Caffeinated Clint : Remembering Ron


As far as I’m concerned, Ron Silver’s passing deserves much more than a squat news article alongside whatever ‘’Thor’’ casting rumour we’re running at the moment and so, my note on the esteemed actor’s bereavement is relegated to my column here. It’s not just an issue of space, it’s the fact that I’d love to vent about the man – he was a fuckin’ phenomenal actor, and his performances – ridicule me like an African American at a Michael Richards concert, if you feel the need! – have rocked me just as much as any of, dare I say, Marty Sheen’s, Mandy Patinkin’s, Angelica Huston’s performances – to name but a few of the actors Silver worked with over his illustrious career. I plan to waffle a little here (yeah, something different) – but in a good way. And yes, backslapping’s going to undoubtedly take place. And so it should.

What’s sad is that the world never really got to know Ron Silver. Yes, we movie buffs knew he was, but the everyday Joe wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a line-up – let alone a YouTube video taken backstage at The Emmy’s. In some respects, the guy probably liked that he could live his lie out of the spotlight, merely tinkering in his craft when it pleased him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve a little more recognition. Alas, that’s always the fucking way – it’s the pasty untalented ‘products’ that get the attention, whilst the hard-working, always-dependable artists (I could roll off names all day – Bill Pullman, William Sadler, Robert Davi, Bill Paxton, John Ashton, Keith Carradine, Eric Roberts, Scott Glenn; to name but a few) are rarely blinded by a floodlight shun in their direction.

Silver was merely one of those dependable actors whose face most recognized but would be pressed thinking of his name or even a few credits in his back catalogue – or if they do know him from something it’s a Van Damme movie. Yeah, he was in “TimeCop” – which is OK, because it was one of Jean Claude’s better movies, but still, a little sad. Silver did much more than just chase Jean Claude Van Damme’s oversexed rump through space, time continuum.

One of my favourite turns from Silver was actually on Television – and no, it wasn’t his recurring stint as Bruno Gianelli on “The West Wing” (though he was good in the part – even won an Emmy for his performance). It was actually as Christine Lahti’s suave ex-husband on 90s hospital-soap “Chicago Hope”. Like Silver, the show never got the attention it deserved (Personally, I preferred it over “E.R”) but I tell ya, it produced some damn fine performers. Silver had done a few movies at that stage, largely “Enemies, A Love Story” (which critics adored), but was still an unknown commodity for the most part. Silver was terrific in the role of smarmy Tommy Wilmette . He ended up getting custody of their on-screen daughter (Mae Whitman), and she ends up kidnapping her. He had to endure some pretty ridiculous (ly fun) storylines, but added such credibility to both the character he played and the show as a whole. Eric Stoltz and Peter Berg have both said that to me over the years.

Though I’m too young (man that feels good to say!) to remember his earliest performances on shows like “Rhoda”, “McMillan & Son” and “The Rockford Files”, I do remember seeing Silver in quite a few movies in the early 80s. I believe he was Vlada in the Burt Reynolds pic “Semi-Tough”, and had a fairly showy role in Sidney Furies’’ “The Entity”. And if my memory serves me correct, he had a small role in Chuck Norris’ “Silent Rage”.

It goes without saying that Silver has never been too picky. So long as the part is good, he never gave two shits whether the film was any good. Power to him. He was thinking of himself. Not to say he didn’t do some great movies in the 80s and 90s, he did – “Silkwood”, “Garbo Talks”, “Mr. Saturday Night” – but did just as many films that most other actors would’ve shied away from. Like “Chicago Hope” though, Silver’s presence in all those rotten apples’ added something to the respective movies – to the point where something like “Blue Steel” graduated from being merely tolerable to, dare I say, entertaining thanks to his credible performance (in that case, as a baddie).

“Enemies, A Love Story”, and shortly after “Reversal of Fortune”, were Silver’s two biggies. Those were the films that should have turned him into a huge star. For some reason, that didn’t happen. Maybe it was bad management, maybe it was Silver’s old ‘character first, movie second’ rule, or maybe the man just went with his gut – and sometimes, the gut lied.

Silver worked a lot in the 90s and, despite some of the films, did some terrific work. Check out the telemovie “Kissinger and Nixon”, in which he plays the former, he’s brilliant in it. And though it ain’t much of a movie, Silver is typically solid in the science-fiction film “The Arrival”, which failed mostly because of its lead, Charlie Sheen. You might also remember he played Alec on “Veronica’s Closet” opposite Kirstie Alley. He was great on that show – very funny; his chemistry with Alley was outstanding. Should he have done a sitcom? No, probably not, he was better than that. But again, he seemed to be an actor who was determined to take the road less travelled or quite simply, suit himself.

He shot a very amusing pilot, with Owen Wilson and Jack Black, that was never picked up called “Heat Vision and Jack” sometime in the 90s. In it, he played… himself! It was bloody genius. Rob Schrab, writer of the pilot, said on his official site that “Mr. Silver was such a big part of my life. He was such a prize, such a treasure to have on the set of Heat Vision and Jack. 62 is too young. He was a great actor, full of power and charisma. It was an honor to work with him for the little time I did. I remember watching him in Mr. Saturday Night thinking -”this movie sucks but shit, he’s good.” Then he fucked everybody up in TIME COP. What a man! The scene in THE ARRIVAL where he said to Sheen ”…and now your dead” made Harmon and love him so much.”

In more recent years, Silver’s mostly done TV – and probably for the sheer fact that it’s a regular paying job and is a lot more of a comfort blanket that the fickle world of film. In addition to “West Wing”, he’s been on “Skin” (regular actually), “Law & Order” and “Crossing Jordan”. I believe the last film I saw him in was “Find Me Guilty”, the Sidney Lumet thing with Vin Diesel; a movie that, although featuring an admirable and rather brave turn by Diesel, was a mixed-bag all up. Silver was aptly cast as the take-no-shit judge.

Of late, Silver’s been actively involved in politics (even hosting a political radio show on Sirius). He was an activist that had long advocated for left-wing causes as president of Actors’ Equity, the stage-actors union, and as a co-founder of the Creative Coalition, which advocates First Amendment rights. I mightn’t have agreed with political stance to back George W. Bush at every turn (and many didn’t) but I can respect the man for his choices. They were, after all, his to fuckin’ make. And he was passionate about those choices… beliefs.

“I have said things that have angered both parties”, Silver told David Frost in 2008, “… I am socially and economically still a Democrat and always was. If gay people want to get married, God bless them. I try to warn them that along with marriage comes divorce, but they don’t listen to me, so good luck. On things like healthcare, I am to the left of most people….”

Silver’s brother Mitchell told The New York Times: “Ron’s politics, as far as I know, were not shared by anyone he knew, except for the people he knew because of his politics. He told me that he did vote for Barack Obama in the end.”

Silver died from oesophageal cancer. He’d been battling it for a couple of years – which is why we hadn’t seen him on the big screen in a while. (I believe Silver had committed to a movie called “The Fonder Heart”, which would’ve teamed him with Burt Reynolds and Daryl Hannah, but his role, sadly, will have to be recast).

Ron Silver was 62 – and leaves a big fat fuckin’ gaping hole in the world of TV and film.

Thank you Sir.