08 April 2019 | | The Hollywood Reporter
“Seymour Cassel, the Oscar-nominated John Cassavetes regular whose wily glint, weathered look and versatile talent made him an admired character actor, has died. He was 84.
Cassel died Sunday in Los Angeles of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his son, Matt, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Cassel also was a favorite of Wes Anderson, who cast the irascible actor in Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004).
Cassel first teamed with Cassavetes during the making of the improvisational Shadows (1959). On Cassavetes’ directorial debut, he started out as an unpaid crewmember but was given an uncredited onscreen role — and then an associate producer credit — by the future icon of independent cinema.
Cassel received his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his portrayal of the hippie swinger Chet in Cassavetes’ Faces (1968), then reveled in the role of the free-spirited, ponytailed parking attendant Seymour Moskowitz in Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), which Cassavetes directed and wrote specifically for his wife, Gena Rowlands, and his pal.
Cassavetes also directed Cassel in Too Late Blues (1961), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Opening Night (1977) and Love Streams (1984) and on a 1962 episode of The Lloyd Bridges Show. The pair also acted together in The Webster Boy (1962) and Don Siegel’s The Killers (1964), on Burke’s Law in 1964 and on a 1973 ABC movie, Nightside.
Cassavetes, who died from liver disease in 1989 at age 59, was “the older brother I never had and the closest male friend I ever had,” Cassel told Terry Gross in a 2006 NPR interview. “He was extremely influential in creating my career and guiding me.”
At the other end of the Hollywood spectrum, Cassel played Robert Redford’s chauffeur, Mr. Shackleford, in the glossy Paramount romance Indecent Proposal (1993) and appeared as the cop Sam Catchem in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990).
Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi hired Cassel for Trees Lounge (1996), Animal Factory (2000) and Lonesome Jim (2005) after they first worked together on the Sundance hit In the Soup (1992) — for which the Detroit native garnered a special jury prize for his performance as a slick con man.
Throughout his career, Cassel invigorated parts big and small, imbuing them with a rascallike, countercultural exuberance.
“The character actors can have the fun, while the leading men think they have to be this object. I mean, that’s boring,” Cassel once said. “The fun is in filling out a part and making it a little crazy, because everyone has a little craziness in them anyway.”
Cassel was born on Jan. 22, 1935, in Detroit. He grew up in New York and lived above a nightclub, which his stepfather told him he had won in a craps game. (He never knew his real dad, a Milwaukee beer salesman.)
His mother had been a stripper and dancer on the Minsky’s burlesque circuit, and Cassel toured with her as a youngster.
“I got to get on stage when I was about 3 1/2, and I’d do the matinees in the little checkered suit with the baggy-pants comics,” he told Gross. “To me, life on the train and then coming back to New York City [was wonderful]. I wasn’t in school yet. When I had to go to school, I was not very happy about that.”
When he was 12, he moved back to Detroit to live with his godmother.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy, where he became an accomplished boxer, Cassel briefly studied acting with Stella Adler at Carnegie Hall, where he came upon an ad.
“It said, ‘Free Scholarships — John Cassavetes Workshop, Variety Arts Building,'” Cassel recalled in David Spaner’s 2011 book, Shoot It!: Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film.
“I went there and said, ‘I’m looking for one of those scholarships.’ John talked to me for about an hour and then said, ‘I’ve got to go. We’re shooting a movie.’ ‘I said, ‘Can I watch?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’
“I just started helping the cameraman. I worked all night. John took us to breakfast and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘It’s great. Can I come back?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ And I kept coming back. Not only did it enhance my knowledge, but I found the best friend I ever had.”
A real-life rapscallion, Cassel moved to Los Angeles in 1961 and earned a living with numerous TV roles (Combat!, My Three Sons, The F.B.I.), often playing off-center, fringe characters such as beatniks, hippies and oddballs.
On the two 1967 episodes of Batman that featured Van Williams and Bruce Lee as The Green Hornet and Kato, respectively, Cassel played a henchman named Cancelled who is employed by Col. Gumm (Roger C. Carmel).
He also claimed to have been Dennis Hopper’s assistant director on Easy Rider(1969).
On Faces, made for $40,000, Cassel did double duty again as an actor and crewmember (he was one of seven of the latter). “That way of making a film was so much fun,” he told IndieWire in 1997. “No unions to deal with, no time schedule. We shot it in continuity, which John did with every film after that. He did it for himself, and he did it for the actors.”
Cassel also came up with songs for a scene at the Whisky a Go-Go, he told NPR, “because we had no money for music. John knew I could do [that] because I had been doing it since the 1950s.”
