Jon Polito, a veteran character actor best known for his roles in several Coen Brothers films and Homicide: Life on the Street, has died. He was 65.
Diagnosed with melanoma in 2008, Polito, whose most recent role was as the business partner of Ed O’Neill’s character Jay on Modern Family, succumbed to cancer Thursday at City of Hope hospital in Duarte, California, his managers announced on Friday.
Polito’s longtime friend, director John McNaughton, also confirmed the actor’s death on Facebook.
“Very sad to learn that my dear friend and collaborator, Jon Polito has passed away. He appeared in over 100 films, countless TV episodes and on Broadway. Jon was a born actor and will be deeply missed by his legion of friends, fans, family and of course his long-time partner, Darryl Armbruster to whom I send my condolences. R.I.P. old pal.”
— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) September 2, 2016
His 35-year career included roles from off-Broadway to Broadway; sitcoms to cop dramas; short films to arthouse indies to big-budget family films; and even cartoon voiceovers and video games, according to the A.V. Club.
In 2012, Polito received the Best Actor award from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival for his role in the short film Anti-Muse. He also starred in the 1984 revival of Death of a Salesman, which was broadcast on CBS.
With a no-nonsense delivery coupled with an ability to bring humor to any role in a manner uniquely his own, Jon Polito often portrayed gangsters or gruff cops.
He received stellar reviews for his turn as Baltimore detective Steve Crosetti on the first two seasons of NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street, in which his character faces a personal crisis after his police officer friend is shot in the head, leaving him blind.
— IMDb (@IMDb) September 2, 2016
The character was written out of the series — by way of Corsetti’s suicide — which left Polito publicly bitter for a very long time.
His collaboration with the Coen Brothers began with his role as Johnny Caspar in the 1990 film, Miller’s Crossing. That film was followed by Barton Fink in 1991. The partnership continued in small but memorable roles in The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, and The Man Who Wasn’t There.
Polito worked alongside some powerhouse actors like Marlon Brando in 1990’s The Freshman, as well as directors Tim Burton (Big Eyes) and Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers).
The character actor summed up his career in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2011.
“I have gotten to work with [Marlon] Brando, Faye Dunaway, [Joel and Ethan] Coen, [James] Gandolfini, and [Albert] Finney. I’ve never had another job, first the theater and then television and film.”
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) September 2, 2016
Actor Curtis Armstrong, who starred alongside Polito in The Chronicle and Locker 13, paid tribute to his late colleague and friend on Twitter.
“Oh, my….Jon Polito. What a sweet, lovely man and what a terrific actor,” Armstrong wrote. “Bless you, Jon! I loved every minute we worked together! #RIP”
His film résumé also includes Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985), Critical Condition (1987), Homeboy (1988), The Rocketeer(1991), The Crow(1994), Stuart Little (1999), The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000), View From the Top (2003), The Marconi Brothers (2008), The Last Godfather (2010), Gangster Squad (2013) and Big Eyes (2014).
He is survived by his husband and long-time partner, Darryl Armbruster.
[Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/APImages]