Robert Forster, the longtime character actor who experienced a career resurgence after his Oscar-nominated performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, has died at the age of 78.
The actor’s publicist confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter that Forster died Friday at his Los Angeles home following a battle with brain cancer.
Forster’s death came the same day his final role was released on Netflix: A reprisal of his Breaking Bad role of Ed “the Disappearer” in the spinoff film El Camino.
“With more than 100 film credits spanning six decades, Robert Forster was a prolific talent who radiated warmth and kindness in everything he did,” the Academy tweeted. “In 1998, he earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in Jackie Brown. Thank you, Robert, for all that you’ve given us.”
Forster’s Jackie Brown co-star Samuel L. Jackson added, “RIP Robert Forster!! A truly class act/Actor!!”
Born in Rochester, New York and the son of a Ringling Bros. circus animal trainer, Forster’s long and often difficult career in Hollywood began with a role in director John Huston’s 1967 film Reflections in a Golden Eye, starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1969, Forster tackled the lead role of a cameraman during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Haskell Wexler’s cinema verite classic Medium Cool.
Forster continued steady work throughout the Seventies, leading the short-lived TV series Nakia and Banyon; the latter series about a 1930s private eye lasted a mere 16 episodes but made an impression on Tarantino, who decades later would credit the role for Forster’s Jackie Brown casting.
However, following the role of a spaceship captain in the box office failure of the 1979 space epic The Black Hole, Forster entered the Eighties as the lead actor in B movies like 1980’s Alligator, 1983’s Vigilante and 1985’s Walking the Edge; in 1986, Forster directed and starred in the 1986 detective film Hollywood Harry.
During the first half of the following decade, Forster continued to struggle for roles, often taking anything he could get: Bit parts in straight-to-video horror films like Scanners: The Showdown and Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence, one-off appearances on TV series Silk Stalkings, Jake and the Fatman and Walker, Texas Ranger. However, 1997 would bring Forster’s most enduring role: Bail bondsman Max Cherry in Jackie Brown, a role Tarantino wrote specifically for Forster after initially considering the actor for a part in Reservoir Dogs.
“Years had gone by and I ran into him in a coffee shop. By then my career was really, really dead. And we blah-blah’d for a few minutes, and then six months later he showed up at the same coffee shop with a script in his hands and handed it to me,” Forster said in a 2018 interview with Fandor (via The Hollywood Reporter).
“When I read it I could hardly believe that he had me in mind for Max Cherry, except that nothing else made any sense. So when I asked him about it, he said, ‘Yes, it’s Max Cherry that I wrote for you.’ That’s when I said to him, ‘I’m sure they’re not going to let you hire me.’ He said, ‘I hire anybody I want.’ And that’s when I realized I was going to get another shot at a career.”
Following an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Jackie Brown, Hollywood re-embraced Forster and the actor enjoyed a career resurgence, scoring significant roles in Me, Myself and Irene, the shot-for-shot Psycho remake and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; Lynch would also cast Forster as Sheriff Frank Truman in the Twin Peaks revival series.
Forster’s last credited role is that of the Disappearer in El Camino, a role he first played in the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad and which reunited him with actor Bryan Cranston:
I’m saddened today by the news that Robert Forster has passed away. A lovely man and a consummate actor. I met him on the movie Alligator (pic) 40 years ago, and then again on BB. I never forgot how kind and generous he was to a young kid just starting out in Hollywood. RIP Bob. pic.twitter.com/HtunD0Fx6g
— Bryan Cranston (@BryanCranston) October 12, 2019
“You’ve got to have a good attitude. Accept all things, deliver excellence to whatever is offered, give it your best shot,” Forster once said (via Tribeca). “And never quit. It’s not over ‘til it’s over.”