Categotry Archives: Actors

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John Spencer

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Categories: Actors

jspencer.jpgJohn Spencer, an Emmy Award-winning actor best known for playing the shrewd chief of staff on the hit NBC drama “The West Wing,” died on Dec. 16 of a heart attack. He was 58.
Born John Speshock and raised in Paterson, N.J., Spencer moved to Manhattan when he was only 16 to attend the Professional Children’s School, a private academy for youths pursuing artistic careers. In 1963, he landed a recurring role on “The Patty Duke Show” as Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of the English twin Cathy. Spencer attended Fairleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey and New York University, but dropped out of both schools in order to act.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Spencer performed in regional theatres and in off-Broadway shows. He acted in David Mamet’s “Lakeboat,” Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and opposite Gloria Swanson in “Butterflies Are Free.” Spencer won an Obie Award in 1981 for his work in the off-Broadway production of “Still Life,” and received a Drama Desk nomination for “The Day Room.”
The actor made his feature film debut in 1980 in the film “War Games.” Small roles in “Sea of Love” and “Black Rain” soon followed. Spencer’s big break came in 1989 when he landed the part of Harrison Ford’s detective sidekick in the courtroom thriller “Presumed Innocent.” The role brought him to the attention of David E. Kelley, who invited Spencer to join the cast of the NBC legal drama “L.A. Law.” When the show ended four years later, Spencer returned to the big screen in “Forget Paris,” “The Rock,” “Albino Alligator,” “Cop Land” and “The Negotiator.”
Spencer guest starred on “Miami Vice,” “Spenser for Hire,” “Law & Order,” “Touched By An Angel” and “Lois & Clark,” among other TV shows, then landed the role that would make him a star. In 1998, he was cast as Leo McGarry, a powerful politician and right-hand man to President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), on the NBC political drama “The West Wing.” Like his character, Spencer was known for being a loyal, kind-hearted person and recovering alcoholic. In a strange twist of fate, however, McGarry suffered a heart attack last season, one that forced him to give up his White House job. The character recovered and was picked as a running mate for Democratic presidential contender Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).
Spencer received five Emmy nominations for his work on “The West Wing,” and won the award in 2002. The critically-acclaimed series, currently in its seventh season of production, has not announced how it plans to handles his real life death. Off the set, Spencer was an avid reader, gardener and art collector. He also participated in the New York and L.A. AIDSWalk, which benefit local clinics and AIDS patients.
Listen to an Interview With Spencer

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Richard Pryor

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

rpryor.jpgControversial. Authentic. Foul-mouthed. Manic. Pioneering. Genius. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe actor/comedian Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III. But fans and colleagues always add one other adjective to the list: Funny.
“He doesn’t fall into the [categories] of comedians we have, like prop comic, black comic, Jewish comic, white comic… he doesn’t even get comic. He’s just funny!” comedian and TV personality Jon Stewart said.
Born in Peoria, Ill., Pryor’s childhood was far from innocent. Raised in his grandmother’s brothel, he was sexually molested by a neighborhood teen and by a Catholic priest, and once saw his mother perform sexual acts on the town’s mayor. To escape from these horrors, Pryor watched movies from the colored section of the local theatre and played the drums at an area nightclub.
Pryor was kicked out of school at 14, and worked a variety of odd jobs (janitor, shoe shine man, meatpacker and truck driver). He served two years in the U.S. Army then began working the club circuit as a standup comedian. By the mid-1960s, he was performing in Las Vegas and making appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. But Pryor wasn’t happy with the media’s constant comparisons to Bill Cosby, so he took a two-year hiatus and returned to the comedy circuit with an act that featured unique characters and cutting edge social commentary.
Pryor next turned his attentions to Hollywood. During the 1970s and 1980s, he acted in dozens of films — such as “Lady Sings the Blues,” “The Wiz,” “Stir Crazy,” “The Toy,” “Superman III,” “Brewster’s Millions” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” — and became one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
In 1986, he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in the film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,” an autobiographical account of a popular comedian re-examining his life from a hospital bed. The film was an appropriate project for Pryor, who battled drug and alcohol addictions for years and nearly lost his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine. The incident, later described to Barbara Walters as a suicide attempt, caused him to suffer third degree burns over 50 percent of his body.
On television, Pryor headlined “The Richard Pryor Show” on NBC, a program that was canceled after only five broadcasts because the censors were so offended by his material. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” and the 1977 Academy Awards show, and won an Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Award for writing “The Lily Tomlin Special.” Pryor’s first screenwriting attempt, “Blazing Saddles,” which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks, brought him another Writers Guild of America Award. He released four comedy concert films, sold millions of comedy albums and co-wrote his 1995 autobiography “Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences.”
Pryor suffered two heart attacks, and in 1986 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Nine years later, he received an Emmy nomination for guest starring as an MS patient on the CBS drama “Chicago Hope.” Pryor was honored by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1998 with the first Mark Twain Prize for humor. In 2004, he was selected as #1 on Comedy Central’s list of 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6438 Hollywood Blvd. Sheridan Road in his hometown of Peoria was renamed Richard Pryor Place in his honor.
Pryor married seven times to five different women and fathered seven children. A lifelong advocate of animal rights, he adopted stray animals, participated in letter-writing campaigns and was honored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for saving baby elephants in Botswana.
Pryor died on Dec. 10 of a heart attack. He was 65.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

