Robert Prosky; D.C. Actor Appeared on 'Hill Street Blues'

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robert Prosky, 77, a character actor with hundreds of film, TV and stage credits whose roles included an avuncular sergeant on the NBC police drama "Hill Street Blues" and a desperate real estate salesman in David Mamet's play "Glengarry Glen Ross," has died.

Mr. Prosky, a District resident for nearly 50 years, died Dec. 8 at Washington Hospital Center. He had complications from a heart procedure.

Starting in 1958, Mr. Prosky began an affiliation with Washington's Arena Stage that transformed him over 23 seasons and 130 roles from a struggling actor to one of the most versatile and prolific performers in a top regional theater.

He jokingly attributed his success to his paunch and prematurely gray hair, telling The Washington Post, "This hair and this gut are the two reasons I got started as an actor. I could play men 50 when I was 30, maybe 25. I could always play the funny fat man."

He also excelled in drama and at one point called on memories of his father, a Philadelphia butcher with a seventh-grade education, for his interpretation of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."

In his movie debut, Michael Mann's "Thief" (1981), Mr. Prosky played the vicious patriarch of a ring of Chicago diamond thieves. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby found him "exceptionally effective" as "a Middle Western version of the sort of affable international villains that Sydney Greenstreet once played."

The part launched Mr. Prosky's career as a film heavy, including roles as the evil garage owner in "Christine" (1983), a corrupt judge and baseball team co-owner in "The Natural" (1984) and a mafia don in Mamet's "Things Change" (1988).

It was a nice change of pace, Mr. Prosky said, to be offered the role of a self-deprecating priest in "Rudy" (1993).

Portraying TV newsmen also became a specialty for him. In "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), he was a station owner who exchanged quips with Robin Williams. He was a defender of community standards who clashed with journalist Dustin Hoffman in director Costa-Gavras's "Mad City" (1997). And he was a longtime executive who gets fired in director James L. Brooks's "Broadcast News" (1987).

Mr. Prosky's other film roles included the pro bono lawyer for death-row inmate Sean Penn in "Dead Man Walking" (1995) and a judge in the 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street."

In addition, he played many recurring roles on TV, as the big-hearted desk sergeant Stanislaus "Stan" Jablonski on "Hill Street Blues" from 1984 to 1987 and later as a priest accused of murder on the ABC legal drama "The Practice."

He also played Kirstie Alley's father on the sitcoms "Cheers" and "Veronica's Closet."

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