Kip Niven, a Prairie Village native who followed his dreams of becoming an actor to Hollywood before returning home to become a pillar of the local theatre scene, died Monday of a heart attack at the age of 73.
Niven graduated from Shawnee Mission East in 1963 before heading to college at Baylor University, where he spent a year before transferring to the University of Kansas. In Lawrence, he quickly became involved in the university’s theatre department. He moved to Los Angeles after college to pursue a career in acting, landing roles in a variety of television shows and TV movies. In 1973, he appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry film Magnum Force, the first of a handful of roles in major studio productions.
Perhaps his most notable role came in the mid-1970s when he was a recurring character in the CBS sitcom Alice. He went on to marry the series’ lead actress, Linda Lavin, following the death of his first wife, Susan Niven, in a car accident in 1981. His marriage to Lavin ended in divorce after 10 years. In 1994, he married Mary Beth Reiff, who preceded him in death in 2012.
Niven returned to the Kansas City area in the mid-1990s, and quickly established himself as a nucleus of the local theatre community, serving both as a performer and booster. Earlier this decade, he teamed up with other fixtures of the Kansas City theatre scene to launch the Equity Actors Readers’ Theatre — EARTh for short — which staged dramatic readings of great plays.
In 2013, University of Kansas professor Kevin Willmott, the frequent collaborator of Spike Lee who earned an Oscar this year for co-writing the screenplay for Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, cast Niven as Phog Allen in Jayhawkers, his film about Wilt Chamberlain’s time at KU.
Willmott lamented the loss of Niven, posting on Facebook that, “We lost a great man and an amazing talent today…We have lost a mighty man. Love you brother!”
Niven is survived by three children: Maggie, Kate and Jim.