Gazzara Dies

Gazzara Dies at 81, Ben Gazzara, who often portrayed tough or difficult characters on stage and screen during his 50-year career, died this afternoon, The New York Times is reporting. He was 81.

His lawyer said the actor died of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

In its obituary, the Times describes Gazzara as "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."

The Times writes:

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.

An older audience also remembers him from TV shows in the 1960s and '70s, including the popular 1965-to-1968 series Run for Your Life.

Younger filmgoers may remember Gazzara for his roles in two 1998 movies: as Jackie Treehorn, the pornography mogul and loan shark in the Coen brother's cult classic, The Big Lewbowski, and as Lenny Jordan, the father of the three sisters in Happiness, by Todd Solondz.
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