David Huddleston, Stage and Film Character Actor, Dies at 85

Obituaries   David Huddleston, Stage and Film Character Actor, Dies at 85
 
Huddleston performed in Broadway revivals of 1776 and Death of a Salesman.
David Huddleston in the 1984 Broadway revival
David Huddleston in the 1984 Broadway revival Inge Morath

David Huddleston, a burly character actor adept at playing blustery types in both theatre and on film, died August 2 in Santa Fe, NM, of heart and kidney disease. He was 85.

Tall, broad and bald, with a big pumpkin of a head and gruff speaking voice, Mr. Huddleston was well-suited to portraying the larger-than-life (Ben Franklin in a 1997 Broadway revival of 1776), the plain-spoken (Willy Loman neighbor Charley, in the 1984 Dustin Hoffman Broadway staging of Death of a Salesman, for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award), the bold (Brooklyn Dodger executive Branch Rickey in the musical The First), or the bullying (the title millionaire in the film The Big Lebowski).

The latter Coen Brothers comedy brought him most of his late-career fame. His role in the film was relatively minor, but his performance as a vain, conniving, wheelchair-bound tycoon held its own against more showy portrayals by Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He also made an impression in the 1974 Mel Brooks’ classic Blazing Saddles, in which he played the big-talking Mayor Olson Johnson. He played the title role in the 1985 Dudley Moore vehicle Santa Claus The Movie.

Mr. Huddleston, who was born Sept. 17, 1930, in Vinton, VA, began acting at a tender age. Following four years of service in the U.S. Air Force, he used money from the G.I. Bill to study acting in New York. He appeared Off-Broadway in 1965 in Harry Noon and Night, and first appeared on Broadway in 1968 in Woman Is My Idea. As a guest actor, he appeared in a wide range of television series, including Adam-12, Room 222, McMillan & Wife, Cannon, Bonanza, The Waltons, Charlie’s Angels, and Benson.

He was apparently uncommonly convincing as a Sheriff, for he portrayed rural law enforcement officers many times.

He is survived by his wife, Sarah C. Koeppe, and a son, David. A previous marriage, to Carole Ann Swart, ended with her death.

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