Our great Washington monument in the theater community, Robert Prosky, passed away last night, or earlier this morning, after a fairly routine heart procedure went “terribly wrong,” according to son Andy. Bob was scheduled to be treated for arrhythmia but pushed back the operation so that it wouldn’t coincide too closely with our November 17th evening honoring him. Instead, he spent Thanksgiving in the hospital with pneumonia which, obviously, left him weaker. I’m understanding that he came back home and then returned to the hospital this week for the straight-forward operation. But his situation deteriorated gravely throughout the day yesterday. His sons Andy and Stefan were by his side when he passed.
It’s extraordinary that we had the event we did at the Austrian Embassy and then here at the theater on November 17, just three short weeks ago. Bob called the next day to tell us how happy he was with the event and that, by the way, he’d forgotten his car keys in the pocket of his corduroy trousers which he left in the dressing room, which he came to pick up the next morning. As the 110 people who were here on November 17th can attest, his final show, JOURNEYS, AN EVENING WITH ROBERT PROSKY AND FAMILY, was a fitting artistic finale to his brilliant career. People who loved Bob dearly were at the event, together with students from the Theatre Lab who were catching this master for the first time. The evening was a warm, witty, and interactive review of his career on stage and on screen and culminated with a scene from Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE and then lively interaction between Bob and his son. His final bow was a thing of beauty. We were happy to be there for a part of his brilliant journey on the American stage.
Much more to come from us, and from others in the theater community.
Bob Prosky, born on December 13, 1930, was four days away from his 78th birthday.
A terrible loss. A wonderful jewel in our community is to be buried. His light lives on.
Below are some of the words I shared with our community three weeks ago as we gathered at the Austrian Embassy to salute Bob and later in the evening, on stage at Theater J. Sadly, the tour to Vienna now will not happen. It promised to be grand.
December 17, 2008
This is to toast a production that just won’t quit. And to toast a role that grows richer with age. THE PRICE is a great, quiet play that’s becoming greater over time, because of Robert Prosky and this production’s interpretation of it. Time is being kind to it. You are smart, Bob and Andy and Gary, to keep this play alive. For every revisitation of it impresses us as to how this was Miller’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO EVENING… Not quite NIGHT. The couple in this play, after all, goes off to the movies at the end. And Gregory Solomon winds up laughing as well as weeping, as he starts over in the furniture business, one foot in the grave, one foot still in the game of life. It’s a play about reckoning with the past, attempting to reconcile with the family; about the American penchant for reinventing the self as a means of “wiping out what we know.” What we know about our nature and all the flaws therein. It is a mature play, and a play very much about mid-life; the crisis of the professional; the strains on modern marriage; the broken filial bonds that can be restored only posthumously, and about an old furniture dealer insinuating himself into the lives of two brothers, whom he’s just met and also known forever, it seems; almost biblically.
How profound that you should travel with this play to Vienna; to Austria; a city of memory; of culture; of complicity, and now of reckoning. A play about excavating the past in search of truth. A play written by our greatest Jewish American playwright. How proud we are to be associated with this production. How much good speed to we wish you all.
And how grateful we are to be housed here, in the name of shared culture; shared humanity, surrounded by these portraits of dying Jewish communities around the world. How poignant and rather perfect it is to be here, celebrating THE PRICE as it travels across the ocean, to make an impact in Vienna.
Later … At the Theater
Earlier this evening, we toasted Robert Prosky, Andy Prosky, and the other cast members of the extraorindary production of THE PRICE that played to sold out houses last spring here at Theater J, saluting its upcoming tour to Vienna’s English Theater. But tonight we gather to salute not just one singular production, but one singular talent who’s provided us with hundreds upon hundreds of singular performances. Tonight is about appreciating our collective good fortune, as Washington theatergoers, and as theater makers here at Theater J, to have worked alongside with, and had the honor of hosting, of watching, of feeling with and through the great actor Robert Prosky, DC theater living legend and artist’s artist; actor’s actor. Tonight he will tell us his story on the American stage and screen; a story lived out telling other people’s stories. He’s been a generous artist that way.
