James Rebhorn dies at 65; character actor on stage and screen

He was a neurosurgeon, a shipping magnate, a pompous headmaster, an autocratic father: He was the self-inflated, often weaselly authority figure whose long, narrow, aristocratic face was as well-known in films and television as his name was obscure.

James Rebhorn, a journeyman character actor seen most recently as the father of super-spy Carrie Mathison on “Homeland,” died Friday at his home in South Orange, N.J., of melanoma, his wife Rebecca Linn said.

He was 65.

Rebhorn had more than 100 TV and movie credits, including roles in “Scent of a Woman” and “My Cousin Vinny” — both released in 1992 — and “Meet the Parents” (2000). In the 1998 finale of “Seinfeld,” he played a district attorney who prosecuted the show’s four main characters for idly standing by as a fat man was robbed at gunpoint.


“This group from New York not only ignored but, as we will prove, mocked the victim,” Rebhorn’s Dist. Atty. Hoyt declaimed before a small-town jury. “You will see how everyone who has come in contact with these individuals has been abused, wronged, deceived and betrayed.”

While Rebhorn succeeded in putting away Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer — a result the actor later described as “very satisfying” — his characters often were undone by their own treachery.

In “Scent of A Woman,” Rebhorn’s headmaster Trask holds a public hearing to deride a student, played by Chris O’Donnell, for refusing to disclose who else was involved in a prank.

From the podium, Trask announces: “Mr. Simms, you are a cover-up artist and you are a liar!”

“But not a snitch!” shouts back Simms’ mentor, a blind war hero played by Al Pacino, who then eviscerates the corrupt Trask before the entire student body.

With his receding hairline and bony face, the lanky Rebhorn was often recognized, but not quite famous.

“It’s extremely uncomfortable when people come up and say, ‘Don’t I know you?’” he told the Bergen Record in 2007. “They have this odd sense of ownership. The only safe place is at home or in the theater.”

Born Sept. 1, 1948, in Philadelphia, James Robert Rebhorn grew up in Anderson, Ind. Although he acted in high school, he planned to be a Lutheran minister and headed to church-affiliated Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

“It was after I got there that I began to explore and experiment and search out other things in life,” Rebhorn told an interviewer.

Graduating with a degree in political science and theater, he went on to study acting at Columbia University, where he received a master’s in fine arts in 1972.

Early in his career, Rebhorn had recurring roles on “The Guiding Light,” “Search for Tomorrow,” and “As the World Turns.”

In films, he was an automotive expert called to testify in “My Cousin Vinny”; retired rodeo rider Clyde Frost in “8 Seconds” (1994); the smarmy Dr. Larry Banks — “It’s only a game, Focker!” — in “Meet the Parents” (2000); and gung-ho Secretary of Defense Albert Nimzicki, who, in “Independence Day"(1996), declares: “If we don’t act now, we may not have much of an America left to defend!”

Rebhorn also acted in many stage productions, appearing as a disappointed father in Arthur Miller’s “The Man Who Had All the Luck”; one of the jurors in a 2004 production of “Twelve Angry Men”; and recently, as an Alzheimer’s patient in “Too Much, Too Much, Too Many.”

Rebhorn delivered “a beautiful portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with his faltering mind,” New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote in November 2013.

Leading a quiet life in suburban New Jersey, Rebhorn was distinctly un-Hollywood.

“Whenever I go out of town, the first thing I do is reach for a Yellow Pages so I can find where the Lutheran church is,” he told an interviewer. “And a laundromat.”

In addition to his wife, Rebhorn is survived by daughters Emma Rebhorn Feldman and Hannah Rebhorn.