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Al Waxman; Had Role in ‘Cagney & Lacey’ TV Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Al Waxman, a veteran actor best known for his portrayal of Lt. Bert Samuels on the 1980s CBS drama “Cagney & Lacey,” died Wednesday during heart surgery at a Toronto hospital. He was 65.

Waxman, a rotund actor with a history of heart ailments, was preparing to play Shylock in the Stratford Theater Festival production of the “Merchant of Venice” when he was stricken.

He was also starring in the fantasy-drama series “Twice in a Lifetime,” which aired in Canada and on the PAX Network in the United States.

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Waxman won acclaim for his role as the gruff but understanding boss of New York police detectives Chris Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey on the Emmy-winning series “Cagney & Lacey,” which made its debut on CBS in 1982, was canceled, and returned from 1984 to 1988.

He appeared in and directed episodic television in the United States and his native Canada. In the 1990s, he worked more frequently on the stage.

He made his debut at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, in 1997 playing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” He lost 70 pounds in preparing for the show, joking that Loman “has enough baggage without Waxman’s excess weight.” Critics praised his performance: “Waxman electrifies this American classic,” wrote Geoff Chapman in the Toronto Star.

Last year Waxman directed a Stratford production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland who ran a restaurant and a tavern in Toronto, Waxman was intrigued by acting after seeing the movie “The Al Jolson Story.” He sat through it 27 times. By the time he was 17, he was performing in live radio dramas on CBC and CKEY radio in 1952.

He eventually scraped together enough money to study at New York’s Playhouse Theatre. He earned his first movie role in 1961, appearing in “The War Lover,” which starred Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner.

Unsuccessful in Hollywood, he returned to Canada, where in 1974 he landed a leading role in the series “King of Kensington,” which co-starred Fiona Reid. After five seasons in the popular sitcom, he emerged a Canadian television icon.

His role as a celestial judge on “Twice in a Lifetime” reunited him with “Cagney & Lacey” producer Barney Rosenzweig. He had completed his final scenes for the current season the day before his death.

Waxman made frequent appearances on other top-rated shows, including “Murder, She Wrote,” and directed episodes of “Cagney & Lacey” and other programs.

In 1997 he won Canada’s top civilian honor, the Order of Canada, an award rarely bestowed on television actors. He also won Canadian television’s Gemini lifetime achievement award. He received an Emmy nomination for the 1989 CBS Afterschool Special “Maggie’s Secret,” a drama about alcohol abuse in a family.

He is survived by his wife, Sara; a daughter, Tobaron; and a son, Adam.


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