And now this obituary from the Washington Post
Robert Prosky; D.C. Actor Appeared on ‘Hill Street Blues’
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; B05
Robert Prosky, 77, a character actor with hundreds of film, TV and stage credits whose roles included an avuncular sergeant on the NBC police drama “Hill Street Blues” and a desperate real estate salesman in David Mamet’s play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” has died.
Mr. Prosky, a District resident for nearly 50 years, died Dec. 8 at Washington Hospital Center. He had complications from a heart procedure.
Starting in 1958, Mr. Prosky began an affiliation with Washington’s Arena Stage that transformed him over 23 seasons and 130 roles from a struggling actor to one of the most versatile and prolific performers in a top regional theater.
He jokingly attributed his success to his paunch and prematurely gray hair, telling The Washington Post, “This hair and this gut are the two reasons I got started as an actor. I could play men 50 when I was 30, maybe 25. I could always play the funny fat man.”
He also excelled in drama and at one point called on memories of his father, a Philadelphia butcher with a seventh-grade education, for his interpretation of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
In his movie debut, Michael Mann’s “Thief” (1981), Mr. Prosky played the vicious patriarch of a ring of Chicago diamond thieves. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby found him “exceptionally effective” as “a Middle Western version of the sort of affable international villains that Sydney Greenstreet once played.”
The part launched Mr. Prosky’s career as a film heavy, including roles as the evil garage owner in “Christine” (1983), a corrupt judge and baseball team co-owner in “The Natural” (1984) and a mafia don in Mamet’s “Things Change” (1988).
It was a nice change of pace, Mr. Prosky said, to be offered the role of a self-deprecating priest in “Rudy” (1993).
Portraying TV newsmen also became a specialty for him. In “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), he was a station owner who exchanged quips with Robin Williams. He was a defender of community standards who clashed with journalist Dustin Hoffman in director Costa-Gavras’s “Mad City” (1997). And he was a longtime executive who gets fired in director James L. Brooks’s “Broadcast News” (1987).
Mr. Prosky’s other film roles included the pro bono lawyer for death-row inmate Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking” (1995) and a judge in the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.”
In addition, he played many recurring roles on TV, as the big-hearted desk sergeant Stanislaus “Stan” Jablonski on “Hill Street Blues” from 1984 to 1987 and later as a priest accused of murder on the ABC legal drama “The Practice.”
He also played Kirstie Alley’s father on the sitcoms “Cheers” and “Veronica’s Closet.”
He once told The Post he turned down the role of a bartender on “Cheers” and was grateful not to have been a part of the hit comedy because “doing the same role for 6 1/2 years” sent a chill down his spine.
Robert Joseph Porzuczek was born Dec. 13, 1930, in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood.
Initially drawn to theater in high school, he briefly studied economics at Temple University before returning to the family grocery shop after his father’s death in 1952.
He continued performing in plays, supporting himself in New York as a Federal Reserve Bank bookkeeper while working as a journeyman actor. What he considered just another one-shot deal — playing the sheriff in a 1958 Arena Stage revival of “The Front Page” — was instead a breakthrough. He credited theater co-founder Zelda Fichandler with being a crucial influence, and he decided to settle in Washington for the rest of his life.
“When I first came to Arena I wasn’t an actor who thought much,” Mr. Prosky told The Post in 1984, “and here I was at what is certainly a theater of intellect — God, Zelda would hate that label. But I wasn’t this great genius who’d studied all the philosophies of the world. I was the son of a Polish butcher from Philadelphia. To read Pirandello — ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ — was a whole new experience for me. Same with Brecht.
“But Zelda saw something in me, God knows what, and kept nurturing it,” he said. “Each author came to me fresh, brand new, and I found out about him in the doing, sort of leap-frogging from one to the next. That’s what formed me — that continuum.”
He toured as the populist orator Matthew Harrison Brady in “Inherit the Wind” and as the stage manager in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and periodically returned to the New York stage. He earned Tony Award nominations in two Broadway shows, “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1984) and Lee Blessing’s “A Walk in the Woods” (1988).
In the first, he played an aging and increasingly despairing salesman, Shelly “The Machine” Levene — a role the show’s director originally envisioned for legendary TV comedian Sid Caesar and was later played by Jack Lemmon in the movie.
Critics lauded Mr. Prosky for depicting the pompous outbursts of the character after he scores a “great sale” and the terror on his face as he is reduced to offering bribes to his employer to stay on the job.
In the two-character Blessing play, Mr. Prosky portrayed a Russian diplomat opposite Sam Waterston as an American arms negotiator. New York Times theater critic Frank Rich singled out Mr. Prosky for “a masterful portrait of political cunning, always entertaining to behold.”
In 1960, Mr. Prosky married Ida Hove. She survives, along with three sons, Stefan Prosky of Washington, John Prosky of Toluca Lake, Calif., and Andrew Prosky of New York; and three grandchildren.
In recent years, Mr. Prosky toured with his actor sons John and Andrew in Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” including a performance this year at Washington’s Theater J. The elder Prosky played a junk dealer who appraises the belongings left to two estranged brothers by their parents.
Looking back on his career, Mr. Prosky told The Post: “Survival is of utmost importance for an actor in this society. I remember doing a commercial with Arena actors Terrence Currier and Mark Hammer. We played bugs in tights and leotards, with wings pinned on our backs and a sequined number on our fronts. We were the price of the television set and we did a tap dance. When my eldest son saw it, he said, ‘Dad, do we need the money that badly?’
“At the time, I recall, I was performing Willy Loman in the evenings.”
* * *
Actor Robert Prosky dies in DC at 77
By BRETT ZONGKER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Robert Prosky, a character actor with hundreds of credits on stage and screen including “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Hill Street Blues,” has died in a Washington hospital. He was 77.
His oldest son, Stefan Prosky, said the actor died Monday night of complications from a heart procedure.
“He went gracefully last night, not in pain,” Stefan Prosky said Tuesday. “Everybody knows him as a fairly famous actor. My brothers and I know him as a marvelous father.”
Prosky appeared in more than 200 plays on Broadway and with Arena Stage, a regional theater company in Washington. He appeared in 38 films and numerous television shows.
A native of Philadelphia, Prosky studied economics at Temple University and served in the U.S. Air Force.
On Broadway, Prosky’s credits included “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “A View from the Bridge.” He also completed a long run in Michael Frayn’s play “Democracy.”
More recently, Prosky appeared with two of his sons in Arthur Miller’s play, “The Price,” in Philadelphia. He planned to continue in a San Diego production of “The Price” this winter, Stefan Prosky said.
In the 1980s, Prosky spent three years on the NBC television series “Hill Street Blues” as a police sergeant. He later appeared as a priest on trial for murder in ABC’s legal drama, “The Practice.”
In “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Prosky played the TV station owner who hired Robin Williams, who dressed as a nanny. His other film credits include “Dead Man Walking” and “The Natural.”
Prosky spent most of his life in Washington and raised his three sons in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Nearby Arena Stage was close to his heart. He spent 22 years affiliated with the theater and a small company of players, appearing in more than 120 plays.
“Arena Stage is where I learned to be an actor,” Prosky told The Associated Press in 2006.
Arena co-founder Zelda Fichandler said she has lost a part of her family. “I don’t know of another American actor who has played in so many plays in so many styles in so many places in so many roles, and played them all to the hilt,” she said in a statement.
Prosky is survived by his wife, Ida Prosky, and three sons,
Stefan Prosky of Washington, John Prosky of North Hollywood, Calif., and Andrew Prosky of New York. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
Instead of flowers, the family is asking for donations to The Actors Fund or for people to “just go see a play,” Stefan Prosky said.