Actor Seymour Cassel, Frequent Cassavetes Collaborator, Dies - NBC 7 San Diego

Actor Seymour Cassel, Frequent Cassavetes Collaborator, Dies

He met Cassavetes in the '50s in New York, and it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship

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    Actor Seymour Cassel arrives to Hollywood Film Festival's Hollywood Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Oct. 22, 2007, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Cassel, known for his decades-long career with character roles in the films of directors like John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson, died Sunday at the age of 84.

    Character actors aren't often called larger-than-life, but Seymour Cassel, was just that. The live-wire pillar of independent film known for his frequent collaborations with John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson, has died at 84.

    His daughter, Dilyn Cassel Murphy, said Monday that her father passed away Sunday surrounded by family following complications from Alzheimer's disease.

    Born in Detroit, he travelled frequently with his burlesque dancer mother as a child, and never met his father.

    "I started performing when I was 3; I'd come out in a little checkered suit and pull down the clown's pants — I loved that!" he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. "I was a little ham and was a very open kid, probably because I was around adults all the time."

    He was an angry and rebellious teen, who started drinking at 13. His mother shipped him off to live with his godmother in Detroit, where he stayed until enlisting in the Navy at 17.

    He eventually made his way to New York in the 1950s to pursue acting, launching a 60-year career with appearances in over 100 films. It was there that he met Cassavetes, who he said "saved" his life, and made his film debut in his 1958 feature "Shadows," which he also associate-produced, almost by accident.

    It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. In 1959 he followed Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands to Los Angeles where he lived in their guest house.

    He'd go on to work for Cassavetes often, with roles in "Faces," which earned him a best supporting actor nomination in 1969, "Minnie and Moskowitz," ''The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" "Opening Night" and "Love Streams."

    Working with Cassavetes got him on the radar of many and he'd get the chance to work with greats like Sam Peckinpah in "Convoy," Elia Kazan in "The Last Tycoon" and Nicolas Roeg in "Track 29" and "Cold Heaven."

    His journey in Hollywood was not without issues, mostly the result of a hard-partying lifestyle with the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that took a toll on his health, marriage and family life. He'd even spent time in jail in 1982, and went into recovery in the mid-80s.

    Cassel bounced back, however, and worked frequently in the 1990s, with roles in films like "Dick Tracy," ''White Fang," ''In the Soup," ''Indecent Proposal," ''Honeymoon in Vegas" and "It Could Happen to You."

    And then, in 1998 a new generation would meet him as a result of the beginnings of a fruitful collaboration with Anderson, as Bert Fischer in "Rushmore." He'd go on to work his him twice more, playing the ill-fated Esteban in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and Dusty the elevator operator in "The Royal Tennebaums."

    He guessed that Anderson cast him because he liked his face.

    "It's a dream to become an actor," Cassel told the L.A. Times in 2009. "But it's your dream. Don't give up on it."

    Cassel is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The family has asked to consider donating to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America in lieu of flowers.

    AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.