CLEARWATER BEACH — Chris Tracey was bold.
She liked to smear on pancake makeup inside the little Clearwater Beach store her family owned. Customers sometimes cocked an eyebrow as she transformed herself.
She was an exasperated resort manager. A vindictive, gossip-spreading cousin. A sharp-tongued divorcee. Fresh and pretty, old and weathered.
She took the stage as more than 70 different characters.
"Chris Tracey was a born actress," said her sister, Marlyn Tracey. "From the time she could crawl, she was entertaining anyone who met her."
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She was tiny — 5 feet tall — but she got noticed. Her family called her a "ham bone."
Ms. Tracey was loud, funny, sharp. She liked to blare Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, Def Leppard. She was obsessed with David Bowie. She wasn't known for great singing, but she was known for great air guitar.
"She had a wild rock 'n' roll streak to her," said her sister, 59. "I hated her music. She would be driving down the road and she'd put on her station. I'd say, 'Turn it off!' But she'd say, 'I'm driving!' "
She worked in medical billing and coding, and helped run the Anchor Mini Mart, which her family has owned for 40 years. She was single and cared for her two terriers, Trixie and Shamus.
She dabbled in performing until 15 years ago. Her niece signed up for acting classes at Ruth Eckerd Hall, then came down with a sore throat and couldn't go. Her spot came open.
"Hell, I'll go," Ms. Tracey said.
She was hooked. She auditioned with Ed Fletcher's Early Bird Dinner Theatre, a company that performs at the Italian American Club on McMullen-Booth Road. Fletcher, the owner, wanted to assemble a strong ensemble for his plays.
"Over the years, whenever we needed someone in a pinch, it was always, 'Call Chris Tracey,' " said Fletcher. "She was a real crowd pleaser. She did comedy exceptionally well. She did drama. She was also a leading lady."
An actor once froze right before the show opened, he said. Frantic, the director needed a replacement. Get a script to Chris Tracey, Fletcher said.
"She went up there and knocked them dead."
She acted in plays and rehearsed for others at the same time. A Bedfull of Foreigners. Crimes of the Heart. Whose Wives Are They, Anyway? Hotbed Hotel. Tea for Two.
Her last role was Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias, April 2007. It was one of her favorite parts. Marlyn Tracey loved watching her sister tackle the character, "but I actually don't like Steel Magnolias because the outcome is a bummer."
Ms. Tracey had a different take.
"It's so true to life."
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She lived for nine years with cancer that makes the skin erupt with tumors.
She worked and acted through it. She was cast in Early Bird's latest play, Social Security, slated to open in September. She was going to play a grandmother.
She studied in the hospital. She told the doctors she had to get out because she had a show to do.
"She was tough," Fletcher said. "She was running lines with the nurses."
Her cancer was in remission, her family said. But the treatments had caused her kidneys to fail. She died June 5. She was 50.
The play will still go on.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.