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Former Monk Wins $153M Powerball Jackpot, Funds New Play at Goodman

By DNAinfo Staff | March 16, 2015 9:42am | Updated on March 16, 2015 11:25am
 Northwestern University grad Roy Cockrum won $153 million in the Powerball lottery in Tennessee last July.
Northwestern University grad Roy Cockrum won $153 million in the Powerball lottery in Tennessee last July.
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Tennessee Lottery

CHICAGO — A man who won $153 million in a Powerball lottery and vowed to give away much of his fortune has agreed to underwrite a production at the Goodman Theatre.

The winner, Roy Cockrum, 58, lives in Tennessee but studied acting at Northwestern University before becoming a monk.

Last summer, he bought a winning Powerball ticket at a grocery store in Knoxville, Tenn.

Cockrum told the New York Times that he was motivated to underwrite a five-hour adaptation of Robert Bolano's "2666" because he had seen a similar large-scale production of Philip Ullman's "His Dark Materials" in London years before he won the lottery.

"There was a huge cast, a score from start to finish, special effects every five minutes and a very enthusiastic young audience on the edge of their seats," Cockrum told the Times. "I made a mental note that if I ever got some dough, I would do what I could to support nonprofit theaters being able to do that level of production."

The amount Cockrum is giving the Goodman, 170 N. Dearborn St., was not disclosed. The play spans 100 years and examines life of a Mexican border town. Goodman describes the play, running Feb. 6-March 13, 2016, as "an unflinching look at evil" and "an ambitious new work unlike any other theatrical experience."

Cockrum spent 20 years as an actor and stage manager for theater and TV productions before entering an Episcopal religious community in Massachusettes. He had taken "a lifelong vow of poverty, celibacy and obediance in an enduring fellowship," according to an Associated Press story from when he won the lottery last July.

However, the religious order said that Cockrum, now described as "a former monk," was no longer bound by that vow.

At a news conference in Nashville last summer, Cockrum told reporters, "It's going to be my job to work very hard to make sure that every single penny of this prize is a blessing to whoever it touches."

He said at the news conference that he created a personal pension fund, gave some to religious and local charities and set up a foundation for supporting the arts.

"My father passed away in 2010, and essentially I am following his rule about money management: tithe a tenth, save a tenth and spend the rest wisely," Cockrum said.

Cockrum said when he realized he had won the lottery, "It literally knocked me to my knees."

"My prayer was simple: Lord have mercy," he said.

He said of his life as a monk: "I really believe the best way to prepare for this tsunami of cash has been to live under a vow of poverty for a number of years. It gives great perspective."

In a statement issued by the Goodman, Cockrum praises Robert Falls, the artistic director for "2666."

"It is necessary that we as a society support our artists' big dreams," Cockrum said. "Bob's vision for '2666' is absolutely exhilarating."

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