Allen Garfield, ‘Nashville’ and ‘Conversation’ star, dies of COVID-19 complications

Ronee Blakley and Allen Garfield in the 1975 film "Nashville."
Ronee Blakley and Allen Garfield in the 1975 film “Nashville,” directed by Robert Altman.
(Herbert Dorfman / Getty Images)

Allen Garfield, a veteran character actor who was a vital player in classic 1970s films including “The Conversation” and “Nashville,” has died at a rest home in Los Angeles of complications from COVID-19.

Garfield’s sister, Lois Goorwitz, said he died Tuesday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, the industry retirement facility where several staffers and some residents have tested positive for the virus. The actor was 80.

The Newark, N.J.-born Garfield first set out as a boxer and a sportswriter. While covering sports for New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, he studied acting at night and eventually joined the Actors Studio. There, he studied under Lee Strasberg.


“I became an actor in order to be trained by the masters, which I was, at the Actors Studio,” Garfield said. “From the moment I stepped foot in the Actors Studio, I audaciously stepped out and said who I was, for better or for worse. I put my stamp on things as an actor and as a director.”

Garfield would become a supporting-player mainstay of some of the best films of the ‘70s, including Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation”; “The Candidate,” with Robert Redford; Robert Altman’s “Nashville”; Woody Allen’s “Bananas”; Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page”; William Friedkin’s “The Brink’s Job”; and Richard Rush’s “The Stunt Man.”

Garfield often played talky, anxious characters — salesmen, corrupt businessmen and sweaty politicians. They were universally authentic, so much so that Garfield often went underappreciated. In “The Conversation,” he played the weaselly surveillance expert Bernie Moran, a rival to Gene Hackman’s character. Coppola would cast him again in “One From the Heart” and “The Cotton Club.”

In “Nashville,” Garfield played the manager and husband of Ronee Blakly’s country star, Barbara Jean. He plays the furious police chief in 1987’s “Beverly Hills Cop II” who goes on an expletive-laden tirade against Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold and John Ashton before he gets fired himself.

Garfield was mourned throughout Hollywood. James Woods, who costarred with him in “Citizen Cohn,” remembered him as a “superb” actor. Author Don Winslow said, “I literally never saw a performance by Allen Garfield that wasn’t terrific. One of those not-so-well-known actors that makes everything they are in better.”


Garfield, born Allen Goorwitz on Nov. 22, 1939, had suffered several strokes, including one shortly before filming Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate” in 1999 and one in 2004 that led to his residence at the Motion Picture & Television Fund home in Woodland Hills.