Actor Ben Gazzara, whose long career spanned lead roles in the original 1955 Broadway productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Hatful of Rain,” television, and dozens of film roles, including in 1959′s “Anatomy of a Murder” and 1998′s “The Big Lebowski,” has died, according to reports.
Gazzara died in Manhattan of pancreatic cancer, The New York Times reported.
He was 81, according to IMDB.com.
Gazzara told Charlie Rose in 1998 that he went from being mainly a stage actor who often would turn up his nose at film roles before, much later, becoming a ubiquitous character actor who “turned very little down, almost nothing.”
“When I became a hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers,” he told Rose. “I won’t tell you the pictures I turned down because you’ll say, ‘You are a fool,’ and I was a fool.”
The New York-born Gazzara’s career took off in the 1950s when he was appearing regularly on the New York stage and was a member of Manhattan’s famous Actors Studio, known for producing method actors including Marlon Brando.
After early film success in major roles, Gazzara’s career cooled, though he starred in the TV series, “Run for Your Life,” from 1965 to 1968.
It was during his stint on ”Run for Your Life” that Gazzara met the cult icon John Cassavetes, who he later described to an unbilled interviewer in a YouTube video as “a poet of film.”
In the YouTube interview, shot at a Cassavetes festival, Gazzara said he soon found himself rehearsing, refining and improvising a script with Cassavetes and the actor Peter Falk that would eventually become the 1970 film, “Husbands.”
“By the time we got on the set we knew each other so well and had worked so intimately with each other creating the film that this creation … led to a friendship,” Gazzara said. “John would say, ‘I don’t want you to be better than you are. I want you to be as good as you are.’ So he set the climate for an actor to feel free, to give whatever. And if it didn’t work, it didn’t work.
“It’s the first time I experienced a piece of work that I wanted to go on and on and on,” he said, “because it got to the point where the relationships had become like blood. I couldn’t leave that.”
Gazzara continued to work with Cassavetes, including in the films, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “Opening Night.”
Gazzara’s latter-day work included the films “Road House,” ”Happiness,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Summer of Sam,” and “Buffalo 66.”