Friends, there is obviously never any joy in writing a RIP article – but I find there are certain entertainers that made such an impact on me that I am forced to write something to mark their passing. Robert Forster passed away yesterday at the age of 78 and he recently might be best known for his appearances in the Breaking Bad series as well as his Oscar nominated turn for 1997’s Jackie Brown. In fact the reason there is a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus poster in his office in that film is because his Father had worked as an elephant trainer in his youth. While the very first time I ever saw a performance from Robert Forster was in Walt Disney’s 1979 cult classic The Black Hole – it was his role as Police Officer David Madison in 1980’s Alligator that made me a fan for life. I caught that film in my youth when it was aired on television in 1982 as the ABC Sunday Night Movie – one day after my birthday in fact. I know this because for my tenth birthday I was lucky enough to receive a tape recorder and I recorded the entire movie on a couple of audio cassette tapes.
I feel it is proper to say that Robert Forster was a working man’s actor – comfortable in film and television as well as the stage. He certainly got his career off to a bang – considering his first role was in John Huston’s 1967 film Reflections in a Golden Eye. A part that allowed him to appear with Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Harris, and Brian Keith. Forster had actually appeared just two years previously on Broadway in Mrs. Dally Has a Lover by William Hanley – Robert went on to appear in productions on and off of Broadway. Some of those you will no doubt recognize like Twelve Angry Men, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and A Streetcar Named Desire to name just a few.
Forster’s rugged good looks served him well I think in his roles in television – such as the early 70’s TV series Banyon – in which the actor played private investigator Miles C. Banyon, with the series being a period piece set in the late 1930s. Robert also appeared in the cult classic made for TV film The Death Squad, and even 1983’s Vigilante where he co-starred with Fred Williamson – then he portrayed the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group in 1986’s The Delta Force. If appearing with both Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin wasn’t awesome enough – he would star in a very memorable 1987 episode of Tales from the Darkside entitled The Milkman Cometh before starring in 1989’s The Banker where would work with Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Jeff Conaway (Taxi), Leif Garret (The Outsiders), and Duncan Regehr (The Monster Squad, Zorro).
He hit a stretch in that period of the 80’s where he wasn’t getting the type of work he wanted. The actor turned to public speaking as both a motivational speaker to all manner of businesses and as an acting coach for various film schools. Forster appears to have never given up though – creating a motto that applies to everyone – which he shares in this fantastic interview video below while discussing his fateful meeting with Quentin Tarantino.
There was a saying I adopted from my time working at a local movie theater in my neck of the woods when I was much younger – a co-worker upon hearing of the passing of a beloved entertainer would say “We will dim the lights in the auditorium in their honor”. I have been saying that ever since – although I am grateful that Robert Forster left us with 183 acting credits as his legacy I am very sad to know we will not see a new performance of his in the future.
In addition I implore you to listen to this heartfelt interview with Leonard Maltin and his Daughter Jessie, from an episode of Maltin on Movies that was released on August 26th of 2016. It is totally personal and honest and will make you love Robert Forster all the more – it has been a few years since I last heard but I believe I need to warn you there might be some SALTY LANGUAGE in the interview.