Ringling Bros. Clown Toby Ballantine, Who Had Circus in His Blood, Dies at 71 in Sarasota
Toby Ballantine, son of legendary clown Bill Ballantine, followed his father’s footsteps and performed with Ringling Bros. and many other companies.
Toby Ballantine grew up in the shadow of the oversized shoes of his father, Ringling Bros. circus clown and graphic artist Bill Ballantine, to become a performer in his own right. It was if his parents had planned it when they gave him the middle name of Circus.
A clown, magician and actor who spent winters with his parents in Sarasota as a child and who returned here about 13 years ago died April 14 at the age of 71.
“He couldn’t stop performing,” said Heidi Connor, chief archivist at The Ringling Museum, where Toby Ballantine was a volunteer. “He’d go to small organizations or nursing homes. Even as his physical health was waning, he would do sleight of hand tricks and he’d tell stories.”
Because of his family’s circus heritage, “everybody who knew the circus knows of him, and his name preceded him, and he had a reputation to uphold,” she said.
His father served as dean of the Ringling Bros. Clown College in Venice, which Toby attended in 1973, leading to a year performing with the Red Unit of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1974. He later came back to Clown College to teach stilt walking, one of the skills he frequently used when he would make appearances as a very tall Uncle Sam for the Nathan’s 4th of July hot dog eating contest. His family said he also performed at the first MTV Video Music Awards…
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