Influential actor of the stage and screen Ben Gazzara, a veteran of the original Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway and more than 55 films, passed away from pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan on February 3, according to The New York Times. He was 81 years old.
Gazzara was born on August 28, 1930, in New York City. He took classes at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York and later attended the Actors Studio. He made his Broadway debut as a bully named Jocko in 1953’s End as a Man. In 1955, he originated the role of Brick Pollitt, the brooding, alcoholic husband of Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Seven months later he starred in A Hatful of Rain for which he earned his first of three Tony Award nominations. Other Broadway credits include The Night Circus, Strange Interlude and a 1976 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which earned him another Tony nomination. In 1975, his dual roles in a double bill of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie and David Scott Milton’s Duet earned him a third Tony nomination. In 2003, he played Yogi Berra in the biographical play Nobody Don't Like Yogi at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY. His final Broadway appearance was in the 2006 revival of Awake and Sing!
Gazzara broke into the film world in Otto Preminger's 1959 thriller Anatomy of a Murder. He earned two Emmy nominations in the mid 1960s for his three-year stint on the NBC series Run for Your Life. Other notable screen roles include The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, The Thomas Crown Affair, Dogville, and most notably, as porn kingpin Jackie Treehorn in 1988’s The Big Lebowski.
Gazzara is survived by his wife, Elke Stuckmann, his adoptive daughter, Danja, and his biological daughter, Elizabeth, from a previous marriage to actress Janice Rule. A brother, Anthony, also survives.