Veteran actor Jon Polito dies at 65; starred in ‘The Big Lebowski,’ ‘Miller’s Crossing’

Actor Jon Polito has died. He was 65.
(Matt Sayles / Invision/Associated Press)

TV and film actor Jon Polito, the bumbling private snoop in “The Big Lebowski” who left his mark in several Coen Brothers films, has died. He was 65.

Polito’s Coen filmography included “Barton Fink,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and “Miller’s Crossing,” which placed him among the gaggle of actors comprising the informal Coen Brothers repertory.

For the record:

2:32 p.m. July 2, 2022An earlier version of this article said that Polito was being treated for melanoma. He was being treated for multiple myeloma.

But the veteran actor racked up the bulk of his credits with a prolific career in television.

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Born in 1950, the Philadelphia native had a career that spanned three-and-a-half decades. It m with the 1980s miniseries “The Gangster Chronicles,” in which Polito played New York mobster Tommy “Three Finger Brown” Luchesse in the NBC series. That was the first of his many Mafioso and criminal roles — both dramatic and comedic.


Among the most memorable of his roles was his turn as hotheaded gang chief Johnny Caspar in “Miller’s Crossing,” who pronounced “ethics” as “ettics.”

“Gangster parts are incredibly theatrical,” Polito told The Times in 1990. “I felt like I was this fallen king — like Nero. I blustered and grunted so much that I was worried I might be going over the top. But everyone said, ‘Play him as big as you want to go.’ ”

Polito died of cancer Thursday at City of Hope Hospital, where he was being treated for multiple myeloma, his manager, Maryellen Mulcahy, told the Associated Press Friday.

Director John McNaughton, who worked with Polito on the 1990s series “Homicide: Life on the Street” and 2006’s “Masters of Horror,” first shared the news of Polito’s death Friday and paid tribute to the late actor on Facebook.

“Very sad to learn that my dear friend and collaborator, Jon Polito has passed away,” McNaughton wrote, adding, “He appeared in over 100 films, countless TV episodes and on Broadway. Jon was a born actor and will be deeply missed by his legion of friends, fans, family and of course his long time partner, Darryl Armbruster to whom I send my condolences. R.I.P. old pal - JM.”

Polito most recently appeared in 2014’s “Big Eyes” and played Dragna in 2013’s “Gangster Squad.” He also took on a role in “Major Crimes,” played Wayne Knight’s landlord in “Seinfeld,” Danny DeVito’s brother in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and Ed O’Neill’s former business partner-turned-nemesis in “Modern Family.” The thick-accented voice actor lent raspy inflection to animated series “American Dad” and “Thundercats” and also did video game work.

Polito was next slated to star in Adam Cushman’s “The Maestro,” which is in pre-production and slated for 2017.

The openly gay star worked on and off Broadway in his early years, winning the Obie Award in 1980. He appeared alongside Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich in the 1984 Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman,” playing Howard Wagner.

His other accolades include the 2005 Cinequest Film Festival’s Maverick Spirit Event Award and the 2012 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival award for best actor in a short film for “Anti-Muse.”

He is survived by Armbruster, his husband.

Follow me: @NardineSaad


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