jones’s death, there has been an outpouring of memories, from friends who shared their deepest moments with him to cast members who shared with him the laughs, joys and struggles of college and community theater and fellow artists who watched him flourish onstage.
“He was a hero and he was a big part of everything in St. Joe, from the arts to people’s lives,” Nick Ford, a friend of Jones’ and fellow comedian, says.
Jones shared the stage with his friends Ford and William Harrah as part of a comedy team. They were loud and raucous, but above all, they aimed at getting everyone to have a good time.
“Whenever we’d walk in a room, people always knew we were there. No matter if you could see us, you could hear us,” Ford says, laughing.
That summarizes Jones’s life: Having fun with everyone, expressing himself through comedy and acting and leaving an indelible mark on the community.
“He loved to make people laugh. He loved to bring people joy,” Tee Quillin, associate professor of theatre at Missouri Western, says.
Jones’ talent onstage came naturally. In fact, his ability to draw laughs and win over and work the crowd came with such ease, Ford says it made others, including himself, jealous.
“I remember (the first time) I saw him get onstage, he owned it. He was hilarious. The moment he got on, I remember jokingly saying to myself ‘I have to destroy him.’ He was so good. He got offstage and I immediately latched on to him,” he says.
Appearing in plays such as Missouri Western’s production of “Barefoot in the Park” and Robidoux Resident Theatre’s production of “Spamalot!” Jones proved to be a charitable, energetic force.
“You can’t be in a bad mood with Jeff Jones. It’s impossible,” Ford says.
Quillin witnessed Jones’ talent first-hand, directing him in multiple productions, as well as working with him backstage.
“There was no pretense about him in any way. He didn’t feel like he had to hide anything. He was just very real and very genuine,” he says. “He was a very generous person. He was a very generous actor.”
Dumbfounded that he’s talking about Jones in the past tense, Quillin says there were productions that wouldn’t have happened without his helping hand.
“He was there, working backstage for the first season of Western Playhouse and was slogging through the trenches of that with all of us and I can’t imagine that season happening without him. If he was not involved, it probably would not have happened,” Quillin says.
When talking about Jones in acting, Quillin remembers his performance as Galahad in “Spamalot!” as a standout, allowing him to showcase his goofy, loving spirit.
“He displayed his passion for the movie and yet, somehow, made the character his own at the same time. It was just a tremendous experience,” he says.
Jones’ characters were often an extension of himself, as there was little separating the actor and person. They both had a lot to give to others and wanted everybody to be involved.
“Talking about Jeff as an actor is the same as talking about him as a person,” Quillin says.
His friends reiterated that with stories of him doing whatever he could to make sure they weren’t alone or lost in the shuffle.
Harrah recalls Jones going above the call of duty on his wedding day.
“He was helping kind of get my suit together, make sure I was put together for my wedding and the thing is, he did it all that and he wasn’t even my groomsman ... He just did what he could because that’s the type of person he is,” Harrah says.
Ford says their relationship was exemplary of Jones’ nature.
“He was family to me when I didn’t have family,” he says. “If I couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, I was at Jeff’s house being a part of his family. That was within a year knowing me, it wasn’t even a question.”
When Don Lillie, a longtime theater professor at Missouri Western, passed away in 2015, Jones spoke with the St. Joseph News-Press about the effect he had on his life.
“He is the first example, in my life, of a man who did what he loved until the day he died. Because of that, I feel like with a little hard work and the dedication that theater requires of me, I might be able to do the same thing,” he said.
Ford says in speaking with Jones as he worked in Palm Springs, he was overjoyed that his friend got to experience his dream.
“I’m just happy that he got to do that, that he got the chance to live doing what he loved to do,” he says.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help defer funeral costs for Jones’ friends and family. It can be reached by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/get-everyone-to-jeff-jones-funeral.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live