PETER BOYLE DIED DEC. 12, 2006
Award-winning actor Peter Boyle died of the blood cancer Multiple Myeloma and heart disease at age 71. While modern audiences know Peter Boyle best as the grouchy father on the hit series Everybody Loves Raymond, Mr. Boyle truly shined as an integral part of some of the most important films of the 1970’s, the most vitriolic time in American film history. This was a time in which the archaic Hays Office was long dead, and Herr Jack Valenti had not yet been around long enough to commence with his routine book-burnings. The 1970’s therefore represented a time in which even filmmakers working even at larger studios were given credence to make the films they wanted. More times than not, Peter Boyle was in the cast of many such influential or counter-culture hits.
Peter Boyle appeared in 130 films and TV shows over his long-enduring career. He was nominated for 10 Emmy awards, winning once for an episode of The X-Files. His peers at the Screen Actor’s Guild nominated him nine times for his work. He won once as part of the ensemble cast of Everybody Loves Raymond.
More than anything else, filmmakers in the 1970’s were in search of Answers, both about their art and life in general. Peter Boyle was one of these inveterate seekers. He turned to acting after spending three years in a monastery.
After appearing in a small role for Haskel Wexler’s Medium Cool, Boyle broke through as a force to be reckoned with in the title role of the controversial Joe. The film tells the story of a blue-collar redneck who befriends a white collar parent whose daughter has run off with a drug addicted hippie. The film examined the ever-growing rift between the generations and the classes. Susan Sarandon appeared as the rich man’s daughter with Boyle’s Joe as a kind of Archie Bunker.
Mr. Boyle’s gonzo performance launched his career into high gear, as he followed Joe with the award-winning Diary of a Mad Housewife, then co-starred with Candice Bergen in T.R. Baskin. It was Peter Boyle’s next film that showed his expansive range. Michael Ritchie’s excellent political satire The Candidate (winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) featured Mr. Boyle as the no-holds-barred campaign manager of Robert Redford’s character. The film’s final scene with Redford and Peter Boyle spoke volumes about what the country was facing at the time.
Next was Steelyard Blues was a counter-culture comedy with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Peter Boyle as the stars. The plot deals with a group of people trying to fly away to a place where they can be truly free. Slither is a crime caper comedy that still entertains today, this time pitting Boyle with James Caan and Sally Kellerman.
But it was in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein that calcified Boyle’s fantastic comedic abilities internationally and forever. His talent shines through the pounds of makeup as he plays the tap-dancing monster created by Gene Wilder in one of Brooks’ funniest endeavors.
After a year long break, Peter Boyle returned to the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s daring masterpiece Taxi Driver in which he plays a fellow cab driver of Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle. The following year, Peter Boyle received his first Emmy nomination for playing Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy in the TV film Tail Gunner Joe. Norman Jewison’s veiled biopic of Jimmy Hoffa F.I.S.T. followed thereafter.
From comedy, to seedy drama, Peter Boyle ventured deeply into the darkest reaches of humanity as he was cast opposite George C. Scott in Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, which tells the story of a Lutheran father searching for his runaway daughter (look for striking comparisons to Joel Schumacher’s 8MM). Peter Boyle plays the private detective hired by Scott to find his daughter lost in the seedy urban underworld in which Boyle finds the gamin involved in the world of hardcore pornography
Peter Boyle’s memorable films from the 1980’s and beyond include: Outland, Hammet, Honeymoon in Vegas, The Santa Clause series, While You Were Sleeping, and Monster’s Ball. His role in this film is truly terrifying, as the actor was brought back to form in a role that mirrored his character in Joe, perhaps as an old man.
In addition to his bulging film canon, Peter Boyle was also an outspoken advocate for all things counter-culture and progressive. A good friend of John Lennon (who was Boyle’s best man at the actor’s wedding), Boyle felt peace and love was where it was at when he decided to turn down the lead role in The French Connection after he saw how audiences cheered for his mercurial stint as the titular character in Joe.
His was the spirit of a singular actor whose tenacity in the American culture will be greatly missed.