Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robert Prosky 1930-2008

You may not have known his name, but you never forgot the characters he played.

Robert Prosky, 77, a supporting actor with hundreds of film, TV and stage credits and whose roles included an avuncular sergeant on the NBC police drama “Hill Street Blues” and a desperate real estate salesman in David Mamet’s play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” has died.


In Mr. Prosky’s movie debut, Michael Mann’s “Thief” (1981), he played the vicious patriarch of a ring of Chicago diamond thieves. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby found Mr. Prosky “exceptionally effective” as “a Middle Western version of the sort of affable international villains that Sidney Greenstreet once played.”

The part launched Mr. Prosky’s career as a film heavy, including such roles as the evil garage owner in “Christine” (1983), a corrupt judge in “The Natural” (1984) and a mafia don in Mamet’s “Things Change” (1988).

It was a nice change of pace, Mr. Prosky said, to be offered the role of a self-deprecating priest in “Rudy” (1993).

Portraying TV newsmen also became a specialty for Mr. Prosky. In “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), he was a station owner who exchanged quips with Robin Williams. He was a defender of community standards who clashed with journalist Dustin Hoffman in director Costa-Gavras’s “Mad City” (1997). And he was a longtime executive who gets fired in director James L. Brooks’s “Broadcast News” (1987).

Mr. Prosky’s other film roles included the pro-bono defense lawyer for death row inmate Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking” (1995) and a judge in a 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

In addition, he played many recurring roles on TV, as the big-hearted desk sergeant Stanislaus “Stan” Jablonski on “Hill Street Blues” from 1984 to 1987 and later as a priest accused of murder on the ABC legal drama “The Practice.” He played Kirstie Alley’s father on the sitcoms “Cheers” and “Veronica’s Closet.”

I remember first seeing him on Hill Street Blues, and I saw him last night on Mrs. Doubtfire. Go in peace, Sarge.