Bill Rice, Cult Actor of New York's Downtown Scene, Dies at 74

Obituaries   Bill Rice, Cult Actor of New York's Downtown Scene, Dies at 74
Bill Rice, the painter who late in life cultivated a following in the downtown New York theatre world, died on Jan. 23 in Manhattan, the New York Times reported. He was suffering from lung cancer. He was 74.

Mr. Rice made his final stage performance last November with his frequent collaborator, playwright-actor Jim Neu. The piece, Alone Together, require the actor to leave the hospital for a time.

Bill Rice, a silver-haired, lanky figure who used his deadpan, Buster Keaton like hangdog face to great comic effect, did not step on a stage until the 1970s. The Times reported that he won his first part even though he was drunk at the audition. Prior to then, his art took the form of paintings, sculpture and photography. He opened a gallery in his East Village apartment in the 1980s—a place on E. 3rd Street where he lived from 1953 on, the Times said—and exhibited regularly elsewhere.

His low-key acting style was well-suited to Neu's straight-faced satires on the media and modern living. In Situation Room, performed at Soho Rep in 1991, he was the laconic boss of a mysterious research outfit that examined the way people actually live. In Neu's 2002 film noir spoof Kiss Shot, at LaMaMa, he played Monte Blane, "a veteran actor in hundreds of Hollywood crowd scenes."

In 1993, when Mr. Rice was in his early 60s, he was unexpectedly cast in the title role in Hamlet. The production was at Nada, and was part of that Lower East Side theatre's "Hamlet Festival," which featured 30 different takes on Shakespeare's tragedy. Rice's production required him primarily to glide across the stage silently, speaking very few of the Dane's lines, and to act opposite a dog, who played Horatio.

He also appeared in a number of independent films. His last was cult director Jim Jarmusch's 2003 work "Coffee and Cigarettes." The episodic movie ends with an elegiac segment called "Champagne" featuring Mr. Rice and Taylor Mead—both veterans of New York's underground film scene—as janitors on their coffee break talking about life.

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