10/17/2013 AT 9:00 AM ET
Veteran character actor Ed Lauter, whose long, angular face and stern bearing made him an instantly recognizable figure in scores of movies and TV shows during a career that stretched across five decades, died Wednesday. He was 74.
Lauter died of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure, said his publicist, Edward Lozzi.
Whether he was an irascible authority figure, a brutal thug or a conniving con man, Lauter’s presence made him all but impossible to miss in any film he was in. That was so even on those occasions when he was playing a character more bumbling than menacing, although menacing was clearly his forte.
He was the brutal prison guard who was Burt Reynolds’ nemesis in the 1974 comedy-drama The Longest Yard and the sleazy gas-station attendant in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, The Family Plot. In Death Wish 3, he was the violent cop who teams with Charles Bronson’s vigilante to rid New York City’s streets of criminals, not by incarcerating them but by killing them.
More recently he was the butler to Bérénice Bejo’s French ingenue in the 2011 Oscar-winning film The Artist.
A "Turn" Actor
Lauter described himself in a 2010 interview with Cinema Shock magazine as a “turn” actor, someone who shows up at some point in the film and suddenly turns the plot in a different direction.
He credited the cast of real-life characters he grew up observing in his native Long Beach, N.Y., as inspiring many of the characters he would go on to portray.
He laughed at being someone frequently recognized in public for his roles.
“But sometimes people don’t know my name,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah! There’s that guy! You were in … you were in … ”