If you know me well, then you know the affinity I have for splendid, under-the-radar character actors. Ron Silver was one of those actors, and he passed away yesterday after a two year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Silver was consistent presence on the New York stage as well as television. He was a Tony award winner and had recurring roles on shows like Chicago Hope, Law and Order, and The West Wing. But he was also an amazing supporting talent in many films, some big, some small, in the eighties and nineties. Mass audiences will probably remember him best as the slimy senator trying to stop Jean Claude Van Damme’s time travel escapades in the cinema classic Timecop, but he also appeared in a lot of memorable, interesting fare like Find Me Guilty and Silkwood.
The role I will always remember him for is Alan Dershowitz in the film, Reversal of Fortune. The film tells the story of Claus Von Bulow’s appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1982. Von Bulow had been convicted for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny, a rich New England socialite, who now languishes in a coma as a result. Von Bulow contended that his wife was a drug-addicted, suicidal mess. He hired Dershowitz, a Harvard professor, to handle his appeal.
Silver plays Dershowitz as a hustling, skeptical mensch of an attorney, single-minded and resourceful but also prone to fits of temper and neurosis. It’s a wonderfully complex performance–one of those that you watch and say, “we can mark him down for an Oscar nomination.” Unfortunately, the Academy didn’t see things that way in 1990. The film, which is a marvellous legal head-scratcher, won an Oscar for its star, Jeremy Irons, who is equally brilliant as Claus, but got no love for Silver’s performance or as a film. Shame too. Weak year.
I always wonder what would have happened to Silver’s career if he had been nominated for that film. I would wager that better scripts than Timecop would have come his way, and he probably would have been able to build more of a base as a character actor in film and less in TV or theater. I remember seeing him a couple of years ago in Find Me Guilty and thinking, “wow, I guess these guys just never lose it.” Knowing now that he had been diagnosed with cancer at that time makes his excellent work in that film all the more touching.
Watching a brilliant character actor pass is almost always more of a shame for me than seeing a great leading man like Paul Newman or Marlon Brando pass. At least those guys got the breaks. Ron Silver had a great career, but I wish I could have seen more of him. Thanks for the great work.