Ben Gazzara, the grizzled character actor who played Patrick Swayze's arch-nemesis in the '80s cult classic, "Road House," died Friday afternoon in Manhattan, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 81.
Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara on Aug. 28, 1930, he grew up in a cold-water flat in New York, speaking Italian as his first language. He studied engineering at the City College of New York but caught the acting bug, eventually studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
Gazzara appeared on the popular '60s television show "Run For Your Life" before becoming a part of maverick filmmaker John Cassavetes' troupe of indie actors in the '70s, starring in such landmark pieces of early "edgy" cinema as "Husbands," "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" and "Opening Night."
Gazzara kept the indie vibe going in the '90s, having appeared as porn guru Jackie Treehorn in the Coen Brothers' "The Big Lebowski," as a husband walking away from a 40-year marriage in Todd Solondz's "Happiness" and as Vincent Gallo's eccentric father in "Buffalo '66."
One of Gazzara's most popular roles (at least for fans of B-cinema) was Brad Wesley, the corrupt businessman who ruled a small Southern community with an iron fist in "Road House" (1989) -- that is, until Dalton (Patrick Swayze), the renowned bouncer with a Ph.D in Philosophy, rode into town to clean things up, starting with the worst bar on the planet: the Double Deuce.
Ben Gazzara died of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center. He lived in Manhattan.