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Pat Morita

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood

pmorita.jpgNoriyuki “Pat” Morita, the veteran actor who ran the malt shop on “Happy Days” and taught Daniel-san how to defend himself against bullies in “The Karate Kid,” died on Nov. 24. Cause of death was not released. He was 73.
The son of Japanese immigrants, Morita grew up in northern California and spent much of his childhood in a full body cast suffering from spinal tuberculosis. Although doctors told him he’d never walk, Morita proved them wrong and regained his mobility by the time he was 11. When the hospital released him, an FBI agent escorted Morita and his family to a Japanese-American internment camp, where they lived for several years during World War II.
Once released from captivity, Morita’s family moved to Sacramento and ran a Chinese food restaurant. At 30, he decided to become a stand-up comedian. Within five years, Morita worked his way up from performing gigs at area nightclubs and bars to entertaining millions on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” He performed in clubs all over the U.S. and was the first Japanese-American to headline a show in Las Vegas.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Morita landed small roles on numerous television programs, including “The Odd Couple,” “Green Acres” and “M*A*S*H,” then joined the cast of “Happy Days” as Matsuo “Arnold’ Takahashi. He would eventually appear in more than 100 films and TV shows, and provide the voice of the Emperor of China in the Disney animated features, “Mulan” and “Mulan II.”
In 1984, Morita tackled his most famous role, that of handyman-turned-mentor Kesuke Miyagi in the film, “The Karate Kid.” His efforts to teach a young boy (played by Ralph Macchio) the basics of karate with household chores spoke to a generation of children who mimicked the “crane kick” from the finale of the movie and signed up for martial arts classes.
“The Karate Kid” grossed $91 million at the box office and spawned three sequels, all of which starred Morita. For his work in the original movie, Morita earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. He also received an Emmy nomination for the 1985 TV movie, “Amos.” His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6633 Hollywood Blvd.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

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Wendie Jo Sperber

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Categories: Actors

wsperber.jpgWendie Jo Sperber, an actress and an advocate for cancer patients, died on Nov. 29 of breast cancer. She was 46.
The Los Angeles native was bitten by the acting bug when she was still in high school. Her big break came in the late 1970s when she earned her Screen Actor’s Guild card for performing in “Grease.”
Sperber followed that role with appearances in more than a dozen television shows, but was best known for acting opposite Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari on the 1980s sitcom, “Bosom Buddies.” She also performed in several movies, including all three “Back to the Future” films.
In 1997, Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she was devastated by the news, Sperber was even more surprised to learn there was no support system in place for cancer sufferers in her area. So, she decided to create one.
Sperber founded the weSPARK Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in 2001. The weSPARK center offers free information, emotional support and social activities for people and families affected by cancer. Sperber also sponsored the Celebrity Golf Classic, an annual star-studded event that raised funds for the center, and helped unveil a breast cancer stamp for the U.S. Postal Service.
For her efforts, Sperber received numerous honors, including the Woman of the Year award from the Los Angeles County Commission, The Namaste Spirit Award from the Namaste Interfaith Center and the Mordecai Kaplan Award for Distinguished Service by the University of Judaism. A single mother, she is survived by her 19-year-old son, Preston, and her 16-year-old daughter, Pearl.

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Bill Hootkins

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood

bhootkins.jpgWilliam Michael Hootkins, a character actor who achieved cult status playing an ill-fated X-Wing pilot in the film “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” died on Oct. 23 of pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
The burly Texan developed an interest in acting as a teenager at the St. Mark’s School of Texas. He studied astrophysics and Chinese linguistics at Princeton University before moving to England and training as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
One of Hootkins’ first major roles in Hollywood was also his most memorable. In the 1977 science fiction classic, “Star Wars,” he played Lt. Jek “Red Six” Porkins. Despite the fact that he had few lines and his character died during the rebel attack on the Death Star, Hootkins found fame with the saga’s most ardent followers. These same fans created entire Websites in his honor, purchased Jek Porkins action figures and sought out his autograph at science fiction conventions.
Hootkins followed that role with more than 40 others on the big and small screens. He played Major Eaton in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Chuck Malarek in “White Nights,” Lt. Max Eckhardt in “Batman” and will appear as Frank Rich in the upcoming movie “Colour Me Kubrick.” The multilingual actor also made guest appearances on numerous television shows, including “Taxi,” “Valerie” and “The West Wing.”
On stage, Hootkins earned rave reviews as Alfred Hitchcock in “Hitchcock Blonde” on London’s West End. The show was scheduled to move to Broadway next year. In his spare time, Hootkins lent his vocal talents to audiobooks, video games and dozens of radio plays for the BBC.

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