TULSA — Larry Payton, president of the Tulsa-based Celebrity Attractions, died Monday of complications from an undisclosed illness at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. He was 64.
Payton and his wife, Kay, founded Celebrity Attractions in 1983. The organization presented major theatrical and musical events, most notably touring productions of Broadway musicals.
During its early years, Celebrity Attractions brought occasional productions to Tulsa.
The modest operation would eventually grow to include Broadway series in six additional markets: Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Ark., Springfield, Mo; and Amarillo, Abilene and Lubbock, Texas.
“For 30 years, Larry's dream of bringing laughter, smiling faces and stirring hearts through live entertainment has touched the lives of thousands of Tulsans, as well as theatergoers in Oklahoma City and five other cities across a four-state area,” said Payton's brother and Celebrity Attractions' chief operations officer, Ed Payton.
“The lights of Broadway are dimmer today because of the loss of Larry Payton but beyond his business contribution, Larry's legacy will continue to impact through the work he did in his church and community,” Payton said.
In addition to his work as a presenter, Payton became an investor in Broadway and touring productions, including the Tony Award-winning musicals “Once,” “Spamalot,” “The Color Purple,” “Movin' Out,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Payton's frequent trips to New York put him in contact with many of Broadway's elite. He developed a long-standing friendship with composer Frank Wildhorn and invested in Wildhorn's musicals “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Wonderland.”
“I knew Larry for many, many years and we shared some wonderful adventures together,” Wildhorn said. “He was a great spirit, a man of great faith and deeply soulful. We shared so many of the same passions. He was a great partner and a great friend, and I will miss him so much.”
Payton was the recipient of the 1997 Small Business Person of the Year Award given by the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. The Broadway League awarded Payton the 2006 Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management Award.
“Larry was an icon in the Broadway community,” said Al Nocciolino, a member of the Broadway League's board of governors. “He shared himself with all. We will miss him dearly.”
Jim Brown, general manager of the Civic Center Music Hall, called Payton “a dear friend who directly contributed to the continued success and renovation of the Civic Center. He was a major contributor to the arts and to the quality of life for all Oklahoma City citizens.”
Payton was a deacon at Tulsa's Parkview Baptist Church, where he served on the church council. He had been actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes since college and served on the state board of directors.
Payton is survived by his wife, brother Ed, daughter Laura, son Drew and daughter-in-law Charity.
Funeral services are pending.