Robert Forster has been kicking around Hollywood since the late 1960s. But it wouldn’t be until after decades of ups and downs later that his career would get the respect it deserved after starring in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown in 1997. Since then, Forster has brought his chiseled chin to an eclectic array of film. But on the day of his return to the world of Breaking Bad in the Netflix original El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, we’re sad to report that Robert Forster passed away at age 78.
The Hollywood Reporter has the news on Robert Forster dead after succumbing to a battle with brain cancer in his Los Angeles home on Friday.
Born in Rochester, New York on July 13, 1941, Robert Forster intended to be a lawyer. But that all changed when he was a senior in high school and followed a girl he fancied into the school auditorium where auditions were being held for Bye Bye Birdie. The girl he had his eye on was already in the play, so he auditioned for the high school production and landed a chorus role. That girl, June Provenzano, became his wife, and their meeting gave him a new calling to follow.
Instead of following his previous aspirations of being a lawyer, Forster went into the heart of New York City and started working on Broadway with the three-person play Mrs. Dolly. That was enough to get him on the radar of 20th Century Fox, which landed him a role in John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, marking his big screen debut.
Forster made the usual run of guest roles on television shows like NYPD, as well as supporting roles in movies like The Stalking Moon in 1968 and Justine in 1969. But Forster’s biggest break would come in a film that tackled counterculture head-on.
Documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool gave Robert Forster the lead role of a news cameraman trying to chronicle the chaos of the violence that erupted outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Shot with a guerilla cinéma vérité style, the film combined real footage of the riots with fictional narrative footage shot for the film, creating an all-too-real story that felt more authentic than any non-documentary film before it. Forster was the perfect everyman stuck in a whirlwind of riots, and it nearly turned him into a huge star.
Throughout the 1970s, Forster was famous enough to land the titular role in two TV shows. He took on the role of a detective willing to take almost any case in NBC’s series Banyon in 1971. Then he played a Native American police deputy over at ABC in their show Nakia in 1974. Forster also had a short run on Police Story. Unfortunately, the shows he led only lasted a single season each before they were canceled, and Forster’s unfortunate luck didn’t end there.
Forster followed that with the lead role in Disney’s cult classic sci-fi thriller The Black Hole in 1979, but it bombed at the box office, and Forster had a hard time holding on to stardom and critical acclaim with movies like Alligator, The Kinky Coaches and the Pom-Pom Pussycats, Hollywood Harry and Satan’s Princess all through the 1980s. The movies that he landed got even worse in the 1990s with the likes of Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence, Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction, and Scanner Cop II.
Thankfully, Forster was merely biding his time, collecting paychecks with any job he could. He didn’t know it yet, but Quentin Tarantino was about to rejuvenate his career with the role of Max Cherry in Jackie Brown in 1997. The role was written specifically with Forster in mind after an audition for a role in Reservoir Dogs kept him fresh in the young filmmaker’s mind. It ended up landing him an Oscar nomination
Forster was back in a huge way after that, taking roles in an incredible variety of movies, ranging from Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho to the over-the-top comedy Me, Myself & Irene. He also dabbled with greatness again with a role in Mulholland Drive, but still ended up in some duds such as Like Mike and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Forster also enjoyed a successful return to television with guest roles in Karen Sisco, The Grid, Huff and Heroes.
More recent turns saw him get in military uniform in Olympus Has Fallen, as well as the sequel London Has Fallen. He even punched a teenager square in the face in The Descendants with George Clooney. But perhaps his best known role was in the second to last episode of the final season of Breaking Bad, in which he played The Disappearerer, a character that clearly took inspiration from his turn in Jackie Brown.
In the past couple years, Forster partook in the acclaimed revival of Twin Peaks, played in the indie world with Blythe Danner in What They Had, and even played in the sitcom world as the father of Tim Allen’s character in Last Man Standing.
But Forster went out with a bang by making one last appearance in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which opened on the day that he passed away.
Though Forster may have become better known as a character actor than a leading man, history will remember him as simply a great actor. Period. With such a wide-ranging body of work, Forster has played with every genre, saw big success and dejecting failure, and he did it all with his head squarely on his shoulders, on which there were no chips to be found. We’ll miss you Robert Forster. Rest in peace.
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