LOS ANGELES - Playwright John Belluso, who championed the rights of disabled people in both his work and through the writer's program he helped direct, has died. He was 36.
Belluso was found dead Friday in his Manhattan hotel room, New York police Detective Chris Filippazzo told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday.
The cause of death was under investigation, but Filippazzo said foul play was not suspected. Belluso, who used a wheelchair, had a debilitating bone disease called Engleman-Camurdrie Syndrome, according to friends.
Until last July, Belluso had helped direct the Other Voices Project, a development program at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum for writers with disabilities.
"He was a good storyteller, and he wanted to tell the stories of the disabled from a personal point of view," said Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of Mark Taper Forum.
Davidson produced Belluso's 2001 play "The Body of Bourne," about Randolph Bourne, a World War I pacifist and writer disfigured by childhood spinal tuberculosis.
Belluso had been staying in New York while he completed "The Poor Itch," a play about a disabled American veteran returning from Iraq. It had been commissioned by New York's Public Theater.
"John was an incredibly important writer, both in his own right, and as a leading advocate for writers and artists with disabilities," said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater. "It's a terrible, terrible loss."
Los Angeles playwright Luis Alfaro said Belluso's works challenged stereotypes.
"He wrote very defiant works about disabled people," said Alfaro, citing in particular 2002's "Pyretown," a scathing look at America's managed health care system that is told through the story of a romance between a divorced mother of three and a young man in a wheelchair. The couple meet at a hospital emergency room where the mother is seeking help for a sick child.
Other works included "Gretty Good Time," about a 32-year-old woman with post-polio paralysis living in a nursing home; "Traveling Skin," about a New Jersey waitress with cerebral palsy; and "Henry Flamethrowa," in which a miracle-imbued comatose girl is visited by those praying to be healed from illness.
Belluso is survived by his mother and two sisters.