Acting Legend Jason Robards Is Dead at 78

News   Acting Legend Jason Robards Is Dead at 78 Jason Robards, the award-winning stage actor perhaps most associated with the works of Eugene O’Neill—particularly for lauded productions of The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten—died Dec. 26 at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut, according to wire reports.
Colleen Dewhurst and Robards in Long Day's Journey Into Night; Robards at the March 27 gala for Encores! Tenderloin.
Colleen Dewhurst and Robards in Long Day's Journey Into Night; Robards at the March 27 gala for Encores! Tenderloin. (Photo by Jason Robards photo by Aubrey Reuben)

Jason Robards, the award-winning stage actor perhaps most associated with the works of Eugene O’Neill—particularly for lauded productions of The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten—died Dec. 26 at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut, according to wire reports.

The weathered Mr. Robards, 78, was also an Academy Award-winning film actor. He lived in Fairfield, CT. A cause of death was not immediately given, but Robards had battled cancer in recent years.

Mr. Robards, sometimes known as Jason Robards Jr., the son of the famous film actor, was born in Chicago and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and with Uta Hagen. A onetime drinker who seemed at ease with expressing the pain that can accompany life, he was especially connected to the emotionally extreme and raw characters of O’Neill: Hickey, the haunted dreamer of Iceman Cometh (the 1956 revival); the son and sibling, James Tyrone, of the original production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1956) and the older version of the same character, dissipated and hungry for connection in the critically-embraced revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten (1973), with Colleen Dewhurst. He was a favorite actor of the late director, Jose Quintero, and the pair have been viewed as being responsible for breathing new life into the reputation of American playwright O’Neill. In addition to the '56 Iceman and Moon, Quintero directed Mr. Robards in A Touch of the Poet.

A car accident forced Mr. Robards to have his face reconstructed in the early 1970s. He had said he gave up alcohol in 1974.

Of the Moon revival, Quintero once wrote, "Colleen...Jason and I, heavily bruised, almost vanquished by disappointments, regrets, divorces, automobile accidents, operations, again reached out for O'Neill; or perhaps it was he who reached out for us, and we found our resurrection through his haunting play..." Reportedly, Mr. Robards' upcoming project was to be Jon Robin Baitz's new play, Ten Unknowns, playing Lincoln Center Theater in February 2001. Variety had reported earlier this year that Mr. Robards would play a once-promising, now-obscure painter, living in Mexico. He meets a woman researcher who is studying a breed of frog that is on the verge of extinction. The pair become lovers.

Mr. Robards' last New York appearances were in Harold Pinter's Moonlight (1995) Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney (1996), both at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre. Other recent stage turns have included a Roundabout revival of Pinter's No Man's Land, opposite Christopher Plummer, and Israel Horowitz's Park the Car in Harvard Yard, a Broadway production with Judith Ivey.

Mr. Robards was nominated for the Tony Award several times, and won for The Disenchanted, a stage adaptation of the novel by Budd Shulberg in which he played a Fitzgerald-like novelist. He also took home two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, for “All the President’s Men” (playing Washington Post editor Bill Bradlee) and for “Julia” (playing Lillian Hellman’s lover, Dashiell Hammett).

His stage credits include O’Neill’s Hughie, Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic, Big Fish, Little Fish, Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns, Arthur Miller’s After the Fall and a 1983 revival of You Can’t Take It With You.

Among his awards and nominations are the 2000 Lucille Lortel Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1999 Kennedy Center Honor, 1978 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (A Touch Of The Poet), 1974 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (A Moon for the Misbegotten), 1972 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (The Country Girl), 1964 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (After The Fall), 1965 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (Hughie), 1960 Tony Nomination for Actor in a Play (Toys in the Attic), 1959 Tony Award for Actor in a Play (The Disenchanted), 1957 Tony Nomination for Supporting or Featured Actor in a Play (Long Day's Journey Into Night).

He is survived by six children and his wife, Lois. He was married four times, once to actress Lauren Bacall.

— By Kenneth Jones