Actor Changes His Habits Dramatically : Hollywood: Thespian turns his back on a successful career in favor of a humble life as a Benedictine monk.


Actors struggling to pay the rent between jobs often feel that they have taken a vow of poverty in order to pursue a show business career.

Not Bob Lussier.

He’s ending his career as a successful Hollywood character actor in order to pursue a vow of poverty.

Lussier has turned his back on his lucrative career in feature films, television series and commercials to tackle his most challenging role: That of a Benedictine monk.


On Thursday, he emptied his rambling hilltop home overlooking the Hollywood sign and discarded souvenirs from 23 years of work. He gave away furniture to actor friends and packed up personal photos, videotapes and other mementos for relatives.

There is room for none of that in the 10-foot-square monastery room in which Lussier intends to live for the rest of his life.

Lussier, 55, said he decided to join the Pecos Benedictine Monastery after visiting the Roman Catholic order’s abbey in Pecos, N.M., two years ago. He had traveled to the 1930s mountain dude ranch near Santa Fe for a one-week retreat to meditate over his career, which, at the time, was one of considerable success.

He had performed in 26 movies, scores of television series and more than 200 TV commercials--including some of the most famous advertisements in broadcasting.

His work ranged from dramatic roles in the films “Johnny Got His Gun” and “The Killing of Sister George” to comedy spots in such movies as “Mr. Mom” and “Pete and Tillie.”

One of his commercials, in which Lussier portrayed the driver of a Volkswagen loaded with three sweaty passengers, aired for more than 10 years for Dial soap.

But while his face was familiar to millions, Lussier was troubled over the fare being produced in Hollywood.

“I was being called upon to do some pretty tacky stuff,” he said. “The care that people used to take with their productions was missing. It all seemed to change the minute the non-artistic corporations started buying film companies.”

Lussier believes that gratuitous violence and sex were added to some movies to make certain the films paid off at the box office.

“There was five minutes of pornography in each one,” he said.

Lussier signed on as an apprentice monk, a novice, two years ago. Last fall he began four years of study at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, the Los Angeles archdiocese’s training center for priests. Lussier plans to remain a monk within the Benedictine order, but his ordination will give him authorization to celebrate Mass and perform other sacraments.

Believing that his new life was the ultimate curtain call, Lussier decided this month to sell his home in the Hollywood Hills and donate most of the $375,000 profit to the monastery.

Some of the profit will go to his family.

The home’s furnishings were earmarked for Lussier’s actor friends. And on Thursday, he invited them to come by to take what they wanted.

Actress Mary Betten chose the kitchen table, where she and Lussier had often sat to discuss show business and rehearse their parts.

“It makes me cry to see him do this. It bothered me a lot, and it still does. The viewing audience will feel the loss,” said Betten, a character actress who has worked in such films as “Lethal Weapon” and “Arthur on the Rocks.”

“I never thought he’d last in the monastery. It’s a damn miracle. But he’ll be an excellent priest. He knows people. He knows the world.”

Ray Young, who performs regularly in such television shows as “McGyver,” “Matlock” and “Quantum Leap,” chose a glass lamp.

“I want to take something that he’ll come by to visit when he’s in town,” Young said. “I’m going to miss not being able to call him up and invite him out to a movie or a drink.”

If Lussier’s friends were surprised to learn he was becoming a monk, officials at the Pecos monastery say they were surprised to hear he had been an actor.

“He’s a very quiet and unassuming person. He kind of stays in the background,” Sister Ann Cic, secretary to the 35-member monastery’s abbot, said Thursday by telephone. “We don’t watch a lot of TV here. We have a video on Sunday evenings for those who want. We’ve got some copies of the TV programs Bob had been in and watched them together. I’d say Bob Lussier is my favorite actor.”

Among the few mementos Lussier said he plans to save are printed photographic composites--the picture layouts of themselves that actors use when looking for jobs. He plans to pass them out to the audience when he is ordained in three years.

In the meantime, Brother Bob Lussier will say a prayer for Hollywood during the hours of praying that now make up much of his day.

“I ask that they have a greater awareness of from where they’ve received all of their gifts,” he said of the studio decision-makers. “Hopefully they can use those gifts in a way that will be respectable to God as they see him.”