Jose Ferrer, a commanding and versatile stage actor whose bravura style sometimes seemed ill-suited to films, died Sunday.
The Puerto Rican-born actor and director, who established his Broadway credentials when he was 23 and 15 years later captured an Oscar for his searing and sensitive portrayal of “Cyrano de Bergerac” was 80. He died at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla., a hospital official said.
Cause of his death was not announced but he was known to have been in failing health since last month when he left the Broadway production of “Conversations With My Father” on his doctors’ advice. Prior to that he had been reported battling cancer.
Ferrer, one of 12 winners of the first National Medal of Arts in 1985, was recognized as a performer who stretched his talent from the classics of Shakespeare to the comedies of Woody Allen.
Besides his portrayal of the gallant, disfigured warrior-poet Cyrano on both stage and screen, in movies he was the imperious Dauphin in “Joan of Arc,” the dwarfish artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in “Moulin Rouge” and the incisive defense counsel Lt. Barney Greenwald in “The Caine Mutiny.”
Those were the highlights that paled in comparison to his stage triumphs.
Although he made more than 40 feature films and several TV movies, “there is something about my personality on the screen that is not particularly satisfying to an audience,” he told The Times in 1982.
“There seems to be some ingredient I don’t possess.”
Years before he came to that conclusion, however, he had become one of the youngest and brightest lights of New York theater.
Born Jose Vincente Ferrer Otero y Cintron in Santurce, Puerto Rico, he was the son of a successful attorney in the United States and earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University.
He studied architecture and played piano in a school band called “Jose Ferrer and His Pied Pipers,” which also performed for summer cruises to Bermuda and Europe.
At Princeton, he acted with the Triangle Club that spawned Jimmy Stewart and Joshua Logan and said later he could not forget the magic of footlights.
He abandoned music for drama and began in New York City as an assistant stage manager.
He established a reputation for both comedy and tragedy, playing the title role in “Charley’s Aunt” and Iago to Paul Robeson’s “Othello.”
With his first wife, Uta Hagen, who portrayed Desdemona, in the 1940s they became part of one of the longest-running Othellos. He won Tony awards for Cyrano in 1947 for acting and in 1952 for both actor and director of “The Shrike.” He also won that year’s directing award for “The Fourposter” and “Stalag 17.”
He was nominated for television’s Emmy three times and once for a Grammy for the 1958 children’s recording of “Tubby the Tuba.”
In films he directed “I Accuse,” also taking the role of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer wrongly accused of treason, and “The High Cost of Loving” in 1958 and “Return to Peyton Place” in 1961.
But Ferrer’s directing never proved as successful as his acting, and in the 1960s he gave it up.
His other film acting credits included his portrayal of the murdering hypnotist in “Whirlpool” (1949), a dictator in “Crisis” (1950), a Turkish Bey in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), a drunken actor in “Enter Laughing” (1961) and the pretentious cousin in “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1982).
Ferrer also produced for the theater and served as artistic adviser to Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse in the 1980s for a $1 salary. He appeared in several plays there in an effort to rejuvenate flagging interest in the playhouse.
Ferrer’s last stage appearance was in 1990 in a musical version of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” which he did in England with Mandy Patinkin.
Ferrer’s third wife, actress and singer Rosemary Clooney, said in a statement issued after his death:
“I shared the most important part of my life with him and I will miss him very much.” They were married from 1953-1967.
Clooney and Ferrer had six children, among them actor Miguel Ferrer, who played the quirky FBI pathologist Albert Rosenfield in ABC’s “Twin Peaks.” Toward the end of his life, Ferrer began to express disappointment--"not resentment you understand"--in his career.
He said he regretted that he had not worked in Europe where older actors are held in higher regard. “I was 50 when I made ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ ” he said in the 1982 Times interview. “In the years that followed I should have been doing things that taxed my ability and stretched me as an actor. I didn’t get them.
“Instead I played bankers and doctors and corrupt businessmen and did guest shots on TV where I was usually the villain.
“If I could afford it, I would never act again. What’s the point? I’m not doing anything that satisfies my soul--I’m only doing things that pay the bills. And that’s not why I became an actor.”
He is survived by his children and his fourth wife, Stella Magee. Funeral services are pending.