Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Yes, he could

I was sorry to learn that character actor Bruno Kirby passed away yesterday due to complications from recently diagnosed leukemia. He was 57.

Bruno Kirby — the son of another fine (and still actively working) character actor, Bruce Kirby — was one of those "that guy" actors. You might not have known his name, but you lit up a little when he appeared on screen: "Oh, that guy is in this." The younger Kirby will likely be best remembered as one of Billy Crystal's pals in both City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally, and as Robin Williams's uptight senior officer in Good Morning, Vietnam. He also costarred as lawyer Barry Scheck in the TV miniseries An American Tragedy, based on Lawrence Schiller's best-selling book about the O.J. Simpson trial.

My favorite Bruno Kirby appearance is his tragically truncated role in This is Spinal Tap, wherein Kirby plays a Frank Sinatra-obsessed limo driver named Tommy Pischedda. While transporting Spinal Tap to their hotel, Tommy observes band member Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) reading Sammy Davis Jr.'s autobiography, Yes, I Can. Tommy tells Derek that Sammy's book should have been titled, Yes, I Can, If Frank Sinatra Says It's Okay. "Because," says Tommy, "Sinatra called the shots for all those guys."

Although it didn't make the film's final cut, there's a hilarious deleted scene included on the Spinal Tap DVD in which Tommy gets loaded on marijuana during a party in the band's hotel suite. He proceeds to belt out a passionate rendition of Sinatra's "All the Way" — clad only in his underwear and socks — before passing out.

I'm certain that's how Mr. Kirby would have liked to be remembered — as an actor who dared to go all the way.

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4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I didnt even know he was sick. I think it's so sad that he did a lot of great character roles during his career, but most descriptions of him have to start with "The guy who...".

5:14 PM  
Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

Sad, sad news, wholly unexpected. I knew him AS Bruno Kirby but mostly from City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally. Hadn't seen him in anything else except Donnie Brasco and would occasionally wonder what he was up to. 57 is way too soon. :(

7:38 AM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Oh man, I completely missed this news. He was always great in whatever he did. I would not have guessed he was 57, but MCF is right, that is still way too soon.

This sucks.

1:18 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Janet: One of the unfortunate realities of life is that most of us are defined by what we've done rather than who we've been.

MCF: Indeed, 57 is way too soon. Unless it's steak sauce, in which case, it's okay.

Mr. Fab: I agree, Kirby was always great in even the smallest of roles. When you think about it, that's true of many so-called "character actors" -- they're often infinitely more talented than the big-name stars. (Which is why they keep getting work.) But because they're too short, too heavy, too slight, too plain, too whatever, they get relegated to supporting roles while more conventionally "attractive" people with less ability grab the glory. This, too, sucks.

1:40 PM  

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