Ben Gazzara, Popular Character Actor, Dies at 81

ben gazzaraYou saw him in The Thomas Crown Affair. He played a mobster in Summer of Sam, an evil boss in The Spanish Prisoner, and porn producer Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski. Ben Gazzara, veteran actor, died yesterday at the age of 81

Ben Gazzara was one of those character actors you've seen in movie after movie. If his face doesn't pop into your mind immediately when you hear his name it's because he disappeared so deeply into his roles -- and because he played so many different kinds of  roles. 

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Gazzara worked with some of the most innovative directors of his time. He collaborated with the director John Cassavetes (who died in 1979), most notably in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night. He performed under Peter Bogdanovich's direction in Saint Jack and They All Laughed. And he starred in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder. In the past decade he appeared in several made-for-TV movies. He even made an appearance on the television hit, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, in 2001. 

Gazzara enjoyed a long and successful stage career. He starred in the original Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and performed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf. He was one of the original "method" actors who studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio and was a contemporary of Marlon Brando.

Over his lifetime Gazzara married three times. His third wife is German model Elke Stuckmann. He had two daughters, plus an adopted daughter from Elke's previous marriage. Gazzara struggled on and off with depression. He was currently in hospice care for pancreatic cancer.

What is your favorite Ben Gazzara role?

 

Image via Mike Fuentes/Getty

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