|RON SILVER (file 2004)|
Ron Silver, political activist, Tony-winning actor; at 62
NEW YORK - Ron Silver, who won a Tony Award as a take-no-prisoners Hollywood producer in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," died yesterday. He was 62.
"He had been fighting esophageal cancer for two years," said Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, which Mr. Silver helped found.
Mr. Silver, an Emmy nominee for a recurring role as a slick strategist for liberal President Jed Bartlet on "The West Wing," had a long history of balancing acting with left-leaning social and political causes.
But after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Silver turned heads in Hollywood with outspoken support of President George W. Bush over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke on Bush's behalf at the 2004 Republican National Convention, began referring himself to himself as a "9/11 Republican," and reregistered as an independent.
"Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom and democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our armed services," Mr. Silver said at the Republican convention. "The president is doing exactly the right thing."
In an interview with the Associated Press a month later, Mr. Silver said his support for the war on terrorism was costing him work in liberal-minded Hollywood. "It's affected me very badly. I can't point to a person or a job I've lost, but this community is not very pluralistic," he said. "I haven't worked for 10 months."
His switch to a more conservative image threatened to overshadow an esteemed career on stage, television, and film, along with his history of activism, which included cofounding the nonpartisan Creative Coalition, an advocacy group for entertainers.
"He was a talented actor, a scholar, and a great believer in participatory democracy," Bronk said. "He was an activist who became a great artist."
His big-screen credits included "Ali," "Enemies: A Love Story," "Silkwood" and "Semi-Tough." He won acclaim for his portrayal of lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune."
Besides "The West Wing," Mr. Silver was a regular or had recurring roles on such TV shows as "Veronica's Closet," "Chicago Hope," and "Wiseguy."
Mr. Silver's Tony for "Speed-the-Plow" came in 1988, a year after he earned his first Emmy nomination, for the murder thriller "Billionaire Boys Club."
Mr. Silver did find work despite his conservative shift, appearing in episodes of "Law & Order" and "Crossing Jordan.
He continued his recurring role on "The West Wing," joking that he faced some taunting over his views from co-workers on the show that took place in a fiercely liberal White House administration.
"Often when I walked onto the set of 'The West Wing,' some of my colleagues would greet me with a chanting of 'Ron, Ron, the neo-con.' It was all done in fun but it had an edge," Mr. Silver wrote in a 2007 entry of his blog on the Pajamas Media website.
"I have always resisted reactionaries from the left or right, Democrat or Republican," he said in 2004. "At the moment, the reactionary forces on the left . . . are more fearful to me than the traditional reactionary forces of the extreme right. And the Democratic Party seems to be listening to them."
A native of New York City, Mr. Silver earned a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master's degree in Chinese history from St. John's University. He was president of the Actor's Equity Association in the early 1990s.
He and his former wife, Lynne Miller, had a son, Adam, and daughter, Alexandra.
No matter on which end of the political spectrum his activism fell, Mr. Silver viewed such involvement as something of a duty for entertainers.
"I think there's almost an obligation," Mr. Silver said in a 1991 interview. "Many of us are very well compensated for work which a lot of people would love to do. And we also have a lot of leisure time in between jobs."
They say that Hollywood is sex without substance, and Washington is substance without sex, so maybe the marriage of the two is mutually intriguing."