Allen Garfield, the filmmaker-favorite character actor who played small but significant roles in Seventies classics like The Conversation and Nashville, has died at the age of 80.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger, where Garfield worked as a sportswriter in the Fifties, first reported the Newark-born actor’s death following complications from COVID-19. Garfield’s sister confirmed his death to the Hollywood Reporter.
A one-time Golden Gloves boxer who studied acting at the Actors Studio, Garfield threw his small but imposing physique into the role of tough-talking, surly heavies on both sides of the laws.
After making his first on-screen appearances in 1969 in the orgy-free Orgy Girls ’69 and, more importantly, the Robert Downey Sr. satire Putney Swope, Garfield spent the next decade working with many of the Seventies’ most important filmmakers: Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi, Mom!, Milos Forman’s Taking Off, Woody Allen’s Bananas, Billy Wilder’s The Front Page adaptation, Peter Yates’ Mother, Jugs and Speed and William Friedkin’s 1978 heist film The Brink’s Job.
But Garfield’s most notable roles were in a pair of mid-Seventies classics. In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation, Garfield plays a rival surveillance expert who gets the better of Gene Hackman’s character, and in Robert Altman’s 1975 movie Nashville, he portrays the manager and husband of Ronee Blakely’s country star Barbara Jean. Coppola would later cast Garfield in the director’s One From the Heart and The Cotton Club.
Blakely wrote on Facebook Wednesday, “RIP Allen Garfield, the great actor who played my husband in Nashville, has died today of Covid; I hang my head in tears; condolences to family and friends… Our work, his work, a precious clip to my heart, his other great roles, including one I got for him due to my husband Wim Wenders; tonight is heavy with grief and recollection.”
Garfield would also appear in bit roles in the John Belushi comedy Continental Divide, The Stunt Man, Beverly Hills Cop II, Let It Ride, Dick Tracy and Wim Wenders’ 1991 epic Until the End of the World.
Garfield’s acting career was cut short in 1999 when he suffered a stroke prior to filming The Ninth Gate. After briefly returning to acting, including a role in 2001’s The Majestic, a second massive stroke in 2004 forced Garfield to spend his remaining years as a resident at Los Angeles’ Motion Picture Home, where Garfield died April 7th.
“I literally never saw a performance by Allen Garfield that wasn’t terrific,” author Don Winslow tweeted. “One of those not-so-well-known actors that makes everything they are in better.”
RIP Allen Garfield, my co-star in “Let It Ride.” I was a little intimidated at first at the prospect of working with this great character actor but he was so kind & made me feel comfortable right away. He kept saying we should do “Born Yesterday” together! We had a lot of fun.❤️ pic.twitter.com/HiyHeNSIsz
— Jennifer Tilly (@JenniferTilly) April 8, 2020
This hit me hard, emotionally. One of the only fan letters I ever received from a professional was sent by Allen Garfield. He mailed me a beautiful, handwritten message 20 years ago to say how impressed he was with “Chasing Amy.” Meant the world to an artist just getting started. https://t.co/QxfhmmPOAi
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) April 8, 2020