Tahoe icon ‘Big Joy’ remembered for smile, personality
November 18, 2013
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Her smile, her laugh, her generosity, her singing talent, her acting chops — there is a lot to remember about Joy Michiel.
"Joy was truly a joy to work with — she always had a smile on her face, always had laughter, she was just always joyful. Her name adequately describes her personality," said Katherine E. Hill, The Weekly's associate publisher and editor and a colleague of Michiel's for nine years. "She always saw the best in everyone, and she never met someone who wasn't a friend to her … it was nice to work with someone who had such a zeal for life."
Michiel — a longtime Lake Tahoe journalist and flamboyant entertainer whose resume includes roles in off-Broadway hits and major Hollywood films — died suddenly Tuesday evening. She was 60.
She collapsed at her Incline Village home at about 9 p.m., her husband, Steve Caswell, said Thursday. Michiel was rushed to St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Reno, but doctors were unable to save her.
While an official cause of death is still being determined, an apparent blood clot in her lungs led to her collapse, Caswell said.
"I miss her, I miss her already … she was just a sweetheart," Caswell said. "I don't think anyone ever had a bad word to say about her."
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Known throughout the Reno/Tahoe area as "Big Joy," Michiel was born June 24, 1953, in New York and moved to Southern California when she was 3. As a young adult, she spent time in New York, Hawaii and eventually San Francisco, where she met Caswell, whom she married on Feb. 15, 1987.
"It's been 26 years of holy deadlock, as we liked to call it," Caswell said with a chuckle. "She was a sweetheart, would always do something for anybody. She had a good sense of humor; we could say things to each other that would make us laugh."
The couple moved to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in 1990. Already armed with a strong entertainment resume, Michiel quickly made a name for herself, eventually performing annually in several fundraisers such as the Incline Star Follies and Relay For Life events.
On a larger scale, Michiel had minor roles in a handful of feature films, including the Eddie Murphy-led remake of "Dr. Dolittle" in 1998 and the 1994 Ty Cobb baseball biopic "Cobb," starring Tommy Lee Jones.
She also acted in the 1989 TV series "The New Adam-12" and the 1984 series "Partners in Crime," among other TV commercial appearances.
Theatrically, Michiel performed in several productions, including the Off-Broadway hits "Dogs" and "All American Boy" in New York, and, more locally, "Nunsense," "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" and "Man of LaMancha" at the Cal Neva Resort in Crystal Bay.
Further, she's performed countless singing, cabaret and comedy shows in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and throughout the greater Reno/Tahoe area, as well as aboard international cruise lines.
Aside from her entertainment career, Michiel was a seasoned journalist and news person, having worked in a variety of roles with The Weekly since 1991.
She served as the North Lake Tahoe publication's entertainment editor the past 20 years, and was once its editor in chief for a short time, Hill said.
"We're truly going to miss her at The Weekly," Hill said. "We're a very small staff, so we're like a family … and it's really heartbreaking when a member of your family is gone."
Michiel loved her three cats — Molly Jones, TC and Lilac — Caswell said, and was also a giving person, evidenced by the "Joy gifts" she would give out each Christmas.
"A box showed up not too long ago that had windsocks in it … that was going to be her gift this year," Caswell said. "She used to love to do that."
Michiel is immediately survived by Caswell; her step-father Craig Satterfield and his wife, Cynthia; and her step-mother, Ruth Michiel.
A celebration of life will likely take place next spring, Caswell said, and details will be released as they become available.
Hill said The Weekly is already working on a tribute to its fallen employee, planned for the upcoming Dec. 5 issue.
Residents are encouraged to share comments and memories of Michiel at the magazine's Facebook page, facebook.com/thetahoeweekly.