A Tribute to Ben Gazzara (1930-2012)

I’m not sure that any movie is more beloved by The Back Row than The Big Lebowski, and sadly, one of the film’s cast members has just left us, as renowned character actor Ben Gazzara passed away of pancreatic cancer on February 3, 2012 at the age of 83. Gazzara’s acting career spanned a grand total of 60 years, and his big breakthrough performance occurred in Otto Preminger’s 1959 courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder, as Lt. Frederick Manion, a soldier put on trial for shooting a man who raped his wife. Gazzara never stopped working on screen, television and stage after that, compiling a filmography of over 130 credits. He garnered multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his starring role in the 1960s television series, Run for Your Life, and finally captured his first Emmy in 2003 for his performance in the made-for-HBO movie, Hysterical Blindness. Gazzara was a particular favourite of directors John Cassavetes and Peter Bogdanovich, starring in such films of theirs as Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Saint Jack and They All Laughed. Other prominent films that he appeared in include Happiness, The Spanish Prisoner, Dogville and Summer of Sam, but ironically, one of his most famous performances is the one that garnered him a Razzie nomination: his role of the villainous Brad Wesley in Road House.

Of course, Road House is completely ridiculous, but it has become a very popular cult favourite over the years and Gazzara’s wonderfully campy and over-the-top performance as Wesley just adds to the film’s entertainment value. And despite being nearly sixty years old at the time, he knew how to hold his own in a fight scene with Patrick Swayze. Anyway, even though he only appears in one scene in the movie, our favourite Ben Gazzara role was in The Big Lebowski as porn kingpin Jackie Treehorn, who “treats objects like women”. R.I.P. Mr. Gazzara, and I shall sketch a man with a huge erection on a pad of paper in your honour.

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