John McCullough (actor)

John Edward McCullough (November 2, 1832 – November 8, 1885) was a Irish-born American actor.[1]


John McCullough was born in Coleraine, Ireland (today part of Northern Ireland). He went to America at the age of 16, and made his first appearance on the stage at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1857. In support of Edwin Forrest and Edwin Booth he played second roles in Shakespearean and other tragedies, and Forrest left him by will all his prompt books. Virginius was his greatest success, although even in this part and as Othello he was coldly received in England (1881). On the night of September 29, 1884, he broke down on stage at McVicker's Theater in Chicago and was unable to recite his lines. The audience, thinking he was drunk, hissed and booed. In fact, McCullough was suffering from the early stages of general paresis. He was later committed to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum but continued to decline and finally died in an asylum in Philadelphia. His "insane ravings" became popular and were imitated in one of the first audio recordings.[2]

He died on November 8, 1885 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is interred at Mount Moriah Cemetery.[3]


On March 18, 1865, less than a month before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth appeared at Ford's Theatre, Washington, in the play The Apostate which was performed as a benefit for John McCullough.[4]

In 1889, after his death, McCullough was memorialized with a statue in Philadelphia - to which Edwin Booth reportedly refused to contribute.[5]


An apocryphal version of his death which arose as theatre lore is reported by the National Theatre in Washington, DC where he appeared a number of times in various roles between 1875 and 1889 [incorrect date—he died in 1885]. According to this version of events, McCullough was murdered backstage by a fellow actor, was buried by members of the acting company in a cellar beneath the stage, and is a resident ghost.

According to an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories ("D.B. Sweeney, Adrien Zmed, Eddie Money, DJ Nicole Leone"), John Edward McCullough's ghost is responsible for breaking the ankle of Adrian Zmed during a Broadway production of Grease.


Further reading

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