Ron Silver, 62, Persuasive Actor and Activist, Dies
|Mr. Silver, left, in the West Wing as Bruno Gianelli with Alan Alda and William Russ.||
Mitch Haddad/NBC Universal
By BRUCE WEBER, The New York Times: March 16, 2009
Ron Silver, a versatile actor and independent-minded political activist who played Henry Kissinger, Alan M. Dershowitz and Angelo Dundee on the screen and supported Bill Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani and George W. Bush on the stump, died at home in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 62.
The cause was esophageal cancer, which was diagnosed two years ago, his brother Mitchell said.
Mr. Silver, who won a Tony Award in 1988 in David Mamet’s high-speed Hollywood sendup “Speed-the-Plow,” was known for playing verbally deft, charmingly manipulative characters, and his persona off stage was, if not Machiavellian, then certainly engaging and persuasive.
Intellectually curious and informed — he spoke Spanish, studied Chinese and served on committees for the Council on Foreign Relations — he was nearly as connected in Washington as he was in Hollywood and on Broadway, giving him a life away from performing that few other actors could match. Actually, he had a performing life that not many actors could match, either.
From Left: Madonna, Joe Mantegna and Mr. Silver in the 1988 production of David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow.”
His résumé was ample on stage, in the movies and on television. His Kissinger was in a 1995 television movie, “Kissinger and Nixon.” In “Reversal of Fortune,” the 1990 movie directed by Barbet Schroeder about the high-society trial of Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons), he played Mr. Dershowitz, Mr. von Bulow’s voluble lawyer. And he was Mr. Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trusted cornerman, in the 2001 film “Ali.”
He played other real-life characters, including Bobby Riggs, the tennis player and huckster who played — and lost to — Billie Jean King in a celebrated “battle of the sexes” match in 1973, which was recreated in a television movie, “When Billie Beat Bobby,” in 2001.He played the rock ’n’ roll impresario Bill Graham in a one-man show by Robert Greenfield, “Bill Graham Presents.”
Mr. Silver also appeared on Broadway in David Rabe’s play “Hurlyburly,” another Hollywood satire, and in movies that included “Enemies: A Love Story” (1989), Paul Mazursky’s bittersweet comedy about a Holocaust survivor who somehow ends up with three wives, and “Blue Steel” (1990), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, about a commodities broker who becomes obsessed with a young policewoman (Jamie Lee Curtis) after he witnesses her shooting an armed burglar. On television he had recurring roles on several series, including “Rhoda,” “Chicago Hope,” “The West Wing” and “Veronica’s Closet.”
But Mr. Silver was busy as a nonperformer as well. An activist most frequently allied with left-wing issues, he was president of Actors’ Equity, the stage actors union, for most of the 1990s and was a co-founder of the Creative Coalition, a group that advocates for First Amendment rights, public education and arts support. He campaigned for Bill Clinton for president.
“I’m an actor by calling but an activist by inclination,” Mr. Silver said in a 1994 interview.
Still, he had contrary impulses, and he paid attention to them. He was an advocate for President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense plan, and he supported Mr. Giuliani’s campaign for mayor of New York in 1994. In 2004, he made headlines when he was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Manhattan, supporting the nomination of President George W. Bush for a second term, largely because of the president’s stance against Islamic terrorism. He supported Mr. Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
Ronald Arthur Silver was born in Manhattan on July 2, 1946. His father, Irving, was an executive in the men’s wear business. His mother, May Zimelman Silver, worked in the city school system as an aide and a substitute teacher. Young Ron attended New York City public schools, graduating from Stuyvesant High School. At the State University of New York at Buffalo, he studied Spanish; he received a master’s degree in Asian studies at St. John’s University in Queens. He studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio.
Mr. Silver’s only marriage, to Lynne Miller, ended in divorce. In addition to his brother Mitchell, who lives in Newton, Mass., he is survived by his parents, who live in Manhattan; another brother, Keith, of Stamford, Conn.; a son, Adam, of Los Angeles; and a daughter, Alexandra, of Manhattan.
His acting awed them, his conservative streak confounded them, Mitchell Silver said.
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