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Rodney Woodworth

February 18, 1954 -
August 31, 2021

Rodney Woodworth, of Champaign, IL, took his final bows and last curtain call on Tues., Aug. 31st..  Leaving with a standing ovation, he will now bask on a new stage and spotlight, joining a heavenly cast of family, friends, and loved ones.  This is the role he always coveted and yearned for, and is now a …read more

Rodney Woodworth, of Champaign, IL, took his final bows and last curtain call on Tues., Aug. 31st..  Leaving with a standing ovation, he will now bask on a new stage and spotlight, joining a heavenly cast of family, friends, and loved ones.  This is the role he always coveted and yearned for, and is now a true star that will shine brightly and forever in God’s glorious Heavens.

Born Feb. 18th, 1954, Rodney is survived by James “Jace” Woodworth of Champaign, Mike (Lori) Woodworth of Tolono, Schelle (Richard) Miles of Simms, AL, and Danny (Helen) Woodworth of Clearwater, FL.

He was preceded in death by his mother Constance Joyce Johnson-Smith, his father James Clark Woodworth, both maternal and paternal grandparents, loving uncles and aunts, and other cherished relatives.

Rodney was an outgoing, passionate and entertaining spirit who generously shared his love of the arts, humanity and life itself with everyone he encountered.  Every person he met wanted to become one of his friends, and many people ended up becoming lifelong friends, collaborators and extended family.

Rodney grew up in the church, which fostered his love for God and of reading and music, eventually inspiring him to become a theatrical artist and, much later in life, a certified lay speaker for the church.  His love for music and theater started at a very early age; even as a little kid, he was always putting on skits and shows.  He was a great big brother to his four younger siblings, practically raising his closest brother, Jace; doting on him and fiercely protecting him.  Rodney was born an extrovert, always volunteering for any activity that might help him meet other children and adults, and make new friends.  As a young child Rodney formed a close and special bond with his maternal grandmother, Lenore “Mimmi” Painter/Ament.  It would be a special and loving relationship that would sustain both of them through good times and bad, and last until her death at age 93.

After finishing high school Rodney enlisted in the Air Force, first serving as a medic at the end of the Vietnam conflict.  He went on to serve his country for the next 10 years as a valued administrator, being stationed everywhere from the remote island of Guam to Labrador Bay in Canada.  No matter where he landed Rodney became active in the community there and, through his faith and love of the arts, integrated himself into the local communities as a church choir director and other roles.

After finishing his service he returned home to attend the University of Illinois, pursuing a degree in music.  During this period Rodney could often be seen on the stages of U of I, community colleges, and community theaters throughout the Champaign-Urbana area.  He met a man and began a relationship that would last over eight years.  He would also meet several fellow artists who would become lifelong friends, co-workers and collaborators.  While visiting one of these friends in Chicago, Rodney fell in love with the burgeoning theater scene there and made the move to the big city.

In Chicago Rodney studied acting and went on to perform in a number of professional and community productions, including two world premiere musicals, “Metropolis,” and “Mr. Show Biz,” based on the life of Liberace.  During this period, Rodney answered a want ad on a whim and was hired to work for Playboy.  Soon he took a temporary position at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles where he met hundreds of people (yes, including Hugh Hefner!) and collected even more stories, which he would tell with great flair, joy and love.  Chicago also inspired his passion for all types of tie-dyed clothing and rainbow baubles which, as anyone who knew him will tell you, were the mainstays of his eclectic wardrobe!

Eventually Rodney returned to central Illinois to care for his mother during her illness.  He then became the General Manager and Artistic Director of the Sunshine Dinner Playhouse, where both behind the scenes and on the stage he delighted audiences for many years.  Though he had started portraying Santa Claus many decades earlier at the mall, he eventually began to appear as Santa for private parties, philanthropic events, photo sittings, television commercials and every year with the C-U Symphony.  His friends and family would joke that, between the Sunshine, Santa, and his other very public jobs at the Credit Union and restaurants, Rodney befriended virtually every single person in the C-U area, and would continuously be greeted with enthusiastic affection whenever he went anywhere in public!

During all of these escapades Rodney had many health challenges.  His exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam left him immunocompromised for his entire life.  He fought no less than five battles with cancer and suffered from severe and persistent migraine headaches, all the while trying to live life to the fullest.  He had a deep and abiding faith throughout all of his life, eventually landing at his beloved Faith United Methodist Church, where he sang with the Praise Band, directed the children’s Christmas Pageant and taught for vacation bible school.

The last portion of Rodney’s life was devoted to the care of his beloved grandmother, Mimmi.  He took on the jobs of caretaker, companion, travel agent, chauffeur, listener, confidante and friend with great enthusiasm, humor, joy and love.  Theirs was a very special bond of family love and personal compatibility that was obvious to all who saw them together.  Rodney often commented that he considered the time he spent taking care of Mimmi the most happy, meaningful and fulfilling time of his long, large and wonderful life.  And ever the theatrical impresario, he even wrote and presented a one-man show about his great grandmother, mother, and Mimmi and their special relationships.

Rodney’s legacy is threefold:  The talent he shared with his audiences, congregations, and children; the deep and abiding friendships he made with so many people; and, most importantly, the joy, genuine affection, and love he brought to every person who had the good fortune to know him.  And although he will be missed, the most Rodney-appropriate expression of our grief just might be to celebrate, in his honor, the gift of life.  Oh, and of course, to wear tie-dye and rainbows, even to the memorial service!

Funeral services will be held at Faith United Methodist Church, Champaign, IL on Mon., Sept. 20th .  Visitation from 9:00 am – 11:00 am, funeral and interment services immediately following at the church.  The service will be live-streamed at and can also be seen on the church’s Facebook page starting at 11:00 am.




Service Information

Visitation Information

Date: Monday, September 20, 2021

Time: 09:00 am

Faith United Methodist Church


1719 S. Prospect Ave.
Champaign, IL 61821

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