As part of our “TOH! Remembers” series, our contributors look back on the leading men the film community lost this year, from Peter O’Toole to James Gandolfini, Paul Walker and more.
Who: James Gandolfini
Born: September 18, 1961 in Westwood, New Jersey
Died: June 19, 2013 in Rome, Italy
Known for: His thrice-Emmy-winning performance as troubled mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos”
Career breakout: A nasty, woman-beating proto-Soprano in Tony Scott’s “True Romance” (1993).
High Point: The eight-year, six season run of “The Sopranos” was nothing but high points for Gandolfini, who was lavished with innumerable accolades for his iconic and untouchable performance as the existentially adrift paterfamilias. Enormously respected by peers and admired by pundits — including NY Mag TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who interviewed the actor back in the show’s early glory days — Gandolfini took on a wide range of film roles during and after the series. But he didn’t just recreate Tony Soprano time and again. Imposing yet kind-eyed, Gandolfini voiced a shaggy gentle giant in Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” wisecracked as a pushy lieutenant in “In the Loop” and, most recently, played a mild-mannered bachelor and single dad in Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said.”
Low Point: While vacationing in his ancestral nation with his son, Gandolfini died suddenly of a heart attack at age 51, just a few months before “Enough Said” would premiere at TIFF.
Yes, it’s true: He was planting trees when Sidney Lumet phoned and offered Gandolfini his first movie role, which was a small part in 1992’s “A Stranger Among Us.” –Ryan Lattanzio
Who: John Kerr
Born: November 15,
Died: February 2, 2013
Known for: Two movies, “Tea and Sympathy” (1956) and “South
Pacific” (1958) and two decades of solid work in television
Career Breakout: After appearing in three Broadway plays
that altogether lasted a total of four months, Kerr hit boxoffice gold as a
sensitive boy in a boarding school who is derided by the other boys as a
“sissy” because he is more interested in books than in sports. “Tea and Sympathy” lasted almost two years on
Broadway, and Kerr won the 1954 Tony Award as best featured actor in a play.
High Point: The ending of the movie version of “Tea and
Sympathy” when Deborah Kerr as the wife of a brutal housemaster at the school
gives herself to the boy with the oft-quoted line, “When you speak of this in
future years – and you will – be kind.”
Low Point: Kerr won a 1957 Golden Globe as “Most Promising
Newcomer” in a three-way tie with Paul Newman and Anthony Perkins. After his performance as the doomed
lieutenant in “South Pacific,” his career eventually turned into roles in
endless television series.
Yes, it’s true: He turned down a chance to play Charles
Lindbergh in “The Spirit of St. Louis” (1957) because of Lindbergh’s support of
Nazi Germany during the 1930s. And in
the late 1960s he went to law school at UCLA and then practiced law in Encino
for 30 years, although he was also a regular on “The Streets of San Francisco”
TV series during the 1970s. –Aljean Harmetz
Who: Paul Walker
Known for: His lead recurring role as Brian O’Connor in the
global hit “Fast and Furious” franchise.
Career breakout: Before F&F, Walker scored three big-screen
supporting roles following mostly TV work with “Pleasantville,”
“Varsity Blues” and “She’s All That.”
High point: Being part of one of the most successful action
franchises of the Millennium thus far.
Low point: Forgettable thriller entry “The Skulls,”
a Walker film immediately preceding the first “Fast and Furious” film
(and made by the same director).
Yes, it’s true: Chalk it up as a tragic irony of an untimely
demise: At the time he was killed Saturday in a Los Angeles auto mishap at the
ridiculously young age of 40, Paul Walker was less than two weeks away from
seeing how movie audiences and VOD viewers would respond to what arguably was
the finest performance of his career up to that point, in indie
“Hours,” as a desperate father who triumphs over death. –Joe Leydon
and Beth Hanna
Who: Peter O’Toole
Known for: Playing the charismatic and tortured T. E.
Lawrence in David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia,” which made him
an instant movie star.
Career breakout: “Lawrence of Arabia”
High point: Although O’Toole’s performance as the
flamboyant, perhaps homosexual soldier who rode through the desert enlisting
desert tribes to fight against the Turks and for the British in World War I
lost the Oscar to Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” it is now considered
one of the eight or 10 best movie performances of all time.
Low point: Though nominated for eight Oscars, he never won
one. (He was often eccentrically bad on stage, never quite fulfilling critic
Kenneth Tynan’s words that at his best O’Toole’s performances “may presage
greatness.” He frittered away some of
his promise with drinking companions Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Robert
Shaw, Peter Finch, and Laurence Harvey.)
Yes, it’s true: When he was given an honorary award in 2003,
O’Toole, who had survived a series of almost fatal illnesses including stomach cancer
in the 1970s, tried to turn the award down, writing the Academy that he was
“still in the game.” In 1987, when
Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the actor, who had protested against the
Vietnam War, turned down a knighthood. –Aljean Harmetz
Up next: TOH! remembers the leading ladies the film community lost in 2013.