Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara to Italian immigrant parents on the East Side of Manhattan in 1930. He became enraptured by the world acting after seeing a play as a young child. He studied at the Actors Studio in New York City. His professional career began in the early 1950s on television and on the Broadway stage, where he originated the role of Brick in Tenessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. He was replaced by Paul Newman when the play was made into a film in 1958, but a year later Gazzara would gain notice playing Lt. Frederick Manion opposite Jimmy Stewart in Otto Preminger’s film version of Anatomy of a Murder.
The 1960s would lead Gazzara to more television work, most notably as Paul Bryan in Run for Your Life, which ran from 1965 to 1968 on NBC.
He would return to the big screen in a partnership with director John Cassavettes, who would direct Gazzara in Husbands (1970), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), and Opening Night (1977). Gazzara would go on to garner pivotal roles in a diverse array of films including Road House (1989), The Spanish Prisioner (1997), Buffalo ’66 (1998), The Big Lebowski (1998), Happiness (1998), Summer of Sam (1999), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and one of the earliest TV movies to cover the AIDS crisis, 1987’s An Early Frost. In a grim coincidence, his Road House co-star Patrick Swayze would also die from pancreatic cancer in 2009.