ST. PETERSBURG — A well-respected actor and theater teacher was found bludgeoned to death in his home Sunday evening. Police reported no arrests and few leads.
Jeffrey Charles Norton, 55, was found inside his home at 4201 Third St. N, with blunt force trauma to his upper body, police said. He was discovered by Rosemary Orlando, a close friend who came to the house after Norton failed to answer his telephone.
"We had a party (Sunday afternoon), and Jeff didn't show," said Orlando, an actor and director in Tampa. "Actually, he was supposed to bring the food. We went over there, and that's when we found him."
They called 911 at 8:07 p.m. Police believe Norton's life was taken within 72 hours of when he was found. There are no suspects.
"He was not involved in anything criminal. . . . There is no motive to this," said police spokesman Mike Puetz.
Norton, who worked as the theater manager of Shorecrest Preparatory School, 5101 First St. NE, had a long and illustrious career as an actor and acting teacher in the Tampa Bay area.
With degrees in acting and theater from Southern Methodist University and the University of South Florida, he was a key figure in a string of legendary, now-defunct Tampa theater troupes in the 1970s and '80s such as the Alice People, School of Night, the Playmakers and Tampa Players.
In the 1990s, Norton was probably the busiest actor in the bay area, frequently appearing in productions by American Stage, Warehouse Theater, the Hillsborough Moving Company and Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (now the Straz Center). At one point, he was in eight productions in a year and a half, including critically praised performances in the romantic, swashbuckling title role of Cyrano de Bergerac and as the college professor who battered a woman student in David Mamet's Oleanna.
"Uniqueness, passion, imagination — what makes anyone brilliant? Jeff just had it. He was so magnetic and dynamic onstage," said Anna Brennen, producing artistic director of Stageworks in Tampa, who first saw Norton in a USF production of Equus. She directed him in a one-man show he wrote about the artist Keith Haring.
"He did farce exceptionally well," Brennen said. "He was a very kinetic, athletic actor who was at his best when he could move a lot."
From 1991 to 2005, Norton was an adjunct professor in theater at USF, said Lara Wade, the university's news director. He taught acting, movement and voice.
"He was brilliant on stage," said Patrick Pizzolorusso, 31, an actor in New York City who was mentored by Norton through college.
In recent years Norton had stopped acting. The last production he was in was Crossing the Bay, a musical by Bill Leavengood and Lee Ahlin that was staged in the Shorecrest theater in 2005.
At Shorecrest, he devoted his talents to a younger generation. He participated in choral sections in musicals. Mike Murphy, the headmaster, said Norton recently choreographed all of the knife fights and rumble scenes for a production of West Side Story.
"They were quite magnificent," Murphy said. "It was so ironic because he was such a peaceful and quiet man. It was acting."
On Monday morning, Norton's front yard was closed off with police tape and monitored by officers in cruisers.
"He stayed inside most of the time," said neighbor Ricky Johnston, a St. Petersburg police officer. "It's usually pretty quiet," Johnson said of his neighborhood. "We've never had any problems."
The only thing unusual was that Norton's green pickup was missing from the street.
Reached by telephone at her St. Petersburg home, Norton's mother, Valara Norton, said she was not ready to talk about her son.
Times staff writers Danny Valentine and staff researchers Natalie Watson and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.