Character Actor Vincent Schiavelli Dies

Schiavelli

Schiavelli, seen here in 2003, had appeared mainly in Italian film and television in the last two years of his life. hide caption

itoggle caption

Vincent Schiavelli died of lung cancer Monday at age 57 in Italy. Schiavelli had memorable turns as a mental-ward patient in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and as a science teacher in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In 1997, Vanity Fair named him one of America's best character actors.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The actor Vincent Schiavelli has died. He rarely received top billing in a movie. Yet again and again he appeared in memorable scenes. Schiavelli was one of the mental ward patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He was also a science teacher who seemed like he belonged in a mental ward in the teen-age classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." In one scene, Schiavelli's character takes students, including one played by Sean Penn, on a visit to a morgue.

(Soundbite of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High")

Mr. VINCENT SCHIAVELLI: Now here, an incision has been made. The ribs have been sawed off, allowing us to remove the breastplate and really observe the human organs as they exist in their natural state. Here, we have the human lungs, and here is the human heart, which you can see is actually located in the center of your chest.

Mr. SEAN PENN: Oh, gnarly!

INSKEEP: That is, of course, Sean Penn at the end there.

Schiavelli's unusual looks made him especially effective playing demented characters. He had a big nose, droopy eyes, and a bald forehead, ringed by curly black hair. He was a valet in "Amadeus," the subway ghost in "Ghost" and much more. He was selected in 1997 by Vanity Fair as one of the United States' best character actors. Yet this man who so memorably conveyed the eccentric on screen had very different interests in life. Schiavelli wrote three cookbooks, and in 1998, he spoke with our own Daniel Zwerdling about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

Mr. SCHIAVELLI: In my neighborhood, you could walk down the street on Sunday morning and you could tell what town in Sicily people were from by the way the tomato sauce smelled coming out the window.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: So give me an example.

Mr. SCHIAVELLI: Well, you know, like there's a town called Santa Margarita de Belice. They put mint in their tomato sauce.

ZWERDLING: Mint, oh.

Mr. SCHIAVELLI: Mint, so you'd get this minty smell. In our town in our meat sauce, we put a little cinnamon.

ZWERDLING: So you'd go down the street, you'd smell mint, you'd say, `Oh, that's...'

Mr. SCHIAVELLI: Yeah, right, they're from Santa Margarita. Ahh, they're from Polizzi Generosa. They're from Sasha(ph). I mean, you could just tell by the scent of the sauce.

INSKEEP: One more side of the life of Vincent Schiavelli, character actor and food writer. He died Monday of lung cancer at the age of 57.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.