NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Veteran character actor Ben Gazzara has died. The native New Yorker passed away Friday in Manhattan from pancreatic cancer.
Gazzara was a proponent of method acting, in which the performer attempts to take on the thoughts and emotions of the character he’s playing, and it helped him achieve stardom early in his career with two stirring Broadway performances.
In 1955, he originated the role of Brick Pollitt, the disturbed alcoholic son and failed football star in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He left the show after only seven months to take on an equally challenging role, Johnny Pope, the drug addict in “A Hatful of Rain.” It earned him his first of three Tony Award nominations.
He also starred in the 1960s TV show “Run For Your Life” and appeared in dozens of movies. Gazzara last appeared on Broadway in the 2006 revival of “Awake and Sing!”
Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara in New York on Aug. 28, 1930, he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a cold-water flat with a bathtub in the kitchen. His parents were immigrants from Sicily who met and married in New York, and his first language was Italian. Although he was baptized under his birth name, his parents always called him Ben or Benny.
As a child he became fascinated with movies, and after giving his first performance, in a Boys Club play, he knew he had found his life’s work.
Rita Moreno, who played Gazzara’s wife in the 2000 film “Blue Moon,” said, “He was a wonderful man, and I so enjoyed working with him. I wish I could have had the pleasure more often.”
Other Gazzara films included “The Bridge at Remagen,” “The Young Doctors,” “They All Laughed,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Stag” and “Road House.” He also made several films in Italy.
Gazzara was 81-years-old.
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