Legendary character actor Seymour Cassel has died at the age of 84 as a result of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to multiple reports. Cassel was best known for his work with directors Wes Anderson and John Cassavetes, the latter of whom guided him to his first and only Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the hippie swinger Chet in 1968’s Faces. Cassel even doubled as a second cameraman on that film and helped with lighting adjustments, too, as he was more than happy to wear multiple hats for the sake of the production.
Cassel was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1935 and he studied acting at the American Theatre Wing as well as the Actors Studio. He made his feature debut at the age of 23 in Cassavetes’ Shadows, on which he also served as an associate producer after initially starting out as an unpaid crewmember. That film marked the start of a long personal friendship and professional relationship that included a starring role opposite Gena Rowlands in Minnie and Moskowitz, as well as a key supporting role in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
Cassel’s career found renewed momentum in the late ’90s after Anderson cast him as Jason Schwartzman‘s father in Rushmore. He would go on to appear in both The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Collider has reached out to Anderson and will update this post should he care to share any kind words. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and cherished collaborators, of which there were many.
Cassel appeared in numerous Hollywood hits, from Barry Levinson‘s Tin Men to Warren Beatty‘s Dick Tracy to Adrian Lyne‘s Indecent Proposal, in which he played Robert Redford‘s driver, but there’s one film I’ll personally remember him for above all others, and that would be Martha Coolidge‘s 1987 high school whodunit Plain Clothes. Cassel played a cop whose partner (Arliss Howard) is forced to go undercover as a high school student in order to exonerate his brother in the murder of a teacher. The film gave Cassel the chance to showcase his sense of humor, and do so while looking tough and holding a gun. It is one of my all-time favorite ‘comfort food’ films, a grilled cheese sandwich of a movie, and one of its many pleasures is Cassel taking down a couple of low-level ice cream thieves early in the film. Howard was saddened by the news of Cassel’s passing, telling Collider he was “crazier and sweeter sober than most other people drunk.”
Cassel was always considered an actor’s actor, working with Steve Buscemi and Nicolas Cage on their directorial debuts. His younger co-stars sought him out on sets to hear stories from the glory days of Hollywood and the early independent film scene. He led a fascinating life that included stints in the Navy, jail, and rehab. He claimed to have been Dennis Hopper‘s assistant director on Easy Rider, and went on to work with Hopper on the 1988 movie Colors. He also ran for president of the Screen Actors Guild twice, and is credited with bestowing the nickname ‘Slash’ on Guns N’ Roses guitarist Saul Hudson. In 2012, the Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany named an actors’ prize after Cassel, who also appeared on dozens of TV shows including Matlock, the original 1960s Batman series, and Tracey Ullman‘s Tracey Takes On… He even worked with Ronald Reagan on what would prove to be the future President’s last movie, The Killers.