Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Silver


"They say that Hollywood is sex without substance, and Washington is substance without sex, so maybe the marriage of the two is mutually intriguing."

So said Ron Silver, an actor by trade but an activist by inclination. He was long known for championing leftish causes such as First Amendment rights and gun control. It was an unwelcome surprise to the liberal Hollywood community when he reversed many of his beliefs and spoke at the 2004 Republican Convention in support of Bush's reelection, calling himself a "9/11 Republican." While falling short of joining the Republican Party (he officially became an Independent), the about-face was not warmly welcomed in Hollywood. Silver was to complain that he lost work due to his support of the Bush administration's conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Silver's career included television, film, and the stage. He was a supporting player in the waning days of Rhoda, and appeared as a regular on several other unsuccessful sitcoms. He made a splash on stage with two portraits of Hollywood, Hurlyburly and Speed-the-Plow, the latter providing Madonna with her only Broadway appearance. (He won the Tony for playing the same role which Jeremy Piven deserted in the recent Broadway revival. I won't shut up about it here.) Other stage appearances included co-starring with Marlo Thomas in her Broadway debut, Social Security.

Among many roles, he played several real life folks, including lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Claus von Bulow's attorney in Reversal of Fortune), Henry Kissinger (Kissinger and Nixon) and male chauvinist and lousy tennis player Bobby Riggs (When Billy Beat Bobby). He made a strong showing in one of my favorite films, Silkwood, playing a union organizer who inadvertently causes Karen Silkwood's death.

He had a rare leading role in another of my favorites, a little known movie called Garbo Talks. His portrayal of a dying woman's son was a sweet departure; he more commonly played characters full of fast talk and deft manipulation. In the 90s he had recurring roles on Chicago Hope, Veronica's Closet, and The West Wing, the latter earning him an Emmy nomination.

Silver will be remembered as much for his political activism as his acting career. He was the president of Actors Equity for most of the 90s, and founded the Creative Coalition, a political action group centered on arts funding and public education. He actively campaigned for Bill Clinton as well as George W. Bush, and believed that Democracy was not a spectator sport.

Ron Silver died yesterday after a two year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62.