Dead, Biagio Anthony Gazzarra on February 3, 2012 at 81, known as Ben Gazzara, was an American film, stage, and television actor and director.
Born in New York City on August 28, 1930, the son of Italian immigrants Angelina (née Cusumano) and Antonio Gazzarra, a laborer and carpenter, each of Sicilian origin – Angelina from Castrofilippo and Antonio from Canicattì in the province of Agrigento.
Gazzara grew up in New York’s Kips Bay neighborhood; he lived on East 29th Street and participated in the drama program at Madison Square Boys and Girls Club located across the street.
He attended New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, but finally graduated from Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx.
Years later, he said that the discovery of his love for acting saved him from a life of crime during his teen years.
In 1953, at the age of 23, Gazzara made his highly acclaimed Broadway debut as a psychopathic sadist in the play End As a Man.
He followed that performance with leading roles in the Broadway debuts of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956) and Michael V. Gazzo’s A Hatful of Rain (1956), for which Gazzara earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor.
In addition to stage acting, Gazzara soon ventured into film and television.
He made his big-screen debut in the 1955 film I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and gained wide acclaim for his role opposite Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder (1959), widely considered one of the greatest trial movies of all time.
During the 1960s, Gazzara was best known for his television roles as a cop on the ABC series Arrest & Trial (1963-1964) and as the terminally ill Paul Bryan on the NBC show Run for Your Life (1965-1968).
Gazzara became well known in several television series, beginning with Arrest and Trial, which ran from 1963 to 1964 on ABC, and the more-successful series Run for Your Life from 1965 to 1968 on NBC, in which he played a terminally ill man trying to get the most out of the last two years of his life.
For his work in the series, Gazzara received two Emmy nominations for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” and three Golden Globe nominations for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama.” Contemporary screen credits included The Young Doctors (1961), A Rage to Live (1965) and The Bridge at Remagen (1969).
In the 1980s, Gazzara appeared in several movies such as Inchon co-starring Laurence Olivier and Richard Roundtree.
They All Laughed (directed by Peter Bogdanovich), and in a villainous role in the oft-televised Patrick Swayze film Road House, which the actor jokingly said is probably his most-watched performance.
He starred with Rowlands in the critically acclaimed AIDS-themed TV movie An Early Frost (1985), for which he received his third Emmy nomination.