Richard Cusack, 77; Writer, Father of Acting Family

From a Times Staff Writer

Richard Cusack, father of actors Joan and John Cusack who left a successful career as an advertising executive to become an award-winning screenwriter, has died. He was 77.

Cusack died Monday of pancreatic cancer in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

His three other children -- Ann, Bill and Susie -- also act and direct.


Cusack won an Emmy for his abortion documentary “The Committee” in 1971 -- only one year after he left advertising and established Cusack Productions.

“He said, ‘Who cares if you brush your teeth with Colgate or Palmolive? There are bigger issues out there,’ ” Nancy Cusack, his wife of 43 years, told the Chicago Tribune, describing her husband’s career switch.

Not that he hadn’t been successful in advertising. Cusack won a Clio award as he moved up from New York’s McCann-Erickson to become creative director at Chicago’s Post, Keyes and Gardner in 1966.

He also found success as a writer and, accidentally, as an actor. Cusack earned an award from the Evanston Arts Council for preserving a school and converting it to the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, which houses the Piven Theater Workshop.

His famous children trained at the workshop, and the father was asked by good friend Byrne Piven to play a New York bell captain in the play “The Man in 605.” Cusack went on to act in other plays and take bit parts in 15 films, including, most recently, 2000’s “Return to Me” starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.

But he preferred writing, and penned a series of films for the United Nations as well as more mainstream entertainment such as the 1999 HBO film “The Jack Bull,” which starred son John.

Born in New York City, Cusack fought in the Army in World War II and was serving in the Philippines when a bunkmate from Boston talked him into attending the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He played on the school’s 1947 national championship basketball team, joking that the bench was great for watching teammate Bob Cousy.

Cusack is survived by his wife, five children and two grandsons.