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Subject: Archive: Robert Prosky, Dec. 8, 2008

Character actor
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Date Posted: Saturday, December 08, 04:41:24pm

WASHINGTON - Robert Prosky, 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. He was 77.

Mr. Prosky, a Washington, D.C., resident, died Monday at Washington Hospital Center of complications of a heart procedure.

After struggling in New York, Mr. Prosky found a home at the Arena Stage in Washington, becoming a fixture for 23 seasons. He made his movie debut in "Thief" (1981), playing 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 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) who at one point says, "In 35 years of religious study, I've only come up with two incontrovertible truths: There is a God, and I'm not him."

Portraying television newsmen also became a specialty. 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 defense lawyer for accused killer Sean Penn in "Dead Man Walking" (1995) and a judge in a 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street."
He played many recurring roles on television, 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."

He once said he turned down the role of a bartender on "Cheers" and was grateful not to have been a part of the hit comedy because "doing the same role for 6 1/2 years" sent a chill down his spine.

Robert Joseph Porzuczek was born in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood. Initially drawn to theater in high school, he briefly studied economics at Temple University before returning to the family grocery shop after his father's death in 1952.

He continued performing in plays, supporting himself in New York as a Federal Reserve Bank bookkeeper. At one low point, he appeared with stripper Ann Corio in a staging of "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?"

"It was in a sex farce and co-starred a former burlesque stripper," he told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2004. "The production was in Milwaukee . . . in the dead of winter. And I took it."

What he considered just another one-shot deal, playing the sheriff in a 1958 Arena Stage revival of the newspaper comedy "The Front Page," was instead a breakthrough. He credited theater cofounder Zelda Fichandler with being a crucial influence, and he decided to settle in Washington.
"When I first came to Arena, I wasn't an actor who thought much," Mr. Prosky told The Post in 1984, "and here I was at what is certainly a theater of intellect - God, Zelda would hate that label. But I wasn't this great genius who'd studied all the philosophies of the world. I was the son of a Polish butcher from Philadelphia. To read Pirandello, 'Six Characters in Search of an Author,' was a whole new experience for me. Same with Brecht.

"But Zelda saw something in me, God knows what, and kept nurturing it," he said. "I know what I would have become otherwise. I would have stayed in New York and made a small dent in commercials, because uppermost in my mind was earning a living."

He periodically returned to the New York stage and earned Tony Award nominations in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1984) and Lee Blessing's "A Walk in the Woods" (1988).

In 1960, Mr. Prosky married Ida Hove. He also leaves three sons and three grandchildren.

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Here's Prosky in "Christine"LinkSaturday, December 08, 04:47:09pm

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