Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bruno Kirby, 1949-2006

Joe Pantoliano became the everyman/street-smart/New York Italian/sidekick/comic relief character who pops up in films and TV shows and whom every viewer knows on sight. He has comic timing and the ability to act in a drama. But Joey Pants is just a follower in this historical march, the real trailblazer of the New York Italian sidekick cast member who transcended stereotype was the man born Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu Jr., better known as Bruno Kirby.

Kirby was the quintessential supporting actor -- one with great comic timing, dramatic ability and presence. His appearance in a movie would be notable and the character memorable in some fashion. Indeed, few second-fiddles could handle or deliver on the dramatic apex of his role in City Slickers, the description of his "best day" -- the day he stood up to the father he sought to admire and stopped that abuser from terrorizing his family -- and his answer when asked what was his worst day ever: "that same day."

Kirby's two most well-known roles are probably as Billy Crystal's buddy in City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally. His entre into steady film work came in The Godfather, Part II, playing young Clemenza, one of young Vito Corleone's (Robert DeNiro) friends in the Prohibition-era New York where Corleone got his start. Thereafter Kirby worked steadily on small parts until a true breakthrough as the frequently flummoxed Lt. Hauk in Good Morning Vietnam. His association with another multiple-Oscar nominated movie, and work as a fine straight man with Robin Williams, led to his roles in Crystal's two-best films.

There's not much public information about Kirby -- he did not flaunt stardom nor seem to revel in the limelight. He seems to have had the will and ability to avoid the worst Hollywood troubles: drugs, alcohol, bimbo-eruptions. His IMDB biography is comically sparse for an actor with such a credits list.

At age 55, Kirby settled down and became married for the first time, to Lynn Sellers. And, perhaps typically, his death was only announced a few hours ago even though he died Monday from a quick but fatal bout with leukemia.

Bruno Kirby, RIP.

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