Actor Ben Gazzara is dead

Actor Ben Gazzara (known for his brooding tough-guy presence in dozens of films, television shows and stage productions over his long career) died of pancreatic cancer on Friday at a Manhattan hospital – his lawyer said. He was 81.
A three-time Tony nominee for his stage work, Gazzara made his big break into films with his role as an accused killer in Otto Preminger’s 1959 courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Murder.”
He went on to work with numerous high-profile Hollywood directors, including John Cassavetes, with whom he collaborated on several films (including the 1976 gangster drama “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”).

Actor Ben Gazzara is dead
Ben Gazzara.

Manhattan-born theater and movie character actor Ben Gazzara died Friday night in New York. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to his lawyer (Jay Julien).
Gazzara, a respected theater actor who studied under Lee Strasburg at the Actors Studio, is best known for minor movie roles he played as tough guys, pornographers and degenerates in the 1980′s and 90′s.
Notably he played the part of Brick in the original 1955 Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
The role of the alcoholic son of a Southern cotton-planter was later made famous by Gazzara’s fellow Actors Studio disciple, Paul Newman.
Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara in 1930 to Sicilian parents on the lower East Side, he got his first paying acting gig in 1952, on the live show called “Danger” – directed by Sidney Lumet.
In 1956, he played drug addict Johnny Pope in the Broadway play “A Hatful of Rain” for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.
He was courted by Hollywood after his early stage success, but turned down most of the roles.
“I was very stupid” – he told Denis Hamill in a 1999 interview. “I won’t mention the things I turned down. It was the idealism of youth. I started in the theater and did plays that were enormously successful. I thought: ‘Look how easy this is. It’ll never end.’ So when they offered me pictures, I said: ‘No, no, no. It might taint my artistic soul.’ But the truth is that I was afraid. I didn’t think I was ready to handle Hollywood. So I turned down things I shouldn’t have turned down and they got mad. And stopped calling. And then the plays stopped becoming so easily successful.”

Ben Gazzara, an intense actor whose long career included playing Brick in the original “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on Broadway, roles in influential films by John Cassavetes and work with several generations of top Hollywood directors, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his lawyer (Jay Julien) said. Mr. Gazzara lived in Manhattan.
Mr. Gazzara studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in Manhattan, where the careers of stars like Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger were shaped, and like them he had a visceral presence. It earned him regular work across half a century, not only onstage — his last Broadway appearance was in the revival of “Awake and Sing!” in 2006 — but in dozens of movies and all sorts of television shows, including the starring role in the 1960s series “Run for Your Life.”
If Mr. Gazzara never achieved Brando’s stature, that was partly because of a certain laissez-faire approach to his career – an early suspicion of film, a reluctance to go after desirable roles.
“When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers” – he said in a 1998 interview on “Charlie Rose.” “I won’t tell you the pictures I turned down because you would say: ‘You are a fool.’ And I was a fool.”
And yet Mr. Gazzara’s enduring reputation may well rest on his film work, specifically the movies he made with Mr. Cassavetes, the actor and director revered by cinephiles for his risk-taking independent projects and a directorial style that encouraged spontaneity.
The two had had bit parts in the 1969 comedy “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” but it was in “Husbands” (1970), directed by Mr. Cassavetes, that they, along with Peter Falk, really made an impression as unhappily married men out for a drunken night on the town together. As Mr. Gazzara wrote in his autobiography, “In the Moment” (2004), the on-camera camaraderie was so convincing that people assumed the three men had been lifelong friends; in fact they had barely known one another when the filming began, though they became friends during it.
Mr. Gazzara’s most important role for Mr. Cassavetes was in “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976), in which he played a strip club owner in debt to the mob. “It’s a thoughtful, intelligent interpretation of a role that just may not have as much depth to it as he’s ready to give it” – Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote of Mr. Gazzara’s performance.

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