NEW YORK – Ben Gazzara, whose powerful dramatic performances brought an intensity to a variety of roles and made him a memorable presence in films, on television and on Broadway in the original “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” has died at age 81.
Longtime family friend Suzanne Mados said Gazzara died Friday in Manhattan. Mados said he died after being placed in hospice care for 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.
In 1965 he moved on to TV stardom in “Run for Your Life,” a drama about a workaholic lawyer who, diagnosed with a terminal illness, quits his job and embarks on a globe-trotting attempt to squeeze a lifetime of adventures into the one or two years he has left. He was twice nominated for Emmys during the show’s three-year run.
After “Run for Your Life” ended in 1968, Gazzara spent the rest of his career alternating between movies and the stage, although rarely with the critical acclaim he had enjoyed earlier.
In the 1970s, he teamed with his friend director John Cassavetes for three films, “Husbands,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “Opening Night.”
Other Gazzara films included “The Bridge at Remagen,” “The Young Doctors,” “They All Laughed,” “The Big Lebowski,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Stag” and “Road House.”