Paul Gleason, 67; Grouchy Principal in ‘Breakfast Club’
Paul Gleason, best known for playing the grumpy high school principal who presides over detention in the 1985 film “The Breakfast Club,” has died. He was 67.
Gleason died Saturday at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank of mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer linked to asbestos, said his daughter, Shannon Gleason-Grossman.
Although the cancer was diagnosed only a month ago, Gleason’s exposure to asbestos occurred while working on construction jobs with his father as a teenager in the 1950s, his daughter said.
In more than 60 films, Gleason usually played detectives or minor authority figures.
He was the detestable Clarence Beeks in “Trading Places” (1983) and the deputy chief of police in “Die Hard” (1988). Among his other film roles were “The Passing” (2005) “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” (2002) and “The Giving Tree” (2000).
On television, Gleason played David Thornton on ABC’s “All My Children” in the late 1970s. He also appeared on many prime-time shows, including “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”
After he and author Jack Kerouac, a friend, watched the 1961 film “Splendor in the Grass” together, Gleason decided to become an actor. Soon he was studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
On Broadway, he debuted with Maureen Stapleton in Neil Simon’s “The Gingerbread Lady” (1971). He also appeared in the revival of “The Front Page” (1972), with John Lithgow and Richard Thomas that was staged in Los Angeles and New York.
Gleason was born May 4, 1939, in Jersey City, N.J., and grew up in Miami. He was an avid athlete and played football at Florida State at the same time Burt Reynolds and Robert Urich were there. He also played Triple-A minor league baseball for a handful of clubs.
“My dad was an intelligent, hard-working Renaissance man,” Gleason-Grossman said. “His motto was to always keep working.”
Actor Jimmy Hawkins, a friend since the 1960s, said he remembered Gleason for his sharp sense of humor.
“He just always had great stories to tell,” Hawkins said.
In addition to his daughter Shannon, Gleason is survived by his wife, Susan; another daughter, Kaitlin; and a granddaughter.
Funeral plans were pending.