Name at birth: Biagio Anthony Gazzara
Ben Gazarra played tough, smart, troubled characters in a six-decade career on stage and screen. Born in New York City to Sicilian immigrants, he turned to acting straight out of high school and was accepted into the Actor's Studio in 1951. He didn't take long to succeed: he created the role of Brick in the 1955 Broadway production of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (written by Tennessee Williams), and in 1959 became a film star playing a rather nasty murder suspect in Otto Preminger's movie Anatomy of a Murder. Never really a typical leading man or villain, Ben Gazzara used his dark good looks and raspy growl of a voice to play strong-minded but morally ambiguous characters. He had a long association with dramatic director John Cassavetes, appearing in the Cassavetes dramas Husbands (1970, with Gazzara, Cassavetes and Peter Falk as friends who run away from their lives after the death of a friend), The Killing of A Chinese Bookie (1976, with Gazzara as a degenerate gambler who gets in trouble with the mob) and Opening Night (1977). He and Cassavetes also acted together in the 1975 crime drama Capone, with Ben Gazzara as legendary gangster Al Capone. Gazzara was also a TV star in Run For Your Life, playing a lawyer who hits the road after being told he has two years to live. The show ran for 86 episodes from 1965-68. His many other films include The Bridge at Remagen (1969), Roadhouse (with Gazzara as an over-the-top heavy vs. Patrick Swayze's hero), The Big Lebowski (1998, with Gazzara in a small role as pornography magnate Jackie Treehorn), and Paris, J'Taime (1996, in a touching segment with Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands). Ben Gazzara was never nominated for an Oscar, but he did win an Emmy at age 73 for the TV movie Hysterical Blindness. He published a memoir, In the Moment: My Life as an Actor, in 2004.
Ben Gazzara was married three times: to Louise Erickson (1951 until their divorce in 1957), to the actress and dancer Janice Rule (from 1961 until their divorce in 1979), and to Elke Stuckmann (from 1982 until his death in 2012)… When Ben Gazzara left the Broadway production of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, he was replaced by Jack Lord, later of Hawaii Five-O fame… The role of Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was played by Paul Newman in the 19xx movie… Ben Gazzara was three times nominated for a Tony Award as best actor, but never won. The nominations were for A Hatful of Rain (1956), Hughie / Duet (1975) and the 1977 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?