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February 27, 2001

Fellow Actors Honor Jason Robards

Audiences may have been sad to lose Jason Robards, who died on Dec. 26 at age 78 after a long battle with cancer. But on Broadway yesterday afternoon at a memorial service at the Broadhurst Theater to honor Mr. Robards, the stage and film star, it was actors who seemed to feel most profoundly the loss of one of the greats, one of their own. “He was the last of a breed of actors who dedicated themselves to a life in the theater,” said Kevin Spacey. “Without asking for the role, he was our elder statesman.” George Grizzard, who first worked with Mr. Robards in 1958, said, “Jason was for me simply the best actor I’ve ever been on the stage with,” adding later, “We will not see his like again.” Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed Mr. Robards’s final film, “Magnolia,” said that while actors usually show up only for their scenes, the many others in the “Magnolia” cast gathered to watch Mr. Robards. “We all knew if we paid attention, we could really get something,” Mr. Anderson said.  Similarly, yesterday countless actors crowded into the Broadhurst, along with members of the public, to pay their respects, including Lauren Bacall (Mr. Robards’s former wife), Blythe Danner, Rosemary Harris, Cherry Jones, Mary Steenburgen, Brian Murray, Marian Seldes, Blair Brown, Stockard Channing and Sarah Jessica Parker. Jonathan Demme, who directed Mr. Robards in three films — “Melvin and Howard,” “Philadelphia” and “Beloved” — said, “No actor excited other actors as much as Jason.” Judith Ivey, who played Mr. Robards’s daughter in a 1985 remake of “The Long Hot Summer,” said, “Even though he played my father, he was my teacher,” adding, “Simply by being around him, you learned everything.” Anne Jackson said: “I had never seen anybody bare their soul and go to such dark places before Jason. Did he give our theater some dignity and grace.” Even Mr. Spacey, now a star himself, described sneaking into the American National Theater in Washington night after night, where the 1985 revival of “The Iceman Cometh” originated with Mr. Robards, who became the premier interpreter of Eugene O’Neill’s plays. “He was a master to watch,” said Mr. Spacey, who reprised the role of Hickey, Mr. Robards’s signature part, on Broadway in 1999. “I must have seen a dozen performances,” he said. Barbara Gelb, an O’Neill biographer, said that she saw Mr. Robards first play Hickey, his first major role, in the 1956 revival of “Iceman” at Circle in the Square. She described him as an actor “who knew in his bones how to connect with an audience.” The actor James Naughton sang one of Mr. Robards’s favorite songs, “Danny Boy.” Matthew Broderick, who said that his first movie was with Mr. Robards (“Max Dugan Returns” in 1983) thanked him for making him laugh, being a mentor to him and showing him that it was possible to be decent and famous at the same time. “I hope someday I can help someone as much as you helped me,” he added. “You were my angel.”

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

The New York Times