He then starred with Jon Voight and Robert Duvall in The Revolutionary (1970).
Involved with drugs and alcohol, Cassel hit a personal downslide when he was sentenced to six months in jail in 1981 for possessing and intending to distribute cocaine.
“I was crazy,” he told Gross. “People would have one foot inside the door in Dan Tana’s in L.A. and one out. [They would say,] ‘What’s Seymour going to do now? I gotta see it, but I don’t want to be here when he does it.'”
Cassel entered rehab, In the Soup provided him with a comeback vehicle and he remained sober for many years. (It was In the Soup writer-director Alexandre Rockwell who connected him with Anderson.)
Cassel’s formidable body of work also included Coogan’s Bluff (1968), The Last Tycoon (1976), Valentino (1977), California Dreaming (1979), Tin Men (1987), White Fang (1991), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), It Could Happen to You (1994), 61* (2001), Stuck on You (2003), Beer League (2006), Reach for Me (2008) and Rockwell’s Pete Smalls Is Dead (2010).
He had unsuccessful runs at the SAG presidency in 2007 and 2009.
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Saul Hudson, a friend of Matt, credited the actor for giving him his nickname (that would be Slash). “Basically, he says it was because I was always in a hurry and I was always scheming, always hustling,” he said.
Matt is an editor in Hollywood. Survivors also include daughters Lisa and Dilyn, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation be made to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
- Shadows (1958) (uncredited)
- Man on a String (1960) as Hotel Pageboy (uncredited)
- Juke Box Racket (1960) as Seymour
- Murder, Inc. (1960) as Teenager (uncredited)
- Too Late Blues (1961) as Red
- The Webster Boy (1962) as Vic
- The Nutty Professor (1963) as Bored Man (uncredited)
- The Killers (1964) as Postal Clerk
- The Hanged Man (1964, TV Movie) as Bellboy
- Faces (1968) as Chet
- The Sweet Ride (1968) as Surfer / Cyclist (uncredited)
- Coogan’s Bluff (1968) as Young Hood
- The Revolutionary (1970) as Leonard II
- Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) as Seymour Moskowitz
- Moment to Moment (1975) as Wise Guy (uncredited)
- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) as Mort Weil
- The Last Tycoon (1976) as Seal Trainer
- Death Game (1977) asGeorge Manning
- Black Oak Conspiracy (1977) as Homer Metcalf
- Valentino (1977) as George Ullman
- Opening Night (1978) as Himself (uncredited)
- Convoy (1978) as Governer Haskins
- California Dreaming (1979) as Duke Slusarski
- Ravagers (1979) as Blind Lawyer
- Sunburn (1979) as Dobbs
- Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (1979) as Himself
- The Mountain Men (1980) as La Bont
- King of The Mountain (1981) as Barry Tanner
- Double Exposure (1982) as Dr. Frank Curtis
- Love Streams (1984) as Jack Lawson
- Beverly Hills Madam (1986, TV Movie) as Tony
- Eye of the Tiger (1986) as Sheriff
- Tin Men (1987) as Cheese
- Best Seller (1987) as Carter (uncredited)
- Survival Game (1987) as Dave Forrest
- Plain Clothes (1987) as Ed Malmburg
- Johnny Be Good (1988) as Wallace Gibson
- Colors (1988) as Sullivan
- Track 29 (1988) as Dr. Bernard Fairmont
- Wicked Stepmother (1989) as Feldshine, Magick Shop Owner
- I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes, the Man and His Work (1989, Documentary) as Himself
- Sweet Bird of Youth (1989) as Hatcher
- Dick Tracy (1990) as Sam Catchem
- Cold Dog Soup (1990) as Jojo
- White Fang (1991) as Skunker
- Mobsters (1991) as Father Bonotto
- Cold Heaven (1991) as Tom Farrelly
- Diary of a Hitman (1991) as Koening
- In the Soup (1992) as Joe
- Love Is Like That (1992) as Uncle Bud
- Chain of Desire (1992) as Mel
- Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) as Tony Cataracts
- Adventures in Spying (1992) as Ray Rucker
- Trouble Bound (1993) as Santino
- Indecent Proposal (1993) as Mr. Shackleford
- Boiling Point (1993) as Virgil Leach
- When Pigs Fly (1993) as Frank
- Chasers (1994) as Master Chief Bogg
- It Could Happen To You (1994) as Jack Gross
- There Goes My Baby (1994) as Pop
- Dark Side of Genius (1994) as Samuel Rourke
- Imaginary Crimes (1994) as Eddie
- Hand Gun (1994) as Jack McCallister
- Tollbooth (1994) as Larry / Leon
- Good Company (1996, TV series) as Jack O’Shea
- Dead Presidents (1995) as Saul (uncredited)
- Things I Never Told You (1996) as Frank
- Dream for an Insomniac (1996) as Uncle Leo
- Trees Lounge (1996) as Uncle Al
- Slaughter of the Cock (1996) as Ahilleas
- Dead Girl (1996) as Ira Golub
- Caméléone (1996) as Francis
- The Last Home Run (1996) as Older Jonathan
- Tracey Takes On… (1996-1999, TV Series) as Candy Casino
- This World, Then the Fireworks (1997) as Detective Harris
- Cannes Man (1997) as Sy Lerner
- Obsession (1997, German TV) as Jacob Frischmuth
- Motel Blue (1997) as Capistrano Minister
- The Last Don I & II (1997, TV Series) as Alfred Gronevelt
- Hollywood Salome (1998)
- Relax…It’s Just Sex (1998) as Emile Pillsbury
- Hoods (1998) as Pop Martinelli (uncredited)
- The Treat (1998) as Chip O’Herlihee
- Snapped (1998) as Bob
- Rushmore (1998) as Bert Fischer
- The Last Call (1998)
- Getting to Know You (1999) (uncredited)
- Ballad of the Nightingale (1999) as Jimmy
- Smoking Cuban Style (1999) as Dragan
- Me and Will (1999) as Roy
- Black and White (1999) as Sal
- Temps (1999) as Arthur, the studio president
- Animal Factory (2000) as Lt. Seeman
- The Crew (2000) as Tony ‘Mouth’ Donato
- Just One Night (2000) as Arthur Imperial
- The Sleepy Time Gal (2001) as Bob
- Bartleby (2001) as Frank Waxman
- 61* (2001, TV Movie) as Sam Simon
- Women of the Night (2001) as Sally
- The Cure for Boredom (2001) as Eddie
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) as Dusty
- The Chameleon (2001) as Richard Cavanaugh
- Passionada (2002) as Daniel Vargas
- Sonny (2002) as Albert
- Stealing Harvard (2002) as Uncle Jack
- Manna from Heaven (2002) as Stanley
- The Burial Society (2002) as Sam Goldberg
- The Biz (2002) as Eugene Hinkle
- A Good Night to Die (2003) as Guy
- Stuck on You (2003) as Morty O’Reilly
- Sweet Underground (2004) as Wally
- Thanksgiving (2004, Short) as Del
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) as Esteban du Plantier
- Lonesome Jim (2005) as Don
- The Wendell Baker Story (2005) as Boyd Fullbright
- Bittersweet Place (2005) as Jack “Pappy” Schaffer
- The Tenants (2005) as Levenspiel
- Before It Had a Name (2005) as Jeff
- Welcome to California (2005) as Jim’s Father
- Circadian Rhythm (2005) as Hoover
- Sea of Dreams (2006) as Tomaso
- Hollywood Dreams (2006) as Rupert
- Heist (2006, TV series) as Pops
- Ray of Sunshine (2006) as Victor
- Artie Lange’s Beer League (2006) as Dirt
- The Happiest Day of His Life (2007) as Mrd. Jacobs
- Postal (2007) as Paul
- Cosmic Radio (2007) as Malcolm Stone
- Beau Jest (2008) as Abe Goldman
- Barbiere, IL (2008) as Mort
- Big Heart City (2008) as Larry
- Reach for Me (2008) as Alvin
- Flight Of The Conchords (2009, TV Series) as Johnny Boy
- Staten Island (2009) as Jasper Sabiano
- Not Dead Yet (2009) as Francis
- Irene in Time (2009)
- Chasing 3000 (2010) as Poppy
- Kissing Strangers (2010) as Mr. Koster
- Pete Smalls Is Dead (2010) as Saco
- Now Here (2010) as Commissioner
- Fort McCoy (2011) as Father Mivkovek
- Without Borders (2011) as Detective McKenneth
- L!fe Happens (2011) as Pop Pop
- Freerunner (2011) as Gramps
- The Call (2011, co-starring Ryan Newman)
- Silver Case (2012, directed by Christian Filippella) as Dealer
- Booster (2012) as Harold
- Broken Kingdom (2012) as Clayton
- Lost Angeles (2012) as Film Critic
- The Secret Lives of Dorks (2013) as Principal
- Pride of Lions (2014) as Dominic Ackers
- Lucky Dog (2014) as The Real Spencer
- The Algerian (2014) as Professor Wright
- At the Maple Grove (2014) as Boyle
- The Last Beat (2014)
- Silver Case: Director’s Cut (2015) as Dealer