Sarasota-based filmmaker Steve Tatone gave me the sad news Wednesday.
"Ed Lauter is near death in Los Angeles from mesothelioma," Tatone emailed me. "My friend that's been with him these last two weeks informs that Ed will likely be gone today or tomorrow. Such a great guy. Thought you'd like to know."
The Los Angeles Times reported today that Lauter, age 74, died "Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles of mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects tissue surrounding internal organs. Family spokesman Edward Lozzi announced his death."
Lauter recently appeared in Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With the Curve” and the Oscar-winner “The Artist” with numerous other credits including Alfred Hitchcock’s final film “Family Plot,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Seabiscuit,” and “The Longest Yard,” both the 1974 version and the 2005 remake.
I got to spend some quality time with Lauter in December of 2011 when he was in town to shoot Tatone's feature film "Blind Pass," which came out earlier this year.
Tatone had asked if I wanted to have dinner with him and some "Blind Pass" cast members at one of my favorite restaurants, Gio Fabulous Pizza & Martini Bar, on Cortez Road in Bradenton. I arrived a few minutes past the 8:30 reservation time and found myself placed one seat over from Lauter.
"Blind Pass" actors Chris McKenna (best known for his appearances on the CW series “90210”) and Mike McGlone (“The Brothers McMullen,” “She’s the One”) were there, too.
For a couple hours, Lauter thrilled us with Hollywood tales about Burt Reynolds and Lee Marvin as well as an excellent Hitchcock impersonation. Most of the stories aren't fit for this or pretty much any other "family friendly" publication and he knew I had come to the dinner more as guest than reporter. Basically, it was a bunch of guys, eating pasta, drinking wine, a lot of wine, and laughing, lots and lots of laughing.
Lauter got serious, though, as he told us how Hitchcock had said he had a major role for him in his next movie.
The iconic filmmaker died before another picture could be made.
Later in the evening, Lauter and I talked about our favorite Ernest Hemingway works and some other authors we both admired. Lauter asked what I studied in college and I told him English and creative writing. On our way out, Lauter asked for my business card. He called me the next afternoon.
“You know, I also studied English in college,” Lauter said. “We should get together and talk books some time.”
We never got a chance to talk books but I did see him again. In January, at Burns Court Cinemas for a private screening of "Blind Pass." We talked briefly while both drinking wine before the screening started but Lauter was too mobbed for us to talk literature or anything else beyond how we both had a good time that night over dinner.
After the movie ended, Lauter entertained the packed theater with a fresh batch of stories, all as interesting as the ones he had told a year before over dinner in Bradenton.
"On the set of 'Blind Pass,' Ed would help settle me down with those incredible anecdotes," Tatone told me this afternoon.
Lauter, a brilliant character actor and gifted raconteur, will be missed by many.