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Allen Garfield, a Memorable Supporting Actor, Is Dead at 80 | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Allen Garfield, a Memorable Supporting Actor, Is Dead at 80

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This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

Allen Garfield, a veteran character actor who was a memorable presence in “The Conversation,” “Nashville” and many other films, died on April 7 in Los Angeles. He was 80.

His sister and only immediate survivor, Lois Goorwitz, said the cause was complications of Covid-19. Since suffering a stroke in 2004, Mr. Garfield had been living at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Home, a retirement facility, where several staffers and some residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Garfield began studying acting at night while working as a sportswriter for The Star-Ledger of New Jersey. He later joined the Actors Studio, where he studied under Lee Strasberg.

“I became an actor in order to be trained by the masters, which I was, at the Actors Studio,” Mr. Garfield said in a television interview. “From the moment I stepped foot in the Actors Studio, I audaciously stepped out and said who I was, for better or for worse. I put my stamp on things as an actor and as a director.”

An immediately recognizable supporting player, Mr. Garfield became a screen mainstay in the 1970s, appearing in such notable films as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974), Robert Altman’s “Nashville” (1975), Michael Ritche’s “The Candidate” (1972) and Richard Rush’s “The Stunt Man” (1980).

He was best known for playing talky, anxious characters, bringing an intense authenticity to his portrayals of salesmen, corrupt businessmen and sweaty politicians.

In “The Conversation,” he played a weaselly surveillance expert who was a rival to Gene Hackman’s character. Mr. Coppola would cast him again in “One From the Heart” (1981) and “The Cotton Club” (1984).

In “Nashville,” Mr. Garfield was the husband and manager of a country singer played by Ronee Blakley. In “The Candidate,” he was a brash advertising expert working with a young Senate candidate played by Robert Redford. In Tony Scott’s “Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987), he was the furious police chief who goes on an expletive-laden tirade against Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold and John Ashton before getting fired himself.

On television, he was seen on episodes of “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Chicago Hope,” “The West Wing” and many other series.

Mr. Garfield was born Allen Goorwitz in Newark on Nov. 22, 1939. (Years after taking the professional surname Garfield, he briefly returned to calling himself Allen Goorwitz in the late 1970s and early ’80s.) He was a Golden Gloves boxer before becoming a journalist — he once said he took up boxing as a way to deal with anti-Semitic bullies — but had committed himself to acting by the late 1960s.

After playing small parts in films by Woody Allen, Brian De Palma, Milos Forman and Robert Downey Sr., he was cast in a rare lead role, as a bumbling private detective, in the 1971 comedy-mystery “Cry Uncle,” directed by John G. Avildsen.

He had a stroke before he began filming the Roman Polanski film “The Ninth Gate” in 1999 — Mr. Polanski made his partial paralysis part of his character — but he continued to act until shortly before having a second stroke in 2004.

The New York Times contributed reporting